Jim Lemler Reflects on a Road Well Traveled at Christ Church
By Anne W. Semmes
The Rev. Dr. James B. Lemler is retiring at summer’s end as rector of Christ Church Greenwich. For the last 10 years, Lemler has presided over this notable and historic church, 300 years and counting, through challenging and then burgeoning times. With his retirement, Greenwich will lose a community leader gifted in bringing forces together for the common good. On June 29, he is also to be recognized for his community contributions with the annual Greenwich Sentinel Award, first given last year to Chief of Police Jim Heavey.
Lemler arrived in 2007 at a chaotic time. There was a scandal involving the longtime Christ Church music director’s possession of child pornography; declining membership; worsening financial straits; and a church campus in need of serious repair.
Lemler came with a “deep pastoral commitment to people,” said Susan Reed, the church’s 21-year director of marketing and parish relations. “He immediately ministered to a staff and a congregation crying out for pastoral care. His pastoral ministry truly allowed the congregation to begin healing, and allowed for the church to heal and rebuild at an aggressive rate.”
That commitment and ability to minister to those both inside and outside of Lemler’s church would bring the unusual hosting under its wing of another church—Trinity—first in summer and then throughout the year to hold its Sunday services. It would also bring a final resolution, amid controversy, for the building on the Christ Church campus a new facility for Neighbor to Neighbor to better serve those in need of food and clothing.
Lemler’s decision to retire, he says, came soon after his 64th birthday last November. A daughter had posed the question, “Dad, what are you going to do to get ready for your 65th?” The call came–it was time for him and wife Sharon to return to their Indiana roots. “There are things that are beckoning Sharon and me to the next phase of our lives—our family and other things we want to do,” he said.
“I’ve had such a wonderful and full ministry here,” Lemler reflected in his office. He was quick to name three things he is most proud of in his ministry in these ten years.
“I am most proud,” he said, “of the people of this congregation and how generous and committed they have been and they are. We have been able to focus on—my two favorite words—engagement and transformation.
“I am proud that we have been good stewards of these buildings and both in terms of fixing them and in using them.” He cited again “the generosity and the willingness” of his congregation “to invest in that way.”
“And I’m proud of the sense of community and hospitality that has grown so much here at Christ Church.”
Lemler cites the “thousands upon thousands of people” that utilize the Christ Church campus. “We have over 5,000 meetings and events here per year. I think we are living into a very specific call of service and hospitality in that way. And people have been so generous to make that happen, a spirit generous in resources, and generous in the vision for the future.”
Over the next weeks, Lemler will speak of the path that led him to Christ Church, the challenges he faced, the opportunities he found to partner with neighboring organizations, and finally, what he will miss most, and what he has planned in his retirement.
This is the first of a 5 part series on Jim Lemler. Join us as we explore his journey before coming to Greenwich, his calling to our community, and his many accomplishments while here.