San Luis Obispo, CA.- In the beginning of 2002, the small Greek Orthodox Mission of St. Andrew the Apostle in San Luis Obispo had no church building and no full time priest, but tremendous faith. A Leadership 100 grant together with the sacrifices of parishioners allowed them to move into a chapel converted from a small house and secure a full-time priest. Almost six years later on the feast of their patron saint, St. Andrew the Apostle, Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco observed the rise of Orthodoxy on the Central Coast of California by saying a “miracle” had occurred in our midst!
The story of the community of St. Andrew is inspirational indeed. In 1984, a handful of families in the local area gathered together to celebrate Pascha and their common heritage at a local ranch. Over time, they organized occasional liturgies at borrowed churches and secular halls, with visiting priests traveling on Saturdays from many hours to bring the Eucharist to the community. The year 2002 marked a turning point as it received its first Leadership 100 grant which, together with the deep faith and hard-work of the parishioners, provided the community a consistent home and a dedicated shepherd. The continued support of Leadership 100 allowed them to grow little by little:
A local Orthodox Christian Fellowship was begun to serve the numerous Greek college students at California State Polytechnic University a few blocks away and today nearly one-quarter of the parish consists of students.
The priest, whose original office was a converted bathroom, received an office and thus created space for bible studies and classes that supported the faith of parishioners.
The liturgical life drew new families and seniors from the community, many of whom had not even known of the Orthodox community in their presence, and the size of the community nearly doubled from its original core.
By the end of 2005, the community and its small chapel were bursting nearly every Sunday and there were still no facilities for fellowship or Religious Education. With great faith, the community purchased the Unitarian Universalistic Fellowship a block away. It was the fulfillment of a dream for the parish as now there was an Orthodox Education center with Sunday School Rooms, a nursery, fellowship hall, an office for the priest, and space to grow. In the few months since they have received the building, the change in the community has been dramatic. A new, enriching Sunday School program together with Greek language and dancing classes has attracted new families; a weekly lecture series has educated people from the parish and drawn in non-Orthodox from the community; and the sixties-style meeting hall that had been the sanctuary has been retrofitted and beautified for Orthodox liturgies. However, these great fruits of the spirit are only the beginning.
After securing the building, the Parish Council contacted the internationally known architect of Orthodox Ecclesiastical buildings, Steven Papadatos, to design a new landmark to Orthodoxy on the Central Coast of California. Mr. Papadatos has designed Orthodox Cathedral in Albania, restored an ancient Russian Cathedral, restored the historic St. Constantine and Helen church in Brooklyn, and designed the first Orthodox Cathedral in South America. He won one of the most prestigious architectural awards in America for his design of a Greek cultural center in Milwaukee. Now, he is lending his vast and inspired architectural gifts to this growing community in San Luis Obispo.
Mr. Papadatos recognized a true architectural challenge: transforming the existing meeting hall, a space that was never intended to be an Orthodox church, into a house of God that reflected the glorious traditions of our ancient faith and produce many blessings for the community. He agreed to become a part of the project as a true labor of love.
The interactions of the community with Mr. Papadatos have been inspiring. He has not just designed a building but created a living icon of the encounter between heaven and earth that underlies our Orthodox liturgical life. Our church would not merely be a place of congregation but a house where God truly dwelled. When I asked him what his goal was for our space, he responded, “When an atheist walks into the sanctuary, he cannot remain an atheist.”
His resultant design is a masterful piece of architectural transformation. On the east end of a building, a new apse will house the altar. Above the sanctuary will be a blue dome that links us to the heavens and will spill light into the room. Outside will be a wall with seven blue squares filled with crosses, representing the seven sacraments of our church. The most notable feature will be a new narthex, topped by a bell tower and lighted cross that will act as a landmark for Orthodoxy in San Luis Obispo. Inside, the narthex will have four niches, one for each of our evangelists. Outside facing the street, there will be a plaza upon which each year we as a community will pronounce the Risen Christ each Pascha night. Behind us will be a stain glass image of our patron Saint Andrew. The building will quickly become a landmark in San Luis Obispo, one that will proclaim the Orthodox faith to all the Central Coast.
Metropolitan Gerasimos visited the community this year not only to celebrate the communityʼs growth but also to support the ambitious building project and corresponding two million dollar capital campaign inspired by the words said by Jesus to their patron saint, “Come, follow me…” The community has already raised over $750,000 toward that goal. The Church anticipates support coming from all of the country as people hear about the inspiring story of this small community and the unique opportunity to create such a lasting landmark to Orthodoxy.
The Church of St. Andrew the Apostle stands as a testament to the value and vision of Leadership 100. Their support has been instrumental in literally building up Orthodoxy in America. The San Francisco diocese director of the Commission on Orthodox Missions and Evangelism, Catherine Lingas, was also present for the feast day and declared the community a model success story of the mission grants made possible by Leadership 100. “What has happened here is our dream for each community who receives a Mission Grant,” she stated. The Mission Grants of Leadership 100 provided the catalyst to ignite this growth.
Metropolitan Gerasimos departed from the community with great hope and optimism. Touched by the sense of community and the evident presence of the Holy Spirit, he exhorted the faithful to continue to grow and heed the call of our Shepherd to spread the Gospel to all people. He prayed that he would witness further “miracles” in this community. If the past is any indication, he will.