This article originally appeared in the Cloverdale Reveille
Reprinted with permission
By Amie Windsor, Staff Writer, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Good Shepherd Episcopal Church has risen from the dead. Or the almost dead. The 127-year-old church, snug in the center of Cloverdale, has seen a recent resurrection in its congregation after it nearly died out.
“When I came, people kept getting older,” said Father Ed Howell, who has been with the church since 2006. “A bishop asked me to go up there and warned I might be doing a lot of funerals.”
By 2008, the congregation shrank to 15 members. Four years later, only three members remained.
“Meanwhile,” Father Ed said with hope, “More people were joining.”
Today, the church is at its highest population, with roughly 65 people calling Good Shepherd home. “It’s the largest our congregation has ever been,” Howell said.
The church opened its doors in 1888 as a little carpenter gothic church constructed out of redwood. It was run by retired clergy willing to drive long distances, as none lived in Cloverdale.
During the tenure of the first half-time vicar, Reverend David Powell, the church went through the first of many changes throughout the decades. Worship transitioned as the altar was pulled out from the wall instead of left at the back of the sanctuary. Powell swapped the 1940 hymnal with the 1982 hymnal. He started a Bible study, spiritual class and Sunday school, all which still exist today.
In the 1990s, the congregation began to reinforce the church as it neared its centennial celebration. Most notably, the church installed its unique window featuring Jesus wearing blue jeans and work boots, sitting on a log. The “Senior Warden” window was designed by California stained glass artist Bruce St. John Maher.
Infrastructure work continues today. With the charitable money willed to the church by those who left the congregation behind, Good Shepherd was able to continue rejuvenating its building.
“We fixed the roof and got air conditioning in the main building and the priest’s house where Bible study is held,” Howell said.
It wasn’t just the cool air that brought more people in. Part of the congregation’s growth came as a direct result of the Del Webb Clover Springs community.
Jane Snibbe is one of those community members who found Good Shepherd.
She and her husband left the Monterey Bay peninsula in October 1998 for the warmer weather (among many reasons) of Cloverdale. A lifelong Episcopalian, Snibbe felt at immediately at home.
“My previous church was an old redwood church too,” Snibbe said.
Her first Sunday was small. “There were only seven people in attendance,” Snibbe said.
Snibbe said it’s been interesting to watch the church grow, especially as it has transitioned into a total ministry congregation.
In 2010, Good Shepherd began transitioning from the traditional priest-led congregation, “where the priest is the boss,” Howell said, to a total ministry congregation.
“This is a way in which everyone gets to join in,” Howell said, adding that the priest is limited to sacramental ceremonies and confessionals.
Howell said the transition, which took about two years, required a mental shift for the congregation.
“It works for us because this type of ministry involves all the laity,” Snibbe said. “It’s like the early church used to be in the third and fourth centuries. This is going back in a way while moving forward with a new model.”
With the new model, there is opportunity for shared leadership. Snibbe, for example, is a practicing Eucharist minister. Currently, three congregational members are working to become priests, as Howell is 80 years old and “technically retired.”
“God willing we’ll have a couple of priests and a deacon,” Howell said.
He acknowledges that not every congregation could make such a shift. It helps that the congregation feels like a family, according to Candi Bialon.
“It was 2012 when I moved and first started attending Good Shepherd. It was small, just 10 people there. But people were friendly. It felt like I was home,” Bialon said. “It just had a welcoming feeling to me.”
Susie Rathjen agreed. “I used to be a Roman Catholic. Getting up for church on Sundays was always ‘Uuuugh.’ But now we wake up and it’s ‘Quick, quick! Get dressed. Let’s go,’” Rathjen said. “And if you aren’t there you’ll be getting phone calls.”
Along with their willingness to take care of one another, Howell also noted the church’s open mindedness and desire to participate in its community as main reasons for the ministry’s success.
“Our congregations is deeply involved at every turn,” Howell said.
In fact, the church is heavily involved in the Cloverdale community.
Most notably, the church is the founder of the Wallace House, situated next to Good Shepherd. Since opening in 1982, Wallace House, which is dedicated to providing shelter and help to the homeless community, has helped more than 170,000 people. Originally, the Wallace House was a refuge for abused women, children and runaways. Today, it helps between 50 and 100 clients a week, providing hope, healing, rest and warmth.
“It’s a wonderful program,” Howell said.