Rev. James BrzezinskiBoard Member
Fr. James Brzezinski’s journey in faith has literally been a hands-on experience. And, to this the former organ pipe builder resonates to the spiritual power of the pipe organ when he hears the instrument in all its glory. The outgoing curate at the Church of the Holy Faith, Brzezinski was called in late fall to become the new priest-in-charge at St. Francis on the Hill Episcopal Church in El Paso, TX. After considerable prayer and reflection he answered the call and is already diving into his pastoral duties. “I think the church (St. Francis) needs someone who can bring new hope in Christ Jesus and lead them on their spiritual journey,” he said as he prepared to move with wife, Nancy, to the West Texas city. “I’m looking forward to being part of the new life of St. Francis.” The sudden turn of events found many Holy Faith parishioners bidding farewell to a priest recently ordained without ever hearing tales from his richly anecdotal life. Fr. James is a cradle Episcopalian who grew up in New England. In his youth, he was an acolyte and he sang in the Royal School of Church Music - Men and Boys Choir program. During his confirmation, he felt the call to religious service. But the seeds of his early career evolved in a practical way after watching a team of French-speaking Canadians assemble his church’s pipe organ over a three-month period. “At the time, I thought I’d serve the Lord as an organist and choirmaster, but I became very interested in pipe organ building, I liked to watch the organ builders and what they were doing,” he said in a recent interview. In school at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ, while studying organ and choral directing, he experienced the thrill of singing under many great conductors including, Leonard Bernstein and James Levine. “I enjoyed my studies and experiences in music school but my social life took more of my time than the academics and after a couple of years of that, I ran out of good grades and money,” he said. He then began an apprenticeship with an organ builder in Wallington, NJ, working on organ maintenance and the actual construction of all the components of the pipe organ. “I loved working with the raw materials that could be crafted into making beautiful sounds,” he said. “I enjoyed working with my hands and making music at church. Growing up, my father and I built everything with our hands but I ended up studying music because I was called to it.”
Moving back to his home state of Connecticut, James had the opportunity to apprentice with a Dutch organ pipe maker, learning the specialized craft of building the metal organ pipes. Before long the opportunity came for him to go to Long Beach, CA, to work on the organ at Robert Schuler’s “Crystal Cathedral.” And what is the prevailing draw to Fr. James of the organ as instrument? “Because of its wide tonal palette, the organ really is the king of instruments,” he said. “The palette ranges from the softest of emotions to raw power. It was designed to glorify God in His church. It stirs the spirit and expresses all emotions.”
While living in Long Beach, he joined an Episcopal church there singing in the choir, serving as a lector, lay reader, chalice bearer and substitute organist and choirmaster while traveling around the country maintaining and installing church pipe organs. One of those on-the-road gigs helped him realize the constant travel was taking its toll so he accepted a position with an organ builder in Florida, where a year later he met Nancy Bock, a talented organist trained in Hamburg, Germany, the woman who was to become his wife.
Operating his own business for seven years, making organ pipes for other pipe organ builders, he closed his shop. That led him to a stint working for the citrus processing company of his father-in-law, who had hired him to assist in managing the logistics of shipping Frozen Concentrated Orange Juice around the globe.
After feeling the call to priesthood again in his late forties, he returned to college classes, completed his Bachelor of Business Administration degree and spent three years in residence as a seminarian at Nashotah House Theological Seminary in Wisconsin. “There seems to be no plan in my life story,” he said. “My experience was practical and pragmatic, if not serendipitous.” “God always had a purpose and was preparing me each step of the way for the next part of the journey. God had his hand on me”
It is, however, the other side of Fr. James’ life that brought him to the priesthood. That was caring for a sister with what proved to be terminal health challenges. “Growing up caring for and nurturing our sister helped us experience and learn empathy and unconditional love in our family,” he said. It became a pathway to his pastoral sensitivity.
He was ordained deacon in the Dioceses of Central Florida and then ordained in Santa Fe to the priesthood on June 11, 2013. As a new priest he is learning the struggle of being himself, following the authority of God, and welcoming people into an ever-deepening relationship with Jesus Christ, in a world not always interested in Jesus. "I have learned to take God with me when I minister to those in need," he said. "I want to be invisible; I want everyone to see Jesus in me. I want to be an example of Christ by word and deed."