Saint John Of Damascus Orthodox Church

Thirty Years from Trailer to Temple   


On May 18, 1975 a handful of Orthodox Christians assembled to celebrate the Divine Liturgy and to give life to the Mission of St. John of Damascus. The vision was simple... to establish a English speaking Parish of the Orthodox Church in America in the North County of San Diego. Under the pastoral guidance of the late Reverend Peter Haskell, the Mission set forth on a pilgrimage that began in the florescent glare of a Navy Alcohol Rehabilitation Center and has carried us to the joyous celebration of the consecration of the temple.

From it's nativity, St. John's was literally on the move. The first independent place of worship was in the unused portion of the Sexton Real Estate office in Poway. With the transfer of Chaplain Haskell and the arrival of Father Joseph Lardiero in the Fall of 1976, the Mission moved to the chapel of the Poway Bernardo Mortuary. With the departure of Father Lardiero, St. John's was without a priest for several months prior to the arrival of Father Alexander Federoff and his family in November of 1978. In March of' 1979, the Mission moved to the Poway Senior Citizen's Center where we worshipped for nearly two years. It was during that time that St. John's was blessed by the Archpastoral visit of His Beatitude, Metropolitan Theodosius in May of 1980. His visit brought revitalization to the Mission at a time when the struggle seemed more than could be borne. His message was simple... Labors done in faith and love will be rewarded in the fullness of God's time, not our own. In February 1981, St. John's moved to the Meadowbrook Middle School. Having no storage facilities at the school, the "church" was packed into a trailer, assembled and disassembled every weekend (and more) for over three years.

The founders of St. John's had the foresight and wisdom to secure a 2.3 acre parcel of land along Espola Road at the northwestern border of Poway. His Eminence, the late Archbishop John, presided at the ground blessing on June 4, 1977. During the itinerant years, the Mission struggled to develop this land. A site development plan was completed and a full set of architectural drawings were drafted. The first structure was to be a multipurpose building followed by a second and third phase to include a sanctuary and classroom structures. It was a profound disappointment when it became clear that the Mission could not afford to construct the building as designed. It took great courage for the Parish Council and the Faithful to lay aside years of planning and begin again with a new concept. The solution came in the form of a factory built modular building financed by a church bond program in which parishioners, family and friends carried the "mortgage". In the Summer of 1983, the fund raising effort was kicked off and in less than two months $120,000 was raised. In February 1984, three modular units arrived and after four months of construction, the first Divine Liturgy was celebrated in the new structure on July 1, 1984.

At that time, 36 by 60 feet seemed very spacious and for a congregation of 40 to 50 parishioners, it was. For the next several years, that simple structure changed its interior nature as the function required. It was the sanctuary; it was the meeting hall; it was the banquet facility; it housed bake sales; it sold crafts and the roof leaked.

With growth, what had seemed spacious became cramped.Yet, with only 70 to 80 adult members, and existing bond debt, it seemed impossible even to consider, much less embark on the project of building the temple. Yet, in the Winter of 1990, a small group of parishioners ignited by the financial generosity of the Avis family put their feet to the path of building the temple. At the time, the goal was to have the church building constructed within eighteen months. It took four years.

A Design Committee was formed and all the parishioners were asked to participate in the creative process. By personal recommendation, the architect, Peter O'Connor, was selected. Pledges were solicited from the membership and fund raising strategies were developed. On August 28, 1990, the City Council of Poway approved the modification to the conditional use permit allowing St. John's to construct a sanctuary. With naive anticipation of rapid completion, ground was ceremonially broken by His Grace Bishop Tikhon on December 8, 1990.

What followed was nearly 3 years of a tedious maze of design, redesign, building codes, city ordinances, soil tests, civil engineering, surveys and visits with the City Manager. In the end, the plans were complete and the City had granted "permission" to proceed. Only two issues required resolution... who would construct the building and how would we pay for it. A new bond had been issued, dinners were held, pastries were baked, commemorative bricks had been sold, donations were given. Yet, by every preliminary bid and financial forecast, the project was under funded.

In a supreme act of faith, the Parish elected to violate the tenets of traditional business practice. A Christian contractor, Tony Garczynski was selected without competitive bid based on local reputation. He and the Church began construction in the Spring of 1993 with the full knowledge that there was a possibility that the money would run out before the project was completed. Over the ensuing months, seeing the walls go up and the sanctuary take form, there was renewed enthusiasm by everyone to see the project through to the end. The church building itself was completed in only a few months. Legal occupancy, however, was contingent on the completion of other improvements at the site including the parking lot. At what appeared to be the eleventh hour, the building fund was exhausted.

The solution was not apparent. The irony of the economic times, however, worked in the favor of the Church. Interest rates were at an all time low and it was determined that a third bond issue could be issued if every current bond holder accepted a lower interest rate and new notes could be sold. The call went out to the Faithful once again and they responded. Without exception, those that held prior bonds rolled them over into the new issue and additional bonds were purchased by former and new parishioners, their families and friends. The parking lot was completed and provisional occupancy was granted. The Parish moved into the church and celebrated the first Divine Liturgy on Forgiveness Sunday, March 13, 1994.

There is still much to be accomplished at the site. The landscape is relatively bare and with this new "home" comes the additional responsibilities of upkeep. We all pray that the Lord will keep from our hearts the delusion of ownership and implant the caring responsibility of true stewardship. The consecration of the church and the celebration of the twentieth anniversary of St. John of Damascus brings everyone to contemplate the perspective of time. The frustrations and struggles of any moment cannot overshadow the timeless and limitless nature of God's patience and love.

From The Consecration of St John of Damascus Orthodox Church, 1995      

George M. Shumaik, M.D.