James was born at just 22 weeks and six days and his mom has blogged about their unique preemie birth story.
This was the second year in a row the family had attended the Santa event at the church. And though they had prepped James all week, Epps told ABC News, the little boy became overwhelmed when the time came to sit on Santa's lap.
Eventually, James warmed up enough to have Santa come closer for a few snaps. Jennifer Arnwine, the event photographer, told ABC News that Santa engaged James by talking about his reindeer and asking for James' help ringing their bells.
"I love watching children who come in terrified change in just 10 minutes," she said. "It's a beautiful event."
The event, which features a quiet room for children who get overwhelmed, is set up so there's no waiting in line and appointments to see Santa can be arranged. Though it is put on by the church, it's open to the public. The Epps themselves are not church members.
And though other people might think it's "trite," Epps said, "many families take for granted they'll go to the mall and get a sweet photo of their kids with Santa. For others, that's not a reality."
Epps is thrilled with her family's Santa photos this year, she said. "It's exactly who James is right now."