SEAVIEW, Wash. — The number of bridges Jim Tweedie has built, you would think he was an engineer.
Instead, he describes himself as a shepherd.
Tweedie retired in July as pastor of Ocean Beach Presbyterian Church after four decades of ministry in the Western states and Hawaii.
He plans to remain in the community, where he has been active as a writer, photographer and amateur actor, in addition to his work as a minister and community organizer.
In a recent sermon reflecting on his service since 2010, Tweedie described his contribution as a “blip” in the history of the church, which has existed since 1893.
“It’s really the people who are the heart of the congregation. I’m just a temporary part of it,” he said. “I’m grateful for the privilege of being called to live here. It’s been a joy and delight.”
Ocean Beach Presbyterian is one of three churches based at the Peninsula Church Center in Seaview. The 1974 building is owned by the Presbyterians and St. Peter’s Episcopal; St. John’s Lutheran rents the building for its activities.
“It’s somewhat unique,” Tweedie said. “There are not very many models for that. It works amazingly well.”
The cooperation reflects a pattern throughout his career, which has taken him from Utah to California and Hawaii, plus two positions overseas.
His father, uncle and grandfather were Presbyterian ministers in his native California, but Tweedie insists he did not plan to emulate them.
Armed with humanities degrees from San Francisco State University, and considering a college teaching career, he worked in a public library for six years fueled by his love of literature. A rejection letter from the University of California Berkeley graduate school led to gloomy reflection.
“I was devastated. I spent one Christmas vacation trying to settle my life down,” he recalled. “At the end of that week, I ‘surrendered.’ I said, ‘OK, God. You are going to work on me until I’m done.’”
He trained for the ministry, married the day after graduating from seminary (his wife, Jeanine is a nurse educator), and embarked on a one-year fellowship in Edinburgh where he worked as a Scottish hospital chaplain.
He returned to serve a church in Logan, Utah, and neighboring Preston, Idaho. There Tweedie pioneered a hospice program and forged links with the Mormon community. A year in which he exchanged jobs with a pastor in Adelaide, Australia, was another highlight.
Eight years in Weed, California, at the foot of Mount Shasta, was followed by 17 years in Mililani, Hawaii. The church, outside of Honolulu on Hawaii’s most populous island, Oahu, was Tweedie’s longest assignment. It offered a settled base while he and Jeanine raised three daughters.
“It was one of the most amazing congregations ever,” he said. “It’s the melting pot of the Pacific. We had 14 to 16 different language groups in the congregation — that meant great potluck suppers!” Asian and Polynesian cultures were well represented. “It was a pretty cool place. I thrived on cross-cultural communication.”
He enjoyed working with other Christian faiths, Buddhist groups, Jewish and Islamic leaders and others. “It was mind-numbingly exhilarating.”
Long Beach was a perfect final posting, said Tweedie, who just turned 65. “It has been a very welcoming community for an outsider — an instant embrace, and that’s not always true. We are glad to be retiring and staying here.”
Tweedie is proud of incorporating music into worship — including pieces he writes himself.
His church attracts young Christians from other congregations. “I have enjoyed working with the members of the church and building a significant youth ministry, even though the congregation itself is older,” he said.
Youth mission trips have included the impoverished Yakama Indian Reservation, helping the homeless in Seattle, Portland and Spokane, and a visit to Puerto Rico. “We also try to have them experience different universities, especially Christian universities, and inspire them to higher education in a Christian environment.
“We set goals high and inspire them with the good news of God’s saving love through Jesus Christ,” he said, delighting in the phrase. “That’s a good saying and what I’m all about.
As well as meeting spiritual needs, Tweedie highlights the church’s practical role as a safety net for the less fortunate. He will continue as board president for His Supper Table, a church-inspired community group which feeds the needy and operates a thrift store.
He has provided leadership for Food4Kids Backpack food program for Long Beach Elementary School and for Overnight Winter Lodging, which serves homeless people.
Tweedie is busy as a writer, having just published a book of peninsula stories. A couple of his plays have been performed by Peninsula Players, with whom he has acted and directed, and another, “You Never Know,” will be performed in August. His photography is displayed at the Bay Avenue Gallery in Ocean Park.
In retirement, he anticipates more writing and music composition, plus family activities. The Tweedies have two grandchildren.
The church’s clerk of the session, Ardell McPhail, recruited Tweedie and has begun another search. She said Sunday speakers likely will fill in during August until an interim minister can be hired. A committee will hire a permanent replacement.
McPhail commended Tweedie for his contribution. “He has worked in the community to get our congregation to expand out,” she said, noting his successes in helping the homeless.
“He has brought in a lot of new people, and he has brought a lot of music to the church, his own and also inspiring others,” she said.
Tweedie passes on the credit.
“I don’t know if I have been successful,” he said. “Any success is the Lord’s. I’m a shepherd. I just sustain and feed the sheep.”
— Patrick Webb