History of St. A's
Our roots go back to 1875, when Episcopalians in Santa Monica formed a new congregation, just as the city itself was taking shape, but it took many years to raise the $3000 necessary to build the wooden gothic-style church they envisioned. Thanks to the railroad price wars Santa Monica's economy boomed and the town grew to 1500 permanent residents. A brick church began going up, and on August 28, 1887, on the Feast of St. Augustine of Hippo, son of Saint Monica for whom our city is named, the first service was held.
The church grew into a strong, community presence, with an Episcopal school starting on campus in the mid 1900’s. Disaster struck, however, on March 9, 1966. The congregation watched helplessly as an arson fire gutted the beloved 78 year-old church. When it was over, members picked through the rubble of the interior, salvaging a few blackened artifacts.
The congregation maintained their morale, worshipping each Sunday at the public library, while plans for the new church were developed and the new sanctuary went up. Dedication services for our current church were held on Saturday, October 28, 1967, with a crowd so large that tickets had to be issued in advance. They saw for the first time the sanctuary we love so much today - its spaciousness and light, the brightly colored, contemporary stained-glass windows, the spectacular Great East Window, "The Fire of the Holy Spirit" - its flames leaping upward as the dove of the Holy Spirit descends. And at the other end, the Great West Window, Jesus stands two stories high over modern day Santa Monica.
The 1970's and 80's were marked by direct engagement with social activism of the era, including actions for worldwide peace and justice, equal rights for minorities and women, gays and lesbians, support for the homeless, and interfaith advocacy. One such historical action was holding the first AIDS Healing Mass in the country in 1985, welcoming people with AIDS, their loved ones, and those grieving the precious lives lost to the disease at a time when much of our nation reviled them..
We have been richly blessed by the leadership of a number of caring and gifted pastors including Robert C. Rusack who went on to become the Bishop of the Diocese of Los Angeles in 1974; the J. Carlyle Gill, one of the first women ordained to the Episcopal priesthood in 1979; and Malcolm Boyd, an openly gay priest/activist who served as Writer and Priest in Residence from 1981 to 1996. Malcolm is the author of some 28 books including the spiritual classics: Are You Running With Me Jesus? and Gay Priest: An Inner Journey. Through their presence and preaching, as well as that of our dynamic ministers, lay and ordained - both past and present - this church has developed an identity as an open and inclusive community that prayerfully seeks to do God’s will in the world. The mission of St. Augustine by-the-Sea is to include all people as we share the grace of God and challenge ourselves to follow Jesus Christ.
Saint Augustine, our patron, remains alive to us today: his struggles with his conscience, his rigorous search for the truth, and his conversion give us support in our individual faith journeys and our witness, as the people of God, to our community and world.