With love of God and prayers for guidance from the Holy Spirit, a group of committed Orthodox Christians who had been worshipping together at Holy Cross Monastery in Castro Valley gathered on Saturday, May 1st, 2004 to celebrate Vespers at a private home in Mountain View with the dean of the Mission deanery of the Diocese of the West, Fr Matthew Tate. This group of Christians had been praying for the opportunity to establish their own community for 6 months and, through the encouragement and guidance of Fr Matthew, had signed a petition April 4th to the hierarch of the Diocese, His Grace Bishop Tikhon, requesting his blessing to establish a new Orthodox mission parish in the Fremont area. 23 individuals representing 15 family units signed that petition. The gathering May 1st was called by Fr Matthew to begin the process of organizing an Orthodox mission.
What does it take to start a mission? In addition to a lot of faith and prayer, it takes time, energy and money to establish the basic necessities: a place of worship, liturgical items and creating an organizational structure and a budget which included supporting our newly assigned priest, Fr Yuri Maev and the operations of the parish. A steering committee met bimonthly to address these needs. Erik Worth was selected as Vice Chair, Maha Estephan as Treasurer and Nicholas A Worth as Secretary of the committee. Other members were Christine Leonard, Alex Prescop, Tom and Barbara Wilson. Diane Worth was delegated to coordinate the selection of a parish patron saint in addition to her lead role in the property search process; Bonnie Prescop was instrumental in drafting parish bylaws.
St Christina’s was blessed with having generous support from its members from the very beginning. $20,000 in pledges were made at the May 1st meeting. In addition, many families pledged liturgical items: chalice, Gospel, candle stands, icons, porringers, processional cross, hand cross, music stands and even a coffee maker. Fortuitously, during that May 1st meeting, a good friend and supporter of the mission, Lutheran Pastor James Kramer, stopped by, quite unexpectedly, to deliver a beautiful, antique silver Russian chalice, recognizing an opportunity to restore this unique liturgical item to its originally intended use. Other Orthodox communities also stepped forward to provide liturgical items: St Susanna Mission in Sonora, St John of Damascus parish in Poway and the Home of Mercy in San Francisco. St Joseph’s Foundation of Santa Clara Valley provided a $7000 grant as well.
Through the grace of the Holy Spirit the new Orthodox mission in Fremont held its first service on Sunday, August 1st in Munoz Hall in the historic Niles district of Fremont in an “upper chamber” above a liquor store. Despite the leaky roof and inclement conditions of the small space, those gathered were thrilled to be worshiping together as a newly formed mission. As this location was available and rented only on a week by week basis it was imperative that a location with a longer term lease be found.
A friend of the parish, Joe Faria, had recommended an owner of several properties in the Fremont area, John Weed, as a potential landlord. He had a building available, Niles Hall, which the mission occupied in November, 2004 for Sunday Liturgies. It provided a greater area for worship and also for fellowship and Sunday School classes. Unfortunately, it still had to be set up and taken down for services. It was frequently rented out to other groups on Saturday nights for receptions and celebrations. It was not uncommon to come to set up church on a Sunday morning only to spend time cleaning up the balloons and messes from the party the night before!
The first general Parish Meeting was held June 26th, 2004, to approve the newly written bylaws, establish a budget and submit proposed patron saints for the mission to the bishop: St Peter the Aleut, St Athanasius of Alexandria and St Christina of Tyre. The second meeting was held October 17th at which the first parish council was elected: Maha Estephan, Christine Leonard, Gerald Norman, Alex Prescop, Erik Worth and Barbara Wilson . A second selection of a patron was required because Ss. Peter and Athanasius were already used by other parishes in the diocese. Another vote resulted in the selection of St Christina of Tyre, Ss Joachim and Anna and St Jacob of Alaska. On November 4th our beloved mission was placed under the protection of St. Christina of Tyre by His Grace Bishop Tikhon.
