LA SELVA BEACH—After more than four decades as pastor of La Selva Beach Community Church, Rev. Jane Grady retired Sunday in a special service with her congregation.
Grady arrived at La Selva Beach in 1980, fresh out of seminary and ready to serve a new community after attending the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley.
“Even in seminary, it didn’t really occur to me I’d be a pastor,” Grady said. “I thought maybe I’d teach religion. [But] women were finally beginning to go to seminary. And they were starting to bring change to the seminary. I began to see other women preparing to be pastors.”
Born and raised in Minnesota, Grady grew up attending her local church, taking several summer jobs there and at other churches in the state. After graduation, she joined a group of her high school friends in traveling throughout the Midwest on a bus to sing for various congregations.
Grady said it was all these experiences, as well as coming to terms with her father’s death when she was a teenager, that sparked her interest in studying religion.
“I think there was a connection there … in having grown up in the church, and this sort of service-oriented experience, and having a lot of questions about life and spirituality,” she said.
Grady said she saw a future in California after finding it challenging to find a job in her home state.
“Nobody in Minnesota was looking at what they called ‘women’s ministerial profiles,’” she said. “No one was interested in my profile. But women were getting jobs in California.”
Grady took the job at La Selva just as her husband Ashley Winn, a lawyer from San Francisco, had started his own practice in Santa Cruz County. The couple bought a home and settled into the community, raising their children there and navigating the ups and downs of leading a church.
La Selva Beach Community Church started as a Sunday school at the local clubhouse. The school became popular enough that in January 1950, an official church was established in the space.
After a number of financial ups and downs, the community banded together to help clear away a plot of land near the clubhouse, and eventually dedicated itself to building its very own place of worship. The church eventually became part of the United Church of Christ.
Through Grady’s time as pastor, the church has undergone renovations, started annual community events such as the Fourth of July ice cream social, led fundraisers for local and global causes, and became an Open and Affirming Church, meaning they welcome and support LGBTQ+ members.
“I count myself fortunate that I was able to do something that I really love doing,” Grady said. “There were lots of joys in it for me, being part of people’s lives. Because I stayed in the same church for so long meant that I was relating to families over three and sometimes four generations.”
Grady’s final service was Sunday, where a Release of Covenant Ceremony was held. Congregation members also created a special video telling her story, complete with a song thanking her for all her years of service and shaping the church into what it is today. The video included interviews by longtime members, who praised her openness and her ability to bring people together.
Grady said she feels fortunate to have found a home in La Selva.
“They’re such a great congregation,” Grady said. “They’re compassionate, focused people. They planned these beautiful, joyful goodbye celebrations that kind of took my breath away. People often say, ‘how can you be a minister, with all these tragedies and funerals?’ But it’s really been a joy to serve here, and I’m grateful for the life I’ve had for 42 years.”