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Chatfield Looking Forward to Fellowship at St. Edmund’s

The Rev. Jenifer Chatfield

The Rev. Jenifer Chatfield was filled with anticipation. After going through a six-month interview process that began in the early fall of 2019, Chatfield was officially called to serve as the eighth rector of San Marino’s St. Edmunds Episcopal Church.
Chatfield, who was introduced to the parish in January 2020, presided over her first service on March 1, 2020, which coincided with the first Sunday of Lent.
“I had a great time,” said Chatfield, laughing, and with full understanding of what was coming next. “The following Sunday, there was no communion wine, no hugs. No shaking of hands. Then of course, we know what happened.”
Just as the COVID-19 pandemic has yet to run its course, Chatfield didn’t quite finish that sentence. She has, however, gone about the business of forging relationships with her parishioners in what is among the most difficult ministerial environment, especially for a newcomer.
“Ministry is about relationships,” Chatfield said. “Starting a new call to minister to a new congregation would normally entail getting to know as many people as possible as soon as possible. Obviously, I was not able to do that in-person. The people of St. Edmund’s imparted onto me an enormous amount of trust and faith and though we couldn’t meet in person, the support was palpable, even through Zoom, emails and phone conversations. We still don’t know each other fully and that has been the biggest challenge.
“All church leaders had to scramble those first few weeks and months to re-think and reorganize,” she continued. “We went online my third Sunday without skipping a beat and it has been a learning process ever since. I have degrees in both drama and film and am a creative person, so I felt equipped to take on the technology and to rethink how to get a service up every week online, but preaching in an empty church to a camera is a different way to communicate and has its own obstacles. I prefer to interact with people I can see.”
Chatfield and her ministerial team created services they recorded at their respective homes to be later posted on YouTube and Facebook. Choirmaster Rob Hovencamp recorded solo voices then spliced them together for full effect.
This past fall, St. Edmund’s worshipers were able to gather for some outdoor services until a spike in COVID cases ended the effort. With Los Angeles County’s recent foray into the red tier, Chatfield said she is “looking forward to getting people back together again.”
She replaces the Rev. Canon George Woodward III, who in April 2018 retired after 23 years as the seventh rector of St. Edmund’s. Rev. Bill Doggett has served as interim rector while a call went out for a permanent replacement.
“As I have been a part of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles for many years, the information about parishes that are in a search process is readily available,” Chatfield explained. “I became aware of St. Edmund’s before they even posted their search and made a point to check the St. Edmund’s website on occasion at least six months prior to the start of their search. I knew they were going to be looking for a new rector. I had been keeping tabs on a few parishes not only in this Diocese, but in other regions as well.”
Chatfield had previously served parishes in the Los Angeles area and in New Haven, Connecticut. She most recently served as the priest-in-charge at St. Wilfrid of York Church and pre-school in Huntington Beach. Previous to St. Wilfrid’s, she served at St. James in Los Angeles as the interim rector and formerly the associate for liturgy and formation.
She said she was drawn to St. Edmund’s because of its potential for growth.
“I was told by someone who knew the parish well that St. Edmund’s was a ‘diamond in the rough,’” said Chatfield. “In other words, there were amazing qualities already present and they were a very healthy parish. But  they were also poised to grow and flourish in new ways under new leadership and this was an attractive quality, as I wanted to be some place where growth was possible. I was drawn to their honest, funny and self-reflective profile that was sent out for prospective candidates. When I read it, I was taken in by their genuineness and good humor. As a mother of a then-pre-teen, I was also interested in a parish that wanted to build and grow its youth program.
“St. Edmund’s and San Marino, in general, seemed family-oriented and that was an enticing quality,” she added. “The search process takes some time, and the first interviews are usually done on Zoom or Skype and I had done a few with other parishes around the country. It’s easy to tell from the first interview how open and receptive people are…or are not! I enjoyed my first interview immensely and felt the people of St. Edmund’s were warm, smart, they loved their parish and each other and, most importantly, they were committed to learning, growing and deepening their faith.”
Chatfield and her spouse, Nancy, a feature film post-production producer, are the parents of a soon-to-be 13-year-old daughter.
Chatfield has also been pleasantly surprised at how the parish has responded to the pandemic.
“As individuals, how we react to crisis and challenge tells us a lot about who we are as people,” she shared. “The same is true for a congregation. It would have been so easy for people to disengage from the parish or to give up on their parish and new pastor during the shutdown. After all, church just hasn’t been the same and being in community and fellowship has been stunted. The people of St. Edmund’s have stayed together and continued to be present in each other’s lives while also looking forward to imagining a new future. I have been pleasantly surprised by their commitment, generosity and overall good-naturedness. The passion to be an inclusive, accessible and meaningful presence to San Marino and surrounding communities, I believe, has actually strengthened during this time of isolation.”
Though she is pleased at how her church has responded, Chatfield is clearly looking forward to having COVID in her rear-view mirror.
“I look forward to the day when we can process down the center aisle in our beautiful nave and sanctuary, singing out loud with joy and abandon and partaking in communion, both the bread and the wine together,” Chatfield said. “I also look forward to just sitting with people face-to-face and getting to know their joys and concerns and their stories. That will be the ultimate privilege of being the new rector of St. Edmund’s.”

Now in his 25th year at The Tribune, Mitch Lehman is Editor and Sports Editor in addition to being the public address announcer for ten sports programs at San Marino High School. Mitch is one of only a handful in the community to receive the ‘Very Special Person Award’ from the San Marino PTA at the annual Founder’s Day ceremony, was acknowledged as a 'Terrific Titan' by the San Marino High School PTSA, was named an Honorary Paul Harris Fellow by the Rotary Club of San Marino and received a National Honorary Merit Badge in Journalism from the Boy Scouts of America. He has received two independent Pulitzer Prize nominations and in the past three years, Mitch has won seven awards and is a thirteen-time finalist in the California News Publishers Association's Better Newspapers Contest. In 2015, the press box at Titan Stadium was re-named 'Lehman's Loft' in his honor. You can reach Mitch at mitchlehman@sanmarinotribune.com.

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