HISTORY OF ST. JAMES
St. James Episcopal Church was organized on December 15, 1879, a mere five years after Fresno City was chosen as the seat of Fresno county. D O. Kelley, an Episcopal missionary, traveled up and down the Valley during the previous summer and decided that this area of the Valley would serve as an excellent spot to begin a church. Consequently, in the Fall of 1879, Kelley was assigned to Fresno by the Missionary Board of the Episcopal Church and began organizing congregation.
During this time, the population of Fresno was only 600 people and there were already two churches, but the rowdy frontier population could use all the spiritual guidance it could get! The first services of St. James Episcopal Church were held in a lawyer’s office above a saloon. The congregation later moved to a nearby school room before finally building the first church which the congregation of St. James occupied by the end of 1884.
Despite the small town and the presence of other churches, the congregation grew quickly. Within ten years of the church’s founding membership had to climbed to 275 people. Given the growth, St. James quickly outgrew the original small church building. In 1901, the congregation tore down the existing building. By the end of 1902, the congregation moved into a larger church building that included a new rectory (clergy resident) at First and N Streets.
At the beginning of the 20th Century, the population in the Valley was expanding quickly. In response to the growth, the Episcopal Church created a new diocese in 1910 that rapidly spread up and down the Valley from Stockton in the north to Bakersfield in the south.
The newly formed Diocese of San Joaquin now needed a bishop and a cathedral. The Reverend Louis Sanford soon would be called to be the First Bishop of San Joaquin. Guided by the persuasive St. James Vestry, Bishop Sanford designated Fresno as the location of the Bishop See meaning that St. James would be the cathedral for the Diocese of San Joaquin. Reverend G. R. E. MacDonald came from the church in Hanford to serve as the first Dean of St. James Cathedral.
St. James continued to grow and became an important fixture in the religious life of Fresno. A number of notable Deans followed MacDonald, such as James M. Malloch, who served from 1936 to 1955. He and two other religious leaders, Monsignor James Dowling and Rabbi David Greenberg, hosted a program on KMJ entitled “Forum for Better Understanding.” The local radio program featured discussions about religious concepts and social issues and was syndicated nationally for a brief time. Today, outside the Fresno Courthouse, stands the “Brotherhood of Man Memorial” sculpture memorializing the groundbreaking collaboration and friendship between Dean Malloch, Rabbi Greenberg, and Monsignor Dowling.
In 1956, the Central Valley Earthquake severely damaged the church building on N Street. The damage was catastrophic forcing the building to be condemned. In 1961, land was acquired at Cedar and Dakota—the present-day location of the Cathedral. In that same year, the congregation of St. James moved to the new location that previously had been a dairy farm.
In 2007, Bishop John-David Schofield, Bishop of the Diocese of San Joaquin opposed the direction of the National Episcopal Church, most notably the ordination of women and the blessing of same-sex relations. Schofield and others in the Diocese lead an attempt to withdraw the Diocese from the Episcopal Church, which included taking the properties and assets of the Church.
Over the next decade, St. James and the entire Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin was thrust into a period of great disruption amid a significant theological struggle and legal conflicts. From 2007-2016, the Cathedral of St. James had significant periods of vacancy and under-utilization. Many members of the congregation who wished to remain in the Episcopal Church worshiped at Holy Family Episcopal Church in Fresno and some even gathered quietly at “house-churches.”
In the Fall of 2016, with installation of Bishop David C. Rice and a series of legal decisions, the Episcopal Church in the Central Valley was able to resume normal operations—the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin was reborn. Bishop Rice restored the Cathedral of St. James as the Cathedral for the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin. In December 2018, The Very Reverend Ryan D. Newman was installed as first dean of St. James since the “great disruption.” Bishop Rice reaffirmed the Diocese's commitment to supporting women for ordination and the full inclusion of members of the LGBTQ community.
Today, St. James Cathedral is a resurrecting faith community. St. James is one of the very few liturgically grounded churches in the Fresno/Clovis area that also embraces an inclusive and socially-progression theological identity. In a short period of time, St. James has established a very successful Food Bank ministry and a growing Thrift Shop ministry. The congregation continues to grow slowly, but steadily.
The Cathedral of St. James has some big goals and dreams in the months and years to come. Goal number one is always to be an inclusive, welcoming, diverse, and family-centered Christian community that seeks to share God’s love and the Good News of Jesus Christ and to serve the people of the Central Valley and the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin.
DEANS OF THE CATHEDRAL
G.R.E. MacDonald (1910-1929)
Arthur W. Farlander (1929-1936)
James M. Malloch (1936-1955)
Harry B. Lee (1955-1970)
John D. Spear (1970-1978)
George C. Rouf (1979-1992)
John L. Congdon (1993-1995)
James E. Thompson, as Provost (1995-1998)
Carlos L. Raines (1998-2007)
Ryan D. Newman (2018-2020)