Little white church stands firmly below massive cliffs
After moving from home to home and to different buildings, members of the Alpine Christian Community Church – the only church in Alpine County – now are ensconced in a small white building at the base of Carey’s Peak in Woodfords.
Notched into the granite rocks high over the steeple, a feathery waterfall plummets to earth.
The most ornate cathedral in the world might not match up to this breathtaking natural architecture backdrop of mountain and canyon.
In the early ’70s, a group of Alpine County women started a Bible study group and met in the Woodfords home of Dick and Jean Martin.
Then, six or seven couples began meeting in the Markleeville home of Paul and Virginia Smith, and they asked Eberhard Wiedenmeyer to lead Sunday morning services. Pastor Wiedenmeyer served as minister for the congregation from 1974 to 1986, followed by Dick Lyons from 1986 to 1991, Al Moak from 1991 to 1993, Gene Holman from 1993 to 1999, and Ron Rhoads from 1999 to the present time. Meanwhile, members met at the homes of the Craiks, Gansbergs, Chacons, Barretts, and Stephens, and also at the Fredericksburg Schoolhouse (destroyed by fire), Turtle Rock Park, Diamond Valley School, and Mt. Sierra Christian School.
“Sometimes it was hard to keep the church alive when it was moving around,” said George Chavez, chairman of the Alpine Christian Community Church board.
He talks about the solution to the shifting from place to place.
“The building fund that had been accumulating over the years was not sufficient to build a church from scratch, but it did cover remodeling costs, so my family and my in-laws, Bob and Marge Stephens, decided to donate use of a former house on the property of Woodfords Auto.”
In 1999, contractor Nick Hartzell was hired by the church to bring the house up to building code, and to take out some interior walls, refinish the hardwood floors, paint the interior and exterior, and build the steeple. One of his helpers, Benny Fillmore, volunteered to fashion the wooden cross for the steeple.
Ever since signing the 25-year lease with the Chavez and Stephens families, the congregation has had a permanent home to offer Sunday morning services, Bible studies, weddings, memorial services, pancake breakfasts, and other events for Alpiners.
Marianne Rhoads, who serves as Associate Pastor, assists husband Ron Rhoads, who is also an attorney and a member of the California State Bar Association.
“We have cast aside labels, and we are completely independent of any denomination. Everyone is welcome at our church,” said Rhoads, who is known for his allegorical style of delivering the message of the day, as well as for his colorful ties and vests.
Ernestine Fogarty, a long-time church member from Markleeville, concurs.
“We are in complete harmony with one another, and I look forward to each Sunday. Since children attend the regular service at 10 a.m. Sundays, the pastor always tells a contemporary story first and then applies it to his sermon, so we all understand the message.”
In lieu of holding Christmas morning service, a special Christmas Eve candlelight service will take place at 7 p.m. Dec. 24.
Children, ranging from 6 years old to college age will stage a play titled, “Least of These,” inspired by Matthew 25. Cami Chavez, Marianne Rhoads, and Jeri Bennett have been coaching the young performers, and after the play and service, electric lights will darken and candlelight will glow, as musician Darlene Bennett presses the keys on the old-time church organ, and the congregation sings “Silent Night.”
The little white church in the picture-perfect setting is located at 150 Old Pony Express Road, parallel to Highway 88, in Woodfords.
n Gina Gigli is an Alpine County resident.