Compiled by The Bedford Citizen
The Rev. James S. Whitaker, the first rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, served from 1960 to 1981. Among those still active in the church, he is remembered for his quiet leadership, and for creating a lasting sense of community that remains at the core of the parish to this day.
In announcing the news, current rector Rev. Christopher Wendell wrote, “During Jim’s tenure, St. Paul’s moved from being a ‘mission’ to being a full ‘parish’ of the diocese. Permanent pews and a pipe organ were installed, and in 1976 a parish hall was built. In town, Jim was involved in numerous activities, including little league, and the introduction of sex education in the Bedford school system. Jim’s real passion was serving the needs of veterans. He began working part-time at the Bedford VA in 1969, and after leaving St. Paul’s, Jim continued his ministry at the VA full time, eventually retiring as “chief of chaplains”.
Lifelong parishioner Ken Larson recalled, “A lot changed in the Episcopal Church during [his] time and Mr. Whitaker had to lead his congregation through those changes. The church adopted a new prayer book replacing the one in use since 1928. A new hymnal was also put into use. Our mission church that was started by WWII veterans, ministered to veterans of the Vietnam War. And he led the parish in sponsoring and resettling a Cambodian refugee family.”
Betsey Anderson reflected on Rev. Whitaker’s quiet bravery in working with people, reaching out to newcomers and following up with them. Jan Gurley wrote, ” Shortly after moving to Bedford we attended a St. Paul’s Sunday service. Just a few days later Jim visited our home, welcomed us to Bedford, and told us about St. Paul’s. In his own quiet way, he got us involved in the church’s activities and helped us be a part of St. Paul’s family.” Both women remain actively involved in parish life.
St. Paul’s was a ‘young’ parish when Rev. Whitaker arrived. “I babysat for his children,” reminisced parishioner Wendy Ciaccia, “and one of his daughters, in turn, ended up babysitting my children 20 years later!” As a father himself, Rev. Whitaker knew just what to do when the Ciaccia’s baby fussed during its baptism. “He put his finger in the baby’s mouth, and it worked,” she added. After the ceremony, Rev. Whitaker and Paul Ciaccia were on the same volleyball team in the family’s backyard. “I was so impressed with his willingness to participate and his ability to return so many difficult shots,” Ciaccia recalled. “Shortly after the baptism, Mr. Whittaker stopped by to chat with us and the next thing I knew he had me attending a Bible study at church. It was the start of a new relationship for me as a member of St. Paul’s church.”
“His leadership was always quiet and thoughtful. He smiled more than he laughed. He listened to understand, not to form a response,” Ken Larson wrote. “When he announced his retirement, there were many who wondered ‘What would St. Paul’s be without him?’ My family was among those. St. Paul’s is only a little over fifty years old and Jim Whitaker led the parishioners for nearly half that history.
“The care for each other that he fostered in his congregation is still a large part of what makes St. Paul’s the special community that it is today. Newcomers will say the commitment and care that the congregation shows for each other are what they find special about our church. We shouldn’t have worried about what we would do without him. His leadership in love and caring are still at the heart of St. Paul’s,” Larson concluded.
A Memorial Eucharist to celebrate Rev. Whitaker’s life will be held at St. Paul’s on Saturday, April 28 at 10:30 am. All are welcome to attend, and a reception will follow in the Parish Hall.