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Life of a special priest

St. James gets a new priest in July after a two year search and it is a woman with some surprises in her background
by: Bob Schoenberg, Pastor Sandra Lee “Raggs” Ragan

The St. James Episcopal Church on Bull Mountain Road faithful have been patiently searching for a parish priest for the past couple of years, wanting to make sure that the person would be a good fit for the church.

It was two years ago when the Church Board asked the parishioners to write down a profile of what they would like to see in a new priest.

They got plenty of feedback with all sorts of opinions. After the long search, they found a match in Pastor Sandra Lee 'Raggs' Ragan and asked her to be the new rector at St. James.

She starts with her new flock July 1.

Though many in the parish knows that a new priest was coming to the church, not many know much about the women and her surprising talents. For example Ragan has a working skills with 10 languages.

Ragan visited the area over the Memorial Day weekend searching for a house to buy and meet most of the congregation that packed the church that Sunday for morning service.

'She seems very nice,' said Helen Scofield from King City. 'I think she will be a go getter.'

That may be an understatement.

Pastor Ragan said she is ready for a parish as she had previously worked as chaplain at Rowland Hall St. Mark's School in Salt Lake City, a job she says that can often be a great deal more than a parish priest's responsibility.

'Anybody who has done both will say chaplains work four times as hard,' she said, and then laughs. 'It's because you're with people every day all day.'

But being a people person she loved the job, but is ready for her new assignment.

The job, she said, involved holding chapels for students from pre-schoolers through teenagers, with nearly 970 students of various religious beliefs to administer to in the course of a year.

She did counseling, and 'many more weddings and funerals than any of my friends in parish work. It was like a very, very large parish,' she said.

Although not the very first, Ragan was among the first women ordained as a priest in the church. Women were accepted for the priesthood for the Episcopal Church starting in 1977.

Which was none to soon because Ragan had already entered the seminary by that time to begin studying to be a priest.

She was ordained in 1980.

For a long time she knew that being a priest was what she wanted to be.

'It is what God had been calling me to do all my life,' she said. 'It took a while to figure that out, because I grew up in a parish where we didn't even have women in the choir. But, it was just clearly who I'm supposed to be.'

While growing up in California she was at her parish's church a lot. 'Church was always my favorite thing,' she said.

She concentrated on her education at Stanford in general studies, but that is where she also began to study the Russian language. It was not the first language she learned, she said.

There were French, Spanish and Latin languages learned before taking up Russian when she entered Stanford University after high school. She said wanted to study something with a challenge.

After her undergraduate work in Russian, she went on to study the Slavic languages and literature for her Master's and Doctorate courses.

'But, church was always my favorite thing. I love the liturgy, I love working with people and helping them understand the world better and joining them on their spiritual pilgrimage, where ever it takes them.'

She said following her parishioners on that spiritual journey takes a commitment to follow each of them throughout their life, 'Being with them when they are born and being with them when they are dying.'

When she found out St. James also hosts a Korean mission, Ragan said once she gets established here, she will begin to study that language as well.

St. James started as a mission in 1958 with members meeting at places such as the Tigard Grange Hall, that at the time was a fairly rural location along the Pacific Highway.

The church is visible on the hillside overlooking Tigard and was built and dedicated in 1964.

The church has since became landmark on Bull Mountain for Portlanders driving to the coast.

As the parish began their search for a new priest two years ago, Ragan had made it be known with the different diocese that she was looking for a parish that needed a priest.

Her search included the entire West Coast from northern Washington to San Diego. But the Northwest with its weather was in her heart, the best place for her.

'I'm very glad that I'm ending up here. It will be a great place to be. I love rain. I know, people think that's odd, but I love to garden,' Ragan explained.

She said living in the high desert (Salt Lake City) gardening ends up using more water and she felt guilty about using so much of it to keep the garden green.

'Here the water comes from the sky and it is a great thing.'

Church services at St. James Episcopal Church are Sundays at 8 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. The address is 11511 S.W. Bull Mountain Road. Call 503-639-3002 for more information.

An ecumenical Bible Study is held at the King City Civic Association Town Hall every Thursday at 10 a.m.