An antique bell, cast by a blacksmith in 1901, hangs in the bell tower high above St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Scotts Valley. But the bell is far older than the church, which celebrated its 25th anniversary Nov. 3.
St. Philips was founded in Scotts Valley without a home in 1987 when the Episcopal bishop of the Diocese of El Camino Real, the Rt. Rev. Shannon Mallory, installed the Rev. Martin Yabroff as the founding vicar.
For nine years, the church sought a permanent place to meet. The congregation initially rented a building in Graham Plaza and then met each Sunday for eight years at Scotts Valley Civic Center.
Then, in 1996, the diocese purchased the former Star Lodge alcohol rehabilitation center at 5271 Scotts Valley Drive and erected an empty bell tower.
“The congregation built a tower on faith they would get the bell someday,” said Mary Blessing, who has served as rector of the church since Yabroff left in 2004. “The tower makes it feel like a church.”
The tower remained empty, until, in 2001, Christian Life Center of Santa Cruz offered the bell — which had been in storage for 12 years, since it was taken down from its former perch at Scotts Valley Christian Center — to St. Philips.
Since then, the bell has rung to signal Sunday worship and on special occasions.
But the church’s impact on the community is greater than its building or its bell tower, Blessing said.
“It’s definitely an Episcopal church, but it’s like a community church,” she said. “Our mission is to reach people in their life situations.”
Beyond weekly church services, St. Philips offers a meeting place for Boy Scouts, Alcoholics Anonymous, Toastmasters and Scotts Valley Performing Arts, and it rents office space to tutors and other professionals.
Church members also host a Second Harvest Food Bank food distribution each Thursday evening.
“The church is meant to be a worship space for anybody,” said Steve Dodds, a longtime member. “It was established up front that the space is open to people of all faiths to give a place that’s not judgmental.”
Dodds said he has attended the church since 1988 because of its openness.
“It is a place for people who are questioning,” he said. “They can think about what their own faith may be.”
Blessing said the congregation never lets politics divide it.
“St. Philip’s has a way of being truly in the middle and broad, as the Anglican Church is,” Blessing said. “There are Protestants and Catholics, and the church has a way of staying in balance.
“We agree to disagree, and we pray with each other. We understand that God is bigger than any of it.”
St. Philip’s, which recently moved from being a mission church, helped by the diocese, to an independently funded parish church, has a vision for the future, too.
New housing developments are being constructed on Scotts Valley Drive and near Skypark, and the church hopes to reach out to its new neighbors as they move in, Blessing said. In addition she said the church never turns away a family that needs a funeral performed.
Kyle Dunning, the youth leader, also hopes to develop after-school programs in partnership with a Boys and Girls Club that is coming to Scotts Valley Drive.
A lot was purchased this year, and club board members hope to start activities in an existing building on the lot in early 2013.
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