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Keeping the faith for 45 years

  • Pastor Jim Robie is taking it easy waiting for his retirement. Photo by Jane Peleti

By: Irene Hilsendager and Kaaron Carver
July 5, 2019

Some folks are known by what they say, and some by what they do.  But for Faith Presbyterian Pastor Jim Robie, celebrating his 45th year, neither can adequately explain his story.  More can be learned of this enigmatic, introspective gentle giant from his well-placed sanctuary objects than his words.  And as for his sermons, we can find his impact much more in the intense group conversations following them than in his own recollections.  

Jim Robie’s life began Dec. 11, 1941, in San Diego, where he was born to Howard and Edna Robie. When Howard was called to Army duty, the family moved to Walnut Creek and Jim remained there until his 1959 high school graduation.

College reflects his lifelong quest for meaning.  He majored in history at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina, and later earned a bachelor’s degree at McCallister in Minn.  Although parishioners see Jim as a great teacher, he shied away from “dispensing massive quantities of historic data” that was required as a public-school instructor.  So instead he entered San Anselmo Theological Seminary, earning a Bachelor of Divinity in 1964.  

Early churches took him to New York from 1968 to 73, then back to California (Napa) in 1973-4 as a counselor, and finally a “pastoral track” position in Novato.  He accepted a half-time position at Faith Presbyterian in 1974 and brought then wife Judy and daughters Kate and Emily to Rohnert Park.

As the neighborhood aged, so has church membership.   Unique after-service conversations appealed to this group and started six to eight years ago.  They are valuable for “those who love to think.”  Intriguing topics such as “hermeneutics” and “exegetics” are interwoven with subjects based on the liturgical calendar.  While most churches might ask “What is the text saying?” this church under Jim’s leadership asks, “How does this text apply to my life?”  Jim gains feedback on how his sermon was received, and for members, conversations “cultivate a person’s right to choose.”

As one sits quietly in this simple, oldest church in Rohnert Park, with cracked concrete floors and patched quilted cushions, few would want the environment any other way.  To Jim and his followers, the “quest for meaning” drives the church, and for Jim, “something inside drives me to make a connection…”

And during the holiday season, some might find a quiet respite from the hustle and bustle by visiting Faith Presbyterian church.  Advent, short for “adventus”, or “coming” is a time of quiet self-reflection, especially upon emotions that seem to need attention.  During the four Sundays before Christmas, the sanctuary is stark, and the colors purple and dark blue permeate the mood.  Followers reflect on their lives, and as each week another candle is added to the altar, the sanctuary begins to lighten.  Finally, on Christmas Eve, Advent purple is replaced by white, to symbolize new light or insight shining into our lives, just as the story of Jesus’ arrival enlightened the world.

Pastor Jim is also known for wise counseling sessions and faithful calls on those in need.  Parishioners are extremely grateful not only for 30 years of traditional ministerial service, but also for Jim’s unique lessons in the unfolding of life.

Up to this point, Carver wrote the beginning of Jim’s life. 

Now in the year 2019, Jim still is the calm and serene gentleman who says that he basically goes to sleep and does the same thing day in and day out. He does not travel much and vacation is not a word he used. 

At the present he is just slowly feeling into what he wants to do when he retires. Sept. 1 is retirement day and still doesn’t have any plans. He has been at Faith Presbyterian Church for 45 years. What an achievement!

I would describe him as a quiet and thoughtful person who has many concepts running through his mind but doesn’t speak much. He will listen to whomever comes through the door, with his almost sober attitude. 

The Faith Presbyterian Church on Arlen Ave. in Rohnert Park is a house of worship that meets Sundays at 10 a.m. for the 21 members still attending the services. After services the congregation meets for fellowship hour with coffee and cookies to mingle and chit chat about various subjects. 

July 14 will be Pastor Jim’s last sermon and July 15 he will start a sort of vacation. He will visit his daughter in Lincoln, Ca. and the other in Reno. Jim said he will be leaving eventually and is in no hurry to do so. His vacation will last until the end of Aug., coming back to Rohnert Park and working for six days and then he was sure to mention retirement starts Sept.1. Carver, a former parishioner had this to say about Robie. “Pastor Jim taught his congregation how to apply exegesis and hermeneutics to Biblical text.  We were advised to ask, “How does this text and its analysis apply to our lives?” With Pastor Jim Robie gently guiding us in that process, we found meaning in our lives.”