Fr Yuri, upon his arrival, was impressed at the organization of the mission and especially of the choir which has been under the capable and dedicated direction of Diane Worth since its founding to this day. In addition to regular cycle of church services , Fr Yuri emphasized religious education. He started with weekly adult education classes in his home in Centerville and established the mission Sunday School in January 2005 naming Bonnie Prescop as its first coordinator. There was also a strong interest in charitable activities which started before the mission was even founded. Several members of the parish had been preparing and serving lunches at the Tri-City Homeless Shelter in Fremont ; this continued as a ministry of the mission. Other charitable activities, under Bonnie’s direction, started from the first month that services were held. Most of those ministries, including the school collections and annual Christmas “giving tree” continue to this day, more recently under Barbara Wilson’s direction.
The first parish budget meeting in January 2005 established a budget of nearly $75,000, supported almost entirely by pledged income. Other fund raising activities developed over the subsequent years included bake and yard sales, annual banquets and a concert featuring the amazing Konovets Quartet from St Petersburg, Russia. The preeminent concern from the very beginning, however, was to “fund raise” by growing the parish. The yard and bake sales became not so much “fund raisers” as missionary outreach to the community. Other outreach efforts included lectures at the local library offered by Lon Hacker and Olga Dunlop, participating in local community events and annual Pysanki (Ukrainian Easter Eggs) workshops under Diane Worth’s direction. St Christina Mission was the first Orthodox Church in Northern California to accept the invitation of the Church World Services annual “CROP Walk” around Lake Merritt in Oakland in 2006, subsequently becoming a founding parish of the annual CROP Walk around Lake Elizabeth in Fremont in 2008.
A special parish meeting was held March 20th, 2005, to determine the property search parameters for a permanent home for the mission. It was obvious from staying at Niles Hall that we needed a place of worship that would be available for services other than just on Sundays, where we could have meetings and have a recognizable “presence” in the community. At the time there were at least 50 “faith groups” looking for permanent worship/meeting space in the Fremont area and it was unclear if we could find a suitable location.
The first major “crisis” in the life of the mission occurred in May, 2005 when we learned that Fr Yuri was to be reassigned to the Los Angeles cathedral. Without any available seminary graduates it was unclear what kind of pastoral care and sacramental life our mission would have when Fr Yuri left. Thanks be to God that Erik Worth heard of the availability of Fr Michael Anderson who was very interested in finding a parish home after serving for many years as the OCA’s Director of Youth Ministries. Fr Matthew quickly acted to get approval for Fr Michael’s assignment to St Christina’s. During the interim period between Fr Yuri and Fr Michael in the summer of 2005, Fr David Lowell of Raphael House in San Francisco served Pentecost and our first patronal feast day with us. In the absence of a priest the mission held Reader’s Services on all the other weekends.
Fr Michael celebrated his first Divine Liturgy at the mission on August 21st, 2005. It was apparent from the beginning that he would continue providing the spiritual nurturing and vitality that Fr Yuri had started as the pastor of our mission. His assignment as full time Rector in September meant that St Christina could rely on him to be serving with us on a regular basis and not to be potentially called away on a moment’s notice as Fr Yuri had been. This was a great relief to the faithful!
The greatest concern for the mission then returned to finding a permanent location. Tony Siacotos had graciously offered his home as a place to celebrate Vespers on Saturday evenings, but this was not a long term solution. Through the grace of the Holy Spirit and intercessions of our heavenly patron, St Christina, a suitable location was found in Fremont at the Mary Kay training center on Peralta Avenue. With great joy the faithful processed to the new home and celebrated its first Vespers service there on Feb 25th, 2006. Never mind that the walls were bright pink, this was our first “full time” home! No more setting up and taking down our sanctuary each week!
One of the first events we had in May 2006 was a parish vision/ministries retreat. This prioritized a number of goals involving parish life and outreach. We were now able to have an “Open House,” bake sales, workshops, overnight youth retreats and Christmas pageants. Of great help to our fledgling mission was the awarding of an OCA Church Planting Grant for 2007-2009. This was especially reassuring, knowing that the OCA recognized the potential fruits of St Christina’s in the “vineyards” of Fremont. What a blessing!
