2728 Sixth Avenue, Bankers Hill
St. Paul's Episcopalian Cathedral
Pastor (Dean): Penelope Bridges
Born: Belfast, Northern Ireland
Formation: Cambridge University, Cambridge, England; Yale Divinity School, New Haven, CT
Years Ordained: 19
San Diego Reader: How long do you spend writing your sermon?
Dean Penelope Bridges: I start living with the scripture usually about two weeks before the sermon is to be preached. I read the scriptures, let them percolate through my brain and read the news, watch the news, look at Facebook, and live life through the filter of the scriptures. I always start with scriptures, with how they are speaking to me and with how they might speak to my congregation within the particular context of 2016 in San Diego. I spend overall six to eight hours on the sermon, broken up over two weeks. The writing of it happens fast at the end of the process. I don’t usually polish it a lot.
SDR: What’s your favorite subject on which to preach?
DP: They do say there are only two or three sermons, of course, other than “send money.” My constant theme is that God loves everyone equally and we’re all equally worthy of God’s love. I grew up in a cathedral in Ireland where girls weren’t allowed to sing in the choir, and that rankled very early on. Being a woman in very largely male establishments, boarding school, college and then the Episcopal priesthood, I have been on that side all the time, all my life, of being a minority and wanting everyone to be valued equally.
SDR: What’s your main concern as a member of the clergy?
DP: My greatest overriding concern is the horrible stranglehold that fear has over our entire culture. I believe fear drives all of our bad behavior and drives us apart from each other. Jesus said, perfect love casts out fear. You can find the words “Do not fear” hundreds of times in the Bible, and yet we never seem to learn it. My great concern is to encourage people to leave fear behind and dare to love.
SDR: What is the mission of your church?
PB: It’s six words: Love Christ. Serve others. Welcome all. We love Christ by loving one another and including everyone and by offering splendid transcendent worship. We serve others by having a robust outreach program, which includes monthly showers for the people who live in Balboa Park. We have monthly drives for different needs in the community. We welcome all — well, we have a female dean! And we have a 40 percent gay congregation. Our congregation also includes very wealthy people and people who live in Balboa Park.
SDR: Where do you go when you die?
PB: When I die I will be exposed to the fullness of the love of God, which is a pretty frightening thought. Then I’m gathered into the unity of God’s love, in the great communion of saints, the place where all the love we’ve known and offered comes together in the divine. I can’t imagine what it looks like but I do think we are all gathered home into that unity. I believe that God loves everyone and that it’s impossible to resist that love in the final analysis. To be honest, I’m more concerned with how we live in this life and how we reflect the kingdom of God in the way we live our lives now, rather with how we put our hopes in what happens after this life.