WHO WAS ST. ANSELM?
St. Anselm was born in 1033 in the northwest Italian town of Aosta. He left Italy and sailed to Normandy, France, where he was educated at a Benedictine monastery. He became an abbot and then a prominent theological philosopher who is best known for his teaching on the relation between faith and reason.
During a visit to England, he learned he had been chosen to become the 36th Archbishop of Canterbury. He accepted the position reluctantly, because he foresaw conflicts rising between church and state.
He was in office from 1093 to 1109 and died at the age of 78 — a very long life in those days — and his symbol, the ship, reflects his many sea voyages between Britain and Rome. The nautical motif is seen frequently at St. Anselm’s Church: the emblem on our sign on Michael Lane, the ship’s bell in the bell tower, and our baptismal font (a deep-sea giant clamshell).
EARLY HISTORY OF ST. ANSELM’S CHURCH IN LAFAYETTE
In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, Episcopalian church attendance in central Contra Costa County was growing rapidly and taxing the capacities of nearby St. Stephen’s Church in Orinda and St. Paul’s Church in Walnut Creek. The Diocese of California felt it was time to build a church that would serve the community of Lafayette and decided that the Glenside-Burton Valley Estates area would be a suitable location.
The Diocese purchased a home with an adjoining 3.5-acre parcel of land owned by William Wilkinson on Michael Lane, a street branching off Glenside Drive. This site is situated on the west side of a group of hills that border Burton Valley. The original purchase price for the entire parcel was $35,000.
In January 1959, interested members of both St. Stephen’s and St. Paul’s churches met with the Right Reverend James A. Pike, J. S. D.(left), who was the Bishop of the Diocese of California. The purpose of the meeting, held at St. Stephens, was to approve the formation of a new church. The church would be considered a mission until it was prepared to assume all financial obligations involved in its operations. The startup congregation totaled 59 members. Bishop Pike decided that the church would be named for St. Anselm because “he was one of our guys” and had been an early Archbishop of Canterbury.
The first service was held on February 8th of that year. St Anselm’s quickly grew in size and by October 29th had 355 communicants. Until the sanctuary was completed, the congregation and church school met all over Lafayette: in the Park Theatre, at the Chapel of the Valley Mortuary, in the garage of the vicarage, and in various local doctors’ offices.
Bishop Pike appointed the Reverend Clarence H. Stacey (right) as the first vicar. Rev. Stacey was an assistant to the rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Alameda and had worked in the business world for many years before entering the priesthood. He also had experience in new church start-ups. As a seminarian he had been in charge of establishing two missions in San Francisco and Morgan Hill. Rev. Stacey, his wife Eleanor, and their two children, Charles and Margaret, moved into the old Wilkinson home, which served as a vicarage while the church was being built. (Eventually the vicarage parcel was sold.)
John Holman was the first Senior Warden.
BUILDING THE SANCTUARY
St. Anselm’s “church-in-the-round” design is a good example of the phrase “every old is new again.” It was an evolution of a model that is one of the oldest patterns of church construction, and was used in the earliest Christian buildings. Its architectural intent was to express the ideal of the Book of Common Prayer and early Christianity, emphasizing a high degree of participation by the congregation. A priest of the mid-20th century summed it up well when he said “The Church is first and foremost a family. Therefore we sit facing one another, rather than looking at the backs of one another’s heads as does an audience; we are a congregation, those called together.”
Bishop Pike’s Enthusiasm
The design of St. Anselm’s follows that of the Chapel of St. James the Fisherman in Wellfleet, Massachusetts (left). Bishop Pike, who attended church there during his summer vacations, loved the design and encouraged the new congregation to adopt it as a model.
Architects and Contractors
The San Francisco architectural firm of Marquis and Stoller designed the building, with the assistance of St. James’ architect Olav Hammarstrom, of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan (right). Mr. Hammarstrom and his wife, Marie, stayed with the Staceys during the design process and became close friends as a result. Harold Speagle of Berkeley was the main contractor.
