|Holy Family Episcopal Church forced to close
Diocese refuses to pony up money to keep doors open
When talking about her church's last service ever, Pastor Gail Cafferata of Holy Family Episcopal Church in Rohnert Park expressed, over other emotions, gratitude. The pastor for the past nine years at the 36-year-old church said of everything that had been accomplished, "We couldn't have done it without our neighbors.”
The church held its last service Sunday, May 20, at 4:30 p.m. The decision was made in September when the Episcopal Diocese of Northern California decided to sell the building.
“There was disappointment," said Cafferata. "There was heartbreak that we couldn't go forward."
She said she knew in September the church would eventually have to close. A leaking roof needed to be replaced, and she added, "The diocese said they couldn't give us a loan because we probably couldn't repay it."
The congregation had been dwindling, with membership down from 50 in 2003 to about 40 when the church closed. And in a down economy, it doesn't help when a budget is based largely off donations. Cafferata said the church was able to support itself through rentals to outside groups, like Sonoma Bach, but the diocese "told us that it was just too big a burden for them."
In the past couple years, the church was involved with several local nonprofit groups. In 2009, Sonoma State University's Sustainable Landscape program designed and installed the "church corner garden." In 2010, the church was the home of The Neighborhood Farm, a community garden with beds for individuals or families to grow their own food or flowers.
The church was also instrumental in founding the local food bank NOAH (Neighbors Organized Against Hunger), which provides food to almost 300 families each week.
There are a few parties interested in purchasing the building, said Barry Palma, of Cornish and Carey Commercial. It's been on the market since the fall with an asking price of $1.275 million. There is also a living quarters as well as another building on the property, which has made it an attractive commodity.
It's zoned for a public facility, like a church or daycare, he said, adding that those interested in the property are other churches. In other words, don't expect a hookah shop to open for students to light up the night.
Though a sign in front of the church on the corner of East Cotati Avenue and Snyder Lane says it's moving, Cafferata says that plan didn't pan out. "We didn't have enough money to move. We asked the diocese for money, and they didn't have it."
For now, three churches have opened their doors to members of Holy Family: Cross and Crown in Rohnert Park, Church of the Incarnation in Santa Rosa and St. John's Episcopal Church in Petaluma.
Cafferata said she will be retiring June 1. The Santa Rosa resident will take a month off and do some sailing, mostly on Spring Lake and at Howarth Park.
When asked if the diocese will eventually open another Episcopal church in Rohnert Park, Cafferata responded, "I hope so. I sure hope so."