Despite the comfort of having a full time space for worship, there was still the desire to have the security and permanence of our own place of worship. The process of finding such a location was an ongoing agenda item for council and parish meetings. Without any good leads through listed commercial properties on the market the situation became more stressful when the landlords of the Mary Kay building were considering selling that building and/or significantly changing the terms of the rental agreement. Miraculously, the fire marshal, on a routine inspection of St Christina’s in the Spring of 2008 mentioned to Fr Michael that a group of Muslims was being evicted from a property on Parish Avenue because of lack of a permit to meet there. What a stroke of Providence! It was what the parish had been looking for: a building that was zoned as an “assembly hall” already and could be easily be converted into a church. And when Tom Wilson daringly suggested to the parish at a special assembly July 13th, 2008, that it be purchased outright instead of leasing it, there was a true sense of the community coming together to make a dream come true, despite the debt, labor and financial responsibilities it would entail. This was in addition to buying the property at the corner of Parish and Peralta Ave which was needed for parking requirements and envisioned as a future church office.
Erik Worth spearheaded a fundraising campaign, and with Tom’s leadership as the building committee chair, the new properties were both renovated, brought up to code and passed city inspection for a use permit to function as a church. It was exhilarating to see the entire parish with many other supporters jumping in to scrape, paint, demolish, construct, excavate, rewire, replumb,etc., the new parish office and temple. As the process of rebuilding and awaiting permits was occurring, services were being held in the “office” of the Peralta property for 6 months. It was cozy and had a unique lay out, with one entrance to the Altar and the choir singing in the kitchen. It was like a tiny chapel in the Kiev Caves Monastery catacombs, although above ground. Finally, on December 20, 2009, there was a triumphant procession from the “office” building to the newly rebuilt temple for St Christina Mission. What a joy! What a great gift of God to have a temple dedicated solely to His glory!
Also of note and a blessing to the parish is the substantial lending library which was developed and catalogued by Fr George Masters and his wife Georgette who first started attending St Christina’s in 2007. The library is a product of numerous generous donors who gave books for the enrichment of the faithful and inquirers. It has works that were not previously catalogued in any library in the US. Fr George also organized seasonal reading programs for children and adults.
Of great sorrow to the faithful of St Christina was the passing of several of the mission’s “founding members,” most notably Magdalene (Bonnie) Prescop, George (Jerry) Norman and Fermin (Vernon) Hudnut, all of whom were amongst those who signed the petition to establish the mission in 2004. Tom Matty and Miriam Guzior, who joined the parish later, also left their impact on the mission. They will be forever remembered during the services as “founders” of our parish. Other families, who were also founders and early members, have moved away and are gratefully appreciated for their spiritual and material support of the mission in its first 10 years. (Amongst them are the Dugans, Haydens, Nieuwsmas, Pasternaks, Strouds, Wilsons, Todd Crosby, Judy Martinez, Christine Leonard, Michael Loukianoff, Judy Martinez, Mary Zellem and Russ Gatschet.)
On the other hand, there have been an increasing number of new members to join the parish family who have stepped forward to take over the ministries and labors of those who preceded them. Glory be to God for those who have come to serve Him in our humble parish! As much as has been accomplished over the first 10 years of our Parish, there is yet much more to be done: paying off building loans, acquiring new property to ultimately be able to build a traditional Orthodox Temple and continuing to spread the Faith in the Fremont area.
The parish of St Christina will also be forever grateful to those who have contributed their prayers, donations and labor. Special thanks to Archimandrite Theodore Micka and the monks at Holy Cross Monastery who succored the faithful in pre-mission days, to Fr Matthew Tate who was a strong advocate in the establishment of the mission, to the priests who have served the mission: Fr Yuri, Fr Michael, Fr George, Fr David, Fr Jerome Cwiklinski and Fr Leo Arrowsmith, and to our hierarchs His Grace Bishop Tikhon and His Eminence Archbishop Benjamin.
It is also with great amazement and thanks to God that St Christina Mission has become the newest parish in the Diocese of the West, officially no longer a mission, as of January 9th, 2014. What was once was just a dream for those who first gathered with faith and love on May 1st, 2004, has become a reality.
Glory be to God!