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Time to close the book

Episcopal Church: Longtime Reverend Canon Lynn Jay readies to give final sermon of a long and distin

Posted: June 11, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: June 11, 2011 1:55 a.m.

(Above) The Rev. Canon Lynn Jay in the memorial garden at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Santa Clarita on Thursday. (Below) Jay in front of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Santa Clarita.

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Noted by her congregation for inspiring passion and an energetic, welcoming style, the Rev. Canon Lynn Jay is grateful for the opportunity she’s had to lead St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church for nearly three decades.

Her leadership brought it from a mission of the diocese when she came aboard in August 1984 to the self-organized parish it is today — which she lists as one of her proudest accomplishments.

And after almost 27 years of service to the church, and the Santa Clarita Valley, Jay will hold her last sermon July 31.

Her work with countless local charities — some she’s played pivotal roles in, such as the SCV Emergency Winter Shelter and the SCV Food Pantry — will likely leave a lasting mark in the community long after she steps down.

But perhaps just as memorable for parishioners is her quick wit and unique passion. Jay said she’ll stop a sermon mid-hymn to playfully chide a more impassioned verse from the choir. Sometimes, it’s something to the effect of, “Hey, if we can get two more good verses, I won’t make you guys sing the third,” she said.

“It’s an energy,” Jay said, giving the reason for the occasional sermon interruptions. “People in this community work hard, and some of them also have to commute. So they work hard, and they play hard, and they come to church, and I know they want to relax. But they can’t lie down and go to sleep. They need to be energized.

“So there’s an energy about it, and I think our community has that energy. And I am a bit silly. That’s the other part.”

She credits this nontraditional style of leadership, namely a willingness to ask questions or be questioned, as what helped her lead St. Stephens to where it is today.

Establishing an identity
Jay said that one of her first goals when she took over St. Stephen’s, which was still a mission under the governance of the diocese bishop at the time, was to help the church be self-sufficient.

It was important because the church needed to be led by its congregation, Jay said. She emphasized that while she was there to help parishioners wherever she could, it was also important that the laity take accountability and leadership for the congregation.

Jim Tanner, a charter member of the 48-year-old parish, credits Jay’s selflessness with not only increased attendance, but also growing the church’s ability to help others.

“She greets everyone with open arms and is accepting. And I think that’s where our growth came from,” Tanner said.

“She just has been tremendous that way, along with her development of programs like the Interfaith Council, the (SCV) Food Pantry, the homeless shelter. … and I think (Jay) is responsible for a lot of that.”

Building a sanctuary
By 1985, the church had become self-supporting, and the next step was to build a sanctuary for the congregation, Jay said.
The congregation pledged and saved for almost a decade, and a new church was built by 1996. But shortly thereafter, the parish discovered that structural problems would require about $600,000 in repairs, closing the building for two years in the process.

Jay said a resilient congregation helped make it through the obstacles. “The congregation had to continue pledges for two years for a building we couldn’t use,” she said. “But people didn’t really lose heart. It was amazing.”

David Warburton, another active member of the church, says the credit belongs to Jay.

“She’s always telling everyone how flexible they are,” Warburton said. “But she made us that way.”

Leaving a legacy
“I think Lynn’s goal for the church is to move from a ‘parish church’ to a ‘program church,’” Tanner said, explaining Jay’s leadership in the church’s active community roles.

“And as you do that and become the program church, the priest begins to do the things that need to be done.”

The Rev. Susan Beck, who will take over the parish when Lynn steps down, praised Jay’s inclusive style, and also the way she has helped bring together people of all religions for the church’s charitable efforts.

“It comes from her drive to make this the best community it can be,” Beck said. “And to not only support our community here, to help and to love all of God’s people whether or not they’re Episcopalian.”

“And out of that, people come up with these really inspiring ideas,” Beck said.

One such example is the SCV Food Pantry, which started as a small community effort that served from the back of the parish’s halls. The pantry is now run by a corporation that helps more than 6,000 individuals avoid hunger.

Jay said this spirit of giving and charity is also what helped the church establish itself as a full-fledged parish in 2009, an achievement that in many ways culminated 25 years of her work.

Now that the church has its independence, which allowed a council within the congregation to select Beck as its next priest-in-charge, Lynn says she feels ready to move on and enjoy retirement with her husband, David, 78, and her three children and two grandchildren.

“I think it’s time for new leadership — I’ve drawn all the tricks out of my bag,” Jay, 70, said with a laugh.

“I’ve told all my stories, so it’s time for new stories,” Jay said. “And I think (the congregation) is ready for that now, too.”

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