February 01, 2021

Photo Essay: O Me of Little Faith, at a California Central Coast Wine Country Church in the Santa Ynez Valley

About 20 miles north up the 154 from the San Marcos Pass is the quaint town of Los Olivos, a little gem of the Santa Ynez Valley wine country. 

It seems pretty obvious, then, why a congregation in that area would name themselves St. Mark's-In-the-Valley. 

But the Episcopalian worshippers of St. Mark’s-in-the-Valley actually didn't originate in Los Olivos—but a little farther south in the valley, in the nearby Danish town of Solvang.

A member of the Diocese of Los Angeles since 1943, it became clear in the 1970s that it was outgrowing its home and needed to move. 
Los Olivos local Leonard Firestone—of Firestone Tires and Firestone Winery—gifted a plot of land for the church's new home, which was completed and dedicated in 1982 (although two more buildings followed over the next 10 years). 

Carmel-based architect Richard Ferson Barrett created a kind of Gothic cathedral as seen through the lens of the Arts and Crafts movement...

......inspired by England's All Saints’ Church in Brockhampton (designed by William Lethaby of the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London)...

...but with extended dormers, a deeply pitched roof...

...and a striking bell tower that contains a 1,010-pound bell (cast at the Paccard Bellfoundary, Annecy-le-Vieux, France). 

I was encouraged to enter when I saw the front doors propped wide open, and a sign that welcomed visitors of "all faiths or no faith." St. Mark's-In-the-Valley practices "Spacious Christianity," which welcomes diversity and encourages questioning and debate (as long as that means following in the footsteps of Jesus).  

I'm not sure where on that spectrum I currently lie—but I was stunned by the architecture, and I stayed for the smell of fresh pine and the soft music that was playing.  

The pipe organ was custom built for the church by the Schoenstein and Company Pipe Organs of San Francisco—with more than 1,000 pipes and 22 ranks. 

In fact, there were lots of interesting aspects of the church's interior for me to examine and admire during my short stay. 

A 180-year-old baptismal font, rescued from a Church of England church in London that was about to be demolished, was gifted to the church by Leonard Firestone's son Brooks and daughter-in-law Catherine. 

The round stained glass window above the nave depicts both the symbol of St. Mark (a lion) and the symbol of Santa Ynez (the lamb), while also referencing the Old Testament's Book of Isaiah 11:6, which prophesizes the coming of the Messiah. 
Some of the windows, adjacent to the altar in the "chapel" area, were actually relocated from the old Solvang church. The work of Judson Studios, they show Jesus in Peter's boat on the Sea of Galilee, where he says "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men" (Matthew 4:19) in his quest to gather disciples.

St. Mark's-in-the-Valley, though, doesn't seem to have to recruit, or convert, or convince. 

It just leaves its doors thrown wide open—and people (like me) just walk in.

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1 comment:

  1. Wow, what a stunningly beautiful church, inside and out. Breathtaking.