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Hidden away in the Yokayo Valley of northern California, St. Peter Eastern Catholic Mission offers nothing to attract the worldly eye. But stepping inside this little church is like moving into another dimension.
BY SUE ELLIN BROWDER
in the Yokayo Valley of northern California, St. Peter Eastern Catholic Mission
offers nothing to attract the worldly eye. There’s a small parking lot, a field
of weeds, and a nondescript white-stucco building that could use a fresh coat
of paint. The only outward sign to mark the latter as a church is a small
golden rooftop Byzantine cross.
And yet, inside this little church,
the feeling is always of having stepped into another dimension. Sunlight
streams through the east window. Joyful psalmody fills the air. Breathtakingly
beautiful liturgy can last three to four hours.
And at the center of it all: a relic
of the true cross, a tiny splinter lovingly surrounded on a recent Sunday
morning by a wreath of fresh sweet basil and red carnations.
It’s impossible for a million
ordinary words to describe the experience, yet one Word explains it all. For
everything good, true and beautiful in this little Catholic church comes entirely
as a free gift from God.
In response, some worshipers
journey to this remote little mission on Sundays from hundreds of miles away.
One woman commuted 240 miles weekly from San Francisco for more than a year to
worship God at St. Peter’s before moving to Ukiah to attend daily services. A
couple drives with their four small children on weekends from Sacramento, a
round-trip distance of 350 miles. Other parishioners commute weekly from Santa
Rosa, 60 miles away.
“We are becoming geographically a very
far-extended congregation,” St. Peter’s pastor, Father David Anderson, told
approximately 70 people who gathered June 7 to celebrate Divine Liturgy and to
mark the 10th anniversary of the mission’s founding. “A significant development
for us is that more than half our parishioners now live outside the Ukiah
area,” Father Anderson said.
A Monastic Beginning
The fact is, no adult in St. Peter’s
congregation was born into an Eastern-rite Catholic family. Many come from
various Protestant backgrounds: Episcopalian, evangelical, Calvinist, Lutheran
and others. But whatever their previous persuasions, converts have found a home
here, united by the one unbroken faith historically handed down from the
apostles through the Church Fathers. Cardinal John Henry Newman, who will be
beatified next year, wrote: “To be deep in history is to cease to be a
Protestant.” The diversity of believers now restored in solidarity at St.
Peter’s reveals the truth of Cardinal Newman’s insight. Everyone agrees: It is
good for us to be here.
New parishioners often first hear
about St. Peter’s when attending Father Anderson’s classes on the history of
the liturgy. In his meanderings, he has taught classes throughout northern
California and even as far away as Australia. He does not view his teaching as
something he does as some sort of “private agent.” Rather, he regards his
teaching as “an overflow of the life of this parish,” saying it “would not
happen were it not for the fact that we are united in this church. Everything
we do outside of the liturgy proceeds from it.”
The seed for St. Peter’s began to
germinate in 1998, when a handful of Catholic families were attending services
at Mount Tabor, an Eastern Catholic monastery situated up a narrow winding road
in nearby Redwood Valley. When the families’ needs for baptisms, weddings and
pastoral counseling began to disrupt the monks’ prayerful silence, something
plainly had to be done. One day, five people who had been worshipping at Mount
Tabor were seated around a picnic table in one family’s yard. As they discussed
their concerns about the disruptions of monastic life developing at Mount
Tabor, the idea of starting a mission church seemed to be the solution.
Bishop Michael Wiwchar, then-eparch of
the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Chicago, lost no time in blessing
the plan for a new mission. He helped in every step of the venture. It was
Bishop Wiwchar who invited Father Anderson to come to the area to get the
mission started. The first Divine Liturgy was celebrated June 6, 1999, in one
family’s home. Nineteen adults and 14 children were present.
The small band of worshippers soon
moved on to another family’s home, and then into a parishioner-owned winery
barn. The 100-year-old barn was sweltering in summer, frigid in winter. Parishioners
arrived for Christmas services dressed for skiing. “People would sing matins
with balls of fog coming out of their mouths. The suffering was magnificent —
very Christian, good for growth,” recalls Father Mark Shuey, a former
parishioner who became a priest and now serves as pastor of St. Nicholas
Ukrainian Catholic Mission in Raleigh, N.C.
In 2001, with sincere gratitude for
the eparchy’s generosity, St. Peter’s was able to acquire three and a half
acres of farmland in Ukiah (pop. 15,500). An old storage building for trucks
and farm vehicles was slowly renovated into a white-stucco structure that today
houses the mission.
Living the Liturgy
The Divine Liturgy is received at
St. Peter’s not just as one more duty to rush through so one can “get on with
things,” but as the heartbeat of the Church, an astonishing gift from God to be
treasured. Wonderstruck by the reverently joyful services at St. Peter’s,
pilgrims often remark that it’s plain the liturgy is the center of people’s
lives here. This is as it was meant to be. For Father Anderson says, “Liturgy
is not to be distanced from life. Liturgy is the image of life.”
Subdeacon Nathaniel Slinkert
suggests people are drawn to St. Peter’s “because they recognize our services
present a stark contrast to the empty routine this world has to offer.” As the
joyful celebration unfolds, worldly cares melt away, and worshippers find
themselves on a journey from the clock-watching angst of this world into the
fullness of time of the new creation. As Christ renews time, human rhythms
jangled by the frenzied pressures of modern life are soothed and restored to
peace and harmony with God and with neighbor. Emphasizing the “richness of the
faith expressed in worship and song,” Slinkert observes, “the daily celebration
of the holy services at St. Peter’s offers an abundant feast to all who desire
the fruit of divine gladness.”
much effort has obviously gone into beautifying St. Peter’s services, Father
Anderson continually reminds worshippers that man is invited to the liturgy not
to perform some ancient and colorful ritual, but to participate in totality —
mind, soul, heart and body — in the very life of God. At St. Peter’s, people
experience a clarity about life the modern world has lost. Through the liturgy,
they live the intuitively compelling truth that man is first and foremost a
worshipping being who becomes joyful only when he is in right relationship with
the one true God who created everything.
parishioner of St. Peter’s,
writes from Ukiah, California.
St. Peter Eastern
190 Orr Street
Ukiah, CA 95482
Liturgy is celebrated at 9 a.m. on Sundays, preceded by Matins at 7:30 a.m. and
followed by a potluck lunch. Confession follows 5:30 p.m. Saturday vespers.
Divine Liturgy is frequently celebrated
during the week and vespers most days are at 5:30 p.m., but the schedule
varies, so people should phone ahead for services other than those on Saturday
evening and Sunday morning.
St. Peter’s is located in Ukiah, 60 miles
north of Santa Rosa via Redwood Highway/U.S. 101. It’s a beautiful drive
through the wine country. In Ukiah, take the State Street exit off U.S. 101,
turn left on State Street and left again on Brush Street.