The Rev. James Richards, 70, rector emeritus of St. Paul's Episcopal Church on K Street NW and secretary of the Washington Episcopal diocesan convention, died Monday of emphysema at Doctors Hospital.

Father Richards had been ractor of St. Paul's, at 2430 K St. NW, from 1949 to 1973, when he retired. He had been secretary of the diocesan convention, the governing body of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, since 1974.

He was in the Anglo-Catholic tradition of the Church and had been a spokesman for a monority opposed to the ordination of women and the revision of the Book of Common Prayer, the two most controversial issues confronting the Episcopal Church in recent years. Although both proposals were approved by the General Convention, the church's governing body, in 1976, Father Richards remained loyal to tradition.

Born in Massapequa,N.Y., Father Richards received a bachelor's degree from Columbia University in 1927, and graduated from General Theological Seminary in New York in 1930. He was ordained in 1931.

He served for two years as curate of St. Stephen's Church in Providence, R.I., and then jfor four years as assistant at Trinity Church in Princeton, N.J. In 1936, he became rector of Grace Church in Merchantville, N.J.

He served as a chaplain in the Army Air Corps in England, France, Germany and Belgium during World War II. He was delegate to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in 1946.

He came to St. Paul's as an associate rector in 1948, becoming rector the following year. His tenure there was interrupted for two years during the Korean war, when he served as an Air Force chaplain.

Over the years, he belonged to numerous diocesan agencies, including its executive council, finance committee and department of missions. He was at one time president of the Standing Committee, the bishop's advisory council in the diocese.