Nestled among the redwoods in the midst of the Santa Cruz Mountains, in a little town called Felton, is a large, beautiful, and sturdy redwood building that is the spiritual home of a sizable community of Orthodox Christian believers. Adjacent to the church parish school. In the church complex, and in the homes and lives of the parishioners, the kingdom of heaven is experienced on earth.
St. Lawrence Orthodox Christian Church has about 400 members, most of whom attend regularly. While the membership includes ethnicities ranging from Palestinian to Greek to Romanian, the majority of the parishioners are American converts to Orthodoxy. In fact, the church began in the 1970s as a small house church of former evangelicals in search of the True Church. This house church, under the leadership of Fr. John Hardenbrook and a group of elders, grew and combined with other groups of seekers, and their search led them eventually to be received into the Orthodox Church in 1987.
Since that time the parish has continued to grow and has undergone many transitions, some of them quite painful. But through every challenge the parish has grown stronger and more united.
Many visitors to St. Lawrence have remarked that the parish is unique in their experience of Orthodox churches in America. (That this uniqueness is perceived as a good thing is confirmed by the number of these visitors who have later become parishioners!) There are a number of factors that contribute to the church’s character. Here are just a few:
From its origins as a house church, the parish has been composed of people who are wholeheartedly committed to serving the Lord and His Church. This commitment, expressed in sacrificial giving of time, money, and resources, makes everything else mentioned here possible.
Also from its origins, St. Lawrence Church has been committed to the ideal of community. We take literally our Lord’s injunction to love one another and live this out in very practical ways, so that the parish is like a large extended family. Members try to live near one another and interact socially on a regular basis. When anyone is in need, brothers and sisters are always available to help. From birth to marriage to death and through all the daily struggles in between, St. Lawrence parishioners bear one another’s burdens and share in one another’s joys.
The worship of the parish is conducted entirely in English (with the exception of a few brief responses such as the Kyrie Eleison). A dedicated a cappella choir, under the direction of skilled musicians Anne Schoepp, leads the congregation to participate fully throughout the service. (In accordance with Orthodox tradition, no musical instruments are used in church. Our singing is prayer, and as such must be offered by the human voice alone.) Music is chosen from a variety of Orthodox ethnic traditions, and is adapted and sung with the conscious goal of making every word of the Liturgy understandable and meaningful to all participants. A second, equally important goal is to offer to God music that is both prayerful and as beautiful as we can make it. St. Lawrence Church celebrates a weekly cycle of services, including vespers and liturgies each week. Please view the monthly calendar for service times. Weekday services are led by our choir of skilled chanters. Naturally, very few parishioners are able to attend every service, but the services are available for those who wish to participate.
Many visitors have remarked on what a blessing it is to have the parish children of all ages in church throughout each service. While this naturally entails a little more noise and activity in the church, the children grow up regarding worship as a normal part of their lives, and they participate wholeheartedly.
The St. Lawrence Academy, now in its twenty-fith year has grown from two grades to eight, and assists the parish parents (as well as like-minded families from outside the parish) in providing both a thorough traditional education, and a completely Orthodox environment for the children to grow up in. The fruits of this involvement are apparent in the young people of the parish, the great majority of whom remain faithful to Christ and His Church through the difficult years of adolescence and young adulthood. Several in recent years have chosen the path of monasticism or the priesthood.
St. Lawrence Orthodox Christian Church is a parish under the Vicariate for Palestinian/Jordanian Communities in the USA. Our governing economos is Archpriest George Jweinat, representative of the Vicariate in North and South America. The priests of the parish are Fr. Thaddaeus Hardenbrook, Fr. Luke Dingman, and Fr. Nathaniel Johnson.
The church’s patron saint is the third-century St. Lawrence of Rome, the patron saint of our valley. In common with the rest of the Vicariate for Palestinian/Jordanian Communities in the USA., St. Lawrence follows the Julian (or old) calendar in its liturgical celebrations.
There is always room for more in the worship and life of St. Lawrence Orthodox Christian Church. Whether you’re a seeker after truth, a Christian of another tradition, or an Orthodox Christian visiting or moving to our area, we’d love to get to know you. Come visit us!