St Clement’s by-the-Sea, Ninety Seasons of Firsts
St. Clement's by-the-Sea
by Britta Wilder
San Clemente’s first church celebrated its very first Christmas in 1929. Nine decades later, St. Clement’s by-the-Sea Episcopal Church is getting set for its 90th season of holiday festivities, an annual and joyful part of the special traditions in our community.
“In spite of all manifold changes in this frenetic world of utter division, Christmas doesn’t change but reminds us of the hope of restoration,” Fr. Patrick Crerar said. “Whatever our differences are, we can still sing together ‘Oh Little Town of Bethlehem’- and joyfully.”
Fr. Patrick has been guiding the large and active flock at St. Clement’s for nearly eight years. Having come from Washington, D.C.- a more traditional and formal Anglican environment-the reverend was immediately struck by the authenticity in the worship, and in its people here.
“They truly care about each other,” Fr. Patrick said of the congregation. “I came here and I realized I was among family.”
A feeling of family is at the core of St. Clement’s. In September 1929, the very first service of this first church took place at the town’s first school, Las Palmas Elementary School on Avenida Aragon-- just across the street from today’s church site. That same month the first baptism was performed at the home of the first Mayor of San Clemente, Thomas Murphine, where Ole Hanson, founder of our Spanish Village-by-the-Sea, was the godfather. Hanson gifted St. Clement’s with two lots for construction of a permanent site for worship, and within a year the sanctuary and library were established, and are still being used today.
“St. Clement’s has been a part of the community life here,” Fr. Patrick said with obvious pride. “We’re deeply connected to San Clemente.”
Part of that ongoing life has included local outreach: “Laundry Love” and Welcome Inn; advocacy and area military outreach; weekly English-as-a-Second Language (ESL) free classes; Bible studies, book club, healing services and ongoing ministry. The church also opens its facility to Peaceful Warriors Martial Arts, in addition to recovery programs and numerous faith-based events throughout the year.
“At St Clement’s you know you’re needed!” Fr. Patrick laughed, pointing to the high rate of volunteerism throughout the parish. “We are all doing together.”
Connecting and “doing together” is what has kept St. Clement’s solid for 90 years. It’s also especially evident around the holidays, when the parish, altar guild and choir work diligently to create a Christmas experience for neighbors and families to enjoy.... and remember.
“It’s a labor of love,” longtime member and Altar Guild Director Katrina Soto said of the intense scrubbing, polishing and overall sprucing involved in decorating the sanctuary for the season.
Soto sees the teamwork as similar to the “old barn-raising days,” with groups from the congregation gathering together to help clean and hang greens throughout the church, often in hard-to-reach places.
“It’s just what you’d do to get the house ready for Christmas-except in this case, it’s everybody’s house,” Soto said. “Everybody who does this ministry considers the church to be their home... and everyone who enters is family.”
The Reverend Norma Guerra, Assistant Minister at the church, is especially delighted to be part of this year’s festivities.
“This will be my first (official) Christmas at St. Clement’s, it’s very special,” Mother Norma said, smiling. Originally from Guatemala, Mother Norma also plays a large role in continuing the 30-year bilingual fellowship and its popular weekly services-another first for the town.
“The church looks so beautiful at Christmas, and the smell... it is joyous to me,” Mother Norma continued. “It’s that time of year you get to see people you don’t see everyday... and so inspiring to see people gather to celebrate and renew their commitment to love each other.”
For Fr. Patrick, each service presented at this season has significance for the Christian community, although one stands out in his heart. The annual candlelight service on Christmas Eve - enhanced by harp, organ and choir- is not only exquisite to experience but a true reflection of the occasion.
“Just this little light enters into the darkened world.... then BAM--here is Christ into the world!” Fr. Patrick exclaimed. “The worship reflects the beginning of Holy scripture...let there be light!”
Ninety years of worship, outreach and Christmas celebrations, and the future continues to burn bright for the church and its community. Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas St. Clement’s by-the-Sea- we’re looking forward to sharing in your candlelight services-with 90 candles and counting!!
Christmas Services: December 24 - Children’s Pageant and Family Eucharist at 4pm; Misa de Nochebuena (Spanish) at 7pm; Carol Sing-a-Long at 9:30 pm, followed by Candlelight Service with choir, organ, harp at 10pm. December 25 - Christmas Day Service at 10am.