The Construction Process
Construction of the church began in May 1960, and a special ground-breaking ceremony was held about that time (left). A number of underground springs running through the property proved to be a challenge at first, requiring extensive excavation and diversion. Eleanor Stacey characterized it as “looking like the Grand Coulee Dam for awhile.”
An interesting controversy arose over how to anchor the central piers. The University of Oklahoma, which had been doing major research on earthquake construction at the time, recommended that the piers be anchored in underground bales of hay. The researchers said the bales would last forever and be highly resistant to tremors. The Contra Costa Planning Commission, however, would not approve the design, and the plans had to be altered.
After these challenges were met and overcome, the structure rose quickly, and the first service was held inside on September 25, 1960. The church was officially
dedicated on October 22, 1960, by Bishop Pike, assisted by Rev. Stacey and the Right Rev. Henry Shires, the retired suffragan bishop. The total cost was
$131,000, a very reasonable price for a church building at that time.
The sanctuary, which is 72-feet square, is a “church-in-the-round” with the altar in the center (below). The interior design features exposed redwood and cedar beams and columns placed in geometric patterns. The pews are made of redwood. A central skylight bathes the altar area
and its hanging cross, with natural illumination. The low, ground-level windows on the sides of the church add extra light and preserve wall space at the same time. The seats for the regular clergy and choir are not in a separate area, but rather are part of the regular pews that are in the four quadrants of the sanctuary. The church has a capacity
to seat 420 people, none of whom are more than seven rows away from the altar.
From the Outside
The low, one-story, shingled church (left), with its adjoining parish hall and church school wings, is nestled in a grove of trees and blends into the surrounding
The separate, flood-lit 56-foot bell tower (right), topped by a cross and containing an old ship’s bell, rises high enough above the trees to be seen even at night. The bell is rung “in a joyful manner” before each service.
St. Anselm’s received a great deal of publicity both before and after its completion in the late 50’s and early 60’s. Several articles were written about it in Bay Area newspapers. It was featured on the cover of the September 1959 issue of “Pacific Churchman.” There was an article about it in the October 1960 issue of “This Earth” magazine. It was featured in the December 1962 issue of “Better Homes and Gardens.” Probably its widest exposure was from an article in the December 26, 1960 issue of “Time Magazine”.
In keeping with the nautical theme, the font (right) is a giant South Pacific clamshell. It is from the island of Mindano in the Philippines and was brought to us by Dick and Anne Ward. Dick was was one of our first Senior Wardens and Anne is an 8’oclock parishioner
William Sims, an original church member, fabricated the central cross (left) and the processional cross. The central cross above the altar and the processional cross were constructed of molten bronze and silver on steel. They were fashioned by melting down metal objects donated by the church members. The enten cross was built of wooden cross pieces held together with angled carriage bolts, and the crown of
thorns was made of barbed wire.
Stained Glass Window
New York artist Glidden Parker designed the striking floor-to-ceiling stained glass window (right) on the north side of the church. Its title is “The Atonement”, a major subject of St Anselm’s writings. The window was commissioned and donated to the church by several families, including the Ward family.
Stations of the Cross
The welded steel Stations of the Cross (left) were created by Fran Meyer, an award-winning California artist, are mounted on the west and south walls of the sanctuary. They depict the 14 events that tradition indicates occurred as Jesus carried his cross from Pilate’s palace to Golgotha. Meyer chose welded steel as her medium because, in her words, “fire and steel were expressive of the enormous theme.” The project was commissioned and donated to the church by Mary Lou Martin, a former parishioner.
To retire the construction debt to the Diocese and become a self-sufficient parish, church members decided to have a major fund-raiser in 1976. Congregants “bought” church pillars, and small plaques on the pillars (right) still record the “sales.”
