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Our History: Part One

On Friday, November 10th, EDSD celebrated 50 years as a Diocese at St. Paul’s Cathedral. During this momentous 50th anniversary celebration, a Video documentary series covered more than half a century of faith, service, and community. This project was much more than a chronicle of events; it became a web of stories from the diverse experiences of numerous communities within the diocese. Each episode is a testament to the courageous love and unwavering spirit of the people of EDSD. This documentary series offers a historical account of the profound impact our diocese has made in the lives of countless individuals. It celebrates our shared heritage, reflects our collective journey, and is an inspiring beacon for the path ahead. The video below is the first of the three we will feature for the next three weeks.


On Sunday, July 10th, 1853, at 3:00 PM, the first non-Roman Catholic Christian service was celebrated in the community of San Diego. It was also the first Episcopal service on record in Southern California. And let’s just say that in the beginning, things were not easy for the first Episcopal clergyperson in San Diego. The Rev. John Reynolds and the faithful of San Diego struggled.

The Herald, San Diego’s first newspaper, gave a vivid description of early Episcopal worship, “The quiet due to Sunday is broken in upon by the rioting of the inebriated. And the very words of the holy writ are drowned by the clicking of billiard balls and the calls for cocktails from the adjacent saloon.”

It was here at this courthouse where Episcopal worship was first held in Southern California in 1854.

Franklin Pierce was president of the United States, the railroad industry was booming, Elijah Otis debuted his safety elevator at the World’s Fair, and the first shot of the Civil War was still seven years away. And in New York, the general convention of the Episcopal Church decided that California needed a bishop. William Ingrahm Kip was appointed the first bishop of California.

He traveled by ship from New York to his new diocesan home in San Francisco. During the journey north, one of the two paddle wheels of the mighty steamer snapped, causing the ship to limp toward San Diego. After taking on supplies, the steamer left the safety of the bay, and it was not long before a terrific storm stirred the seas and ran the ship aground off the coast of Point Loma, shipwrecked and without a place to stay.

The new bishop and his family were given hospitality by the Bandini family. Leading citizens in the area. Local Episcopalians requested that the new bishop hold services. And so, on Sunday, January 22nd, 1854, Bishop William Ingrahm Kip celebrated his first Eucharist in his new diocese from a dusty little courtroom in Old Town, San Diego.

120 years after the first Southern Californian Episcopalians came together in worship, the Diocese of San Diego was born on December 7th, 1973.

The Episcopal Diocese of San Diego called its founding diocesan convention to order. The Rev. Atwell Stewart, who served on the committee to define the borders of EDSD, said, “We agree that San Diego and Imperial Counties would be in the new diocese, but some areas had to vote on joining or not.” In the end, the Coachella Valley and areas of Riverside County voted to join the diocese, and San Clemente decided to remain in the Diocese of Los Angeles.

Shortly after EDSD became a diocese in 1974, 11 women were ordained in Philadelphia, and in 1976, General Convention voted to allow the ordination of women. But it wasn’t until 1982 that Patricia Bush became the first woman ordained in the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego. At the time, only nine women clergy members served our diocese out of 130 total clergy.

Since then, the ministry of ordained women has flourished with 46 active women, deacons, priests, and, yes, the first woman diocesan bishop in San Diego.

The early days of the diocese were considered a renewal period. With fresh energy and vitality, the people of EDSD sought out new ministry areas to serve.

As the Vietnam War was still in full swing, The Rev. Bill Mahedy, a local priest, took to the streets serving Vietnam Vets. Working closely with Veterans Village, a program that connects veterans experiencing homelessness with services, care, and compassion, Rev. Mahedy was not shy about his distaste for war. He said, “Anybody who has been involved in the Vietnam War, and who has dealt with Vietnam veterans…is at best a realist. The rose-colored glasses get thrown away pretty quickly in this business.”

Meanwhile, in the northeastern region of the diocese, in Palm Desert, St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church served as a spiritual sanctuary for President Gerald Ford and his wife, Betty. After moving to the area in 1977, the Fords deeply integrated themselves into the Coachella community during their post-White House lives.

St Margaret’s played a pivotal role during significant moments for the Fords, such as the private prayer service held after President Ford’s passing. There was no military flyover, no cannons, salutes, or bugles, and no honorary pallbearers–highlighting the church’s sacred importance to the family, even while mourning.

Deliver your servant, Gerald. O Sovereign Lord Christ from all evil. Set him free from every bond that he may rest with all your saints in the eternal habitations where with the Father and the Holy Spirit. You live and reign. One God forever and ever. Amen.

St. Margaret’s embodies the spiritual and communal values that the Fords cherished. As the 1970s came to a close, on the other side of the world, in Iraq and Iran, things were reaching a boiling point. Thousands of Chaldean refugees began resettling in the El Cajon Valley, fleeing the war and religious persecution.

St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in El Cajon was there to welcome them. Throughout St. Alban’s long history, it has continued to serve refugees of all backgrounds. Today, St. Alban’s Interfaith ministry, named “Welcome Ministries,” provides a local community garden, laundry ministry feeding programs, and more. Episcopalians continue to serve El Cajon.

By San Diego’s 7th Diocesan Convention, the Rev. Juan Acosta was assigned as the first Hispanic missionary in our diocese. Rev. Acosta sought to educate every congregation about becoming a more open and diverse community. Three years later, Rev. Acosta also took the role of Priest in Charge at St Matthew’s, National City, the largest Spanish-speaking congregation at the time.

Rev. Acosta served as the Hispanic Missioner for 16 years. His ministry is remembered as prolific and pioneering. He was instrumental in building up several Spanish and bilingual congregations like St Matthew’s, National City, St Mary’s, Imperial Beach, St John’s, Indio, and Santa Rosa del Mar, Desert Shores.

From Bishop William Kipp, the first Bishop of California, to Bishop Robert Wolterstorff, the first bishop of San Diego, to all the clergy and all the people who have played leadership roles in our diocese, we give thanks for the pioneers of our faith who helped form this diocese.

Gracious God, you brought the first Episcopal worship to the shores of San Diego by ship sailing over mighty ocean waters. And you bring each of us into the loving embrace of your church by the mighty waters of baptism. Help every member of our diocese always live into the promise of our baptism by proclaiming the good news of Christ in word and action, loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.

Help us to follow in the good examples of our forebears like Bill Mahedy and Juan Acosta, who were evangelists of your gospel and servants of your people. Strengthen us to follow their example in making disciples of Jesus Christ for many years to come. In His Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

Special thanks to Chris Tumilty, EDSD Director of Communications, who led the research, writing, editing, and production of this video series, Greg Tuttle, EDSD Digital Evangelist, John Will, EDSD Historiographer, and Archivist, and Nick Alcorn, Video Narrator, for their unwavering collaboration and contribution to this project.


Category: #Advocacy, #Communications, #Convention, #Service, #Stewardship

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One reply to “Our History: Part One

  1. Verdery Kassebaum. | on November 29, 2023

    Thank you for this interesting and encouraging information. My husband and I have been members of Good Samaritan for several years and I was on Diocesan Executive Council for a few years, including the time The Rev. Katharine Jefferts-Schori was our Bishop. What an honor!

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