by Anne Batty
Eighty-eight years ago, San Clemente founder Ole Hanson offered first-comers the gift of two lots on Avenida Aragon for the establishment of a church in his “Village by the Sea.” The Episcopal Church fathers accepted that offer, and St. Clement’s by-the-Sea has opened its doors to people of all ages, ethnicities and means ever since.
“Our church is rooted in a two-thousand-year-old tradition that includes a liturgy derived from the very earliest practices of the first Christians,” Fr. Patrick Crerar, the present Rector, explained. “At the same time we are radically inclusive in our theology, welcoming people from all walks of life and offering everyone who comes to us a wonderful combination of the old coupled with the new.”
Situated at the north end of town across the street from the first school and plaza-park, St. Clement’s retains its original buildings which include the church and the priests’ former living quarters; presently the parish library and meeting room. And with the parishioner’s generosity - as well as their sweat equity - supplementary buildings have been added over the years including: a parish hall, classrooms, a kitchen and administrative offices.
To the right of the church’s entrance the large red, white and blue shield of the Episcopal Church USA inscribed with the words, “The Episcopal Church Welcomes All,” is displayed. And just inside its wooden doors, inset with stained glass crosses, a statue of its patron, St. Clement of Rome, greets all who come to worship.
A former Pope and patron saint of mariners, St. Clement is depicted holding an anchor, indicative not only of his patronage, but of his martyred death tied to an anchor and drowned in the sea. A fitting patron for a church located just two blocks from the ocean in a town of similar name.
Further inside its doors, two shrines to the right and left adorn the entrance representing appearances of the Virgin Mary; our Lady of Walsingham in Saxon England and the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico City. Two rows of elegantly stained wooden pews await those attending services; while light from colorfully stained glass windows illuminate the sanctuary, and Stations of the Cross (painted by parishioners) line two side walls.
Outside and to the east of the church entrance, sits a peacefully appointed Memorial Garden. Its water fountain, benches and lovely roses create a space of beauty and serenity, inviting passers-by to pause and contemplate.
In the Beginning
St. Clement’s by the Sea was first established as a missionary church, holding its opening services in the original Las Palmas School. Worship continued there from September 1929 until February 1930 when its gatherings were moved to the Community Center. The church’s earliest baptism was performed at the home of San Clemente’s first Mayor, Thomas Murphine, and town founder Ole Hanson acted as godfather. Finally in October 1930 the current church building was dedicated with 200 in attendance, and services have continued uninterrupted there to the present day. Declared Landmark #1 by the San Clemente Historical Society that first building has never undergone any major structural changes.
Deeply connected to the community surrounding it, St. Clement’s Church has been called by one parishioner, “the conscience of the community.” It has been led by six Rectors, the last, Rector Diane Jardine Bruce, having been promoted to Bishop. Present Rector and Priest, Fr. Patrick Crerar has been leading this flock for the past five years.
“I was drawn to the ministry since I was a young child,” says Fr. Patrick. “I was raised a Roman Catholic but knew I was also called to a married life. It took me a while to discover what God had in mind. I experienced other careers but finally realized I needed to answer the call.”
Loving traditional worship and seeking a tradition that was committed to living its faith in the world, Fr. Patrick was drawn to the Episcopal Church. After some time he felt the call to ordained ministry strongly reemerge. After more than a year of discernment, he attended seminary in Virginia and was made an Episcopal priest in 2008.
Upon visiting St. Clement’s here in San Clemente, Fr. Patrick remarks that he felt immediately at home, and that the Spirit was calling him to this place (the parish was seeking their next priest at that time). He and his wife Christina, a talented jazz musician, moved here in 2012, and their daughter was born soon after.
The Church Today
St. Clement’s by-the-Sea is a church filled with tradition, not only in its worship, but in other ways as well. One custom can be seen among the tiles along the footpaths around the grounds leading up to the church. These tiles can be engraved by church members and their families to commemorate memorable events in each of their lives. Another is evident in the unique array of crosses of all shapes and sizes carefully displayed on the walls surrounding Fr. Patrick in his administrative office. Each cross commemorates the important events, travels and world-wide ministerial forays he has experienced thus far in his life.
Exterior of the Church on Avenida Aragon.
Located in the midst of a residential area, St. Clement’s is very involved with the people in the surrounding neighborhoods as well as the community at large. Considering themselves an, “alive community of faith doing important ministry in the world,” church members distribute brown bag lunches and warm clothing to the homeless monthly, offer space for recovery group meetings, and partner in developing community programs with other churches and organizations in town.
One of its community outreach programs, The Peaceful Warrior Martial Arts Academy, was developed as a joint project with the San Clement Kiwanis club. Under the direction of Master Earl Welliver, a Fifth Degree Black Belt master, this Academy was formed to enhance the lives of the youth who live nearby, teaching peace and reconciliation as a way of life. Offering a full Tae Kwon Do program, it gives children the opportunity to obtain belt ranking from yellow through black belt, enabling those unable to afford martial arts through commercial studios a chance to work to obtain that coveted black belt.
“We have seen so many wonderful results from this program,” Fr. Patrick exclaimed. “Along with physical development, the children are acquiring skills and habits that help to make them better citizens and scholars. Many troubled children have been turned around by attending this program.”
Offering services in both English and Spanish, St Clement’s by-the-Sea Episcopal Church reaches many who might otherwise be overlooked. Through its inclusive worship, Sunday School for children, Bible Studies, Pastoral Care, community outreach and more, it is working diligently to accomplish its mission of being a light in the world.
Eighty-eight years and counting, St. Clement’s is iconic in San Clemente. While small in stature, it plays a very large part in the history of the town. Standing on the solid ground of its beliefs, it is touching many lives, and by the look of things it will continue to do so for many more years to come.
For more information about the church, its services and/or programs call (949) 492-3401 or visit their website wwwscbythesea.org.