August 13, 2020
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Cross and Crown Church reaches the big 50

  • Pastors Newt Kerney, Leon Holm, founding pastor, and Pam Schaefer-Dawson of the Cross & Crown Lutheran Church in Rohnert Park are standing in front of one of the stained-glass windows during the celebration of the church???s 50th Anniversary. Photo by Robert Grant

By: Irene Hilsendager (Tandy Whitaker)
March 8, 2019

Cross and Crown Lutheran Church and School celebrated their golden anniversary Sat., Feb. 23 with a worship service and an open house.

During the service, Pastor Leon Holm, now in his nineties, and the founding pastor of Cross and Crown Church gave a very inspiring and humorous talk. He described how he was sent to Rohnert Park with instructions to build a church at the corner of Snyder Lane and Southwest Blvd., but to his surprise, he stood and looked around and saw nothing. The area was void of houses, people and not even a four-legged soul was around. Pastor Holm went back to the motel room and prayed, “God, I think you made a mistake." This was in 1968.

But in his infinite wisdom, he began going door-to-door in sections of town that had a few new houses being built and conversed with a few residents and explained about the possibility of having a new church built in Rohnert Park. During the lull of not having a church to attend but parishioners needed a place of worship, the Cotati Veterans Building would serve its purpose. At the time there were 173 charter members.  But only four months later, the members began to worship in their own building with 87 people for the first service.

The land was purchased by the America Lutheran Church which is a predecessor body of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in 1965 and was given as a grant to build the church in a barren spot of Rohnert Park. Many structures were added from the year 1968 to 2008 such as a preschool room, choir loft, a larger kitchen, offices, bathrooms, a cry room, nursery and in addition many classrooms were also being constructed. Then along came a staff lounge, a multi-purpose room and portable buildings for a middle school. The parking spaces were very minimal so 50 more were added to accommodate the growing parish of 100 that come to worship weekly.

With the addition of classrooms, the school grew larger and so more space had to be built which was done in 1987 and 1990. Cross and Crown’s pre-school runs 12 months a year which is very convenient for the parents who have to find a place to put their children for the summer months. Over 100 children and high school students earn their community service hours by working as VBS assistants.

The school was downsized at the end of the 2007-2008 school year as enrollment gradually declined for several years prior to that. In Sonoma County there is a very high cost of living and therefore a number of families moved out of state and there became fewer children in the population of Rohnert Park. Due to the low pre-enrollment of the 2008-09 school year, the elementary model was not going to be sustainable and therefore decided to downsize to just pre-school and with carefully checking the budget, they chose to rebuild only through the sixth grade. At the present there are 78 students, with 34 in elementary and 44 in pre-school, who receive a quality Christian education.

Through the 50 years, there have been five senior pastors, three associate pastors, three interim pastors and six interns. Three former pastors came to attend the anniversary and enjoyed themselves immensely meeting and conversing with members of the church.

Pastor Holm described the great kindness of Annie Rasmussen, a beloved member of the community and friends with everybody, passed away just recently. Annie and her husband, Ron, welcomed Holm most warmly and later the Rasmussens became long-time members of Cross and Crown. Pastor Newt Kerney spoke of the founding of NOAH (Neighbors Organized Against Hunger) which is housed on the CCLC campus and Pastor Pam Schaefer-Dawson spoke of the joy in working with the children at the Cross and Crown Lutheran School.

As part of the golden celebration, a service project was implemented and they raised $2,252 to purchase farm animals and supplies for an impoverished farm family in some part of the world. Their original goal was to raise $715 which would purchase a cow, a pair of goats, a pair of pigs, a dozen chicks, farming tools, seeds and agricultural training and support. But since Cross and Crown is such a generous church, it was decided to raise the bar and take the goal to $1,715 so that they may include a pair of oxen and a plow. At the conclusion they now have an additional $537 to spend on more farm animals and assist another family. 

With new tools and techniques, crops and animals grow stronger and more prolific, eggs, milk and meat from farm animals provide a lifetime of food to eat and sell at the market, helping those families escape the cycle of hunger and poverty for good. The oxen and plow will enable more work to be done in less time which will give the family a gift of time, which we all need.

The animals and farming support will be provided through the “Good Gifts” program of the ELCA World Hunger organization. Sometime before the anniversary, each church and school family received a “barnyard bank” in which to deposit funds for the project. During the services, the children of the church brought forward all of the banks and placed them on the altar. 

Such gifts support the sustainable development ministries of ELCA World Hunger, which includes training, education and resources to help a community care for the animals and create new market opportunities for starting small businesses. World Hunger operates in 83 countries to support those suffering from food insecurity wherever it is needed the most.

CCLCS is really a community meeting place. It is used for a sign-up center for a polling place, is host to PeopleLink which is a program for Japanese Exchange Students, a SRJC Reading program and so many more. Many people also choose to hold private events in the welcome center.

NOAH is also housed in a separate building on the CCLC campus and food is distributed every Wed. from 4-6 p.m. Residency of Rohnert Park, Cotati and Penngrove must be verified to receive groceries.