The original small organ was later replaced by a larger pipe organ (left). The next instrument, not an original purchase, was a donation from a home in Walnut Creek. Under the leadership of William Sims, many church members spent countless hours on installation and tuning. In 2013 we acquired a Moller organ from Temple Emanu-eL in San Francisco, which no longer had need for it. The Moller organ is a significant upgrade from our previous organ. Andrew Huddart, shown at the organ, has been our organist and music director for many years.
Seasonal banners (right) hang on the west side of the church and on either side of the organ pipes. They were carried in the procession at the Grace Cathedral ceremony when St. Anselm’s Mission became an actual parish. The banners were designed and created by a Church School teacher, Joan Holman, and her 5th, 6th, and 7th grade class as their gift to St. Anselm’s.
Book of Remembrance
The book (left) is located in a case at the southeast corner of the church. It is inscribed with lists of many memorial gifts, the year they were received, and the names of donors and honorees.
OUTSIDE THE SANCTUARY
The peaceful memorial garden (right) on the east side of the church contains several teak benches, another nod to the fact that the original St. Anselm often traveled by sea. The wrought – iron screen, holding several brass plaques, was designed by
Joan Holman and incorporates the butterfly, a symbol of new life. The garden’s dogwood tree faithfully flowers each year during the Easter season. For more information and photos about the Memorial garden, click here.
The columbarium (left), on the northeast corner of the site, is the most recent addition to the church grounds. Its low niche wall, which holds the ashes of parishioners and family members, is surrounded by decorative landscaping and is faced by a simple bench that serves as a place for contemplation. This beautiful addition was funded by contributions from the columbarium founders. We are especially grateful for the generosity of Dorothy and Miller Freeman. For more information about the Columbarium, click here.
At the start of the 21st Century, St. Anselm’s was beginning to feel its age. Elements that were new and fresh in 1960 were starting to look old and tired. The congregation undertook a major capital-fund campaign to renovate the parish hall and modernize several design elements in the sanctuary itself.
Inside the Church
The original color of the inside walls was a deep blue, which evoked the seafaring St. Anselm. Although the color represented tranquility and tradition, it made the church seem very dark. During the renovation, the walls were painted an off-white, which gave a whole new feeling of airiness and spaciousness inside the sanctuary. The blue tradition was maintained when the carpeting at the altar was switched from its original gold color to blue. The existing flat white linoleum tiles were replaced with elegant slate tiles. Finally, handsome upholstered cushions were placed on the pews to “soften” the worship experience.
Before his death, parishioner Selwyn Jackson provided St. Anselm’s with a very generous gift to augment the capital fund drive. His gift enabled the church to completely renovate the parish hall and kitchen, and provide a beautiful place to hold meetings and special events.
The hall features a spacious high-ceilinged events and dining area (left) capable of seating 132 for dining and 283 for assembly. Large glass windows look out on a landscaped garden slope. Deer and wild turkeys can often be seen on the slope, especially near dusk.
Meals are prepared in a large modern kitchen (right). Meetings can be held in an expansive conference room, in the library, or in the events and dining area.
To thank Mr. Jackson for his kind donation, the congregation voted to name the new building after him. To see more Jackson Hall information and photos, click here.
St. Anselm’s is not only home to a church school but also to Michael Lane Preschool. In order to enrich the outdoor experience for the children who attend, the church helped fund and install a large attractive play structure in the play yard (left). For more information and photos about Michael Lane Preschool, click here.
In keeping with its long time goal of being sensitive to the environment and to reduce its dependency on utility-produced electricity, St. Anselm’s installed 42 solar panels (below, right) on the roof of the parish hall-administrative wing in July 2007. Ever since, our annual electric bills have been zero. We have reduced our electricity costs by $12,000 since the project began while reducing the amount of CO2 (a green-house gas) generated by PG&E’s power plants by more than 19 tons. St. Anselm’s received environmental awards from the Diocese of California and from the City of Lafayette for this project. This landmark project (the first solar-powered system in the Diocese of California) was funded by a a group of 31 individual parishioners and families.
Cellular Phone System
In August 2009 Verizon Wireless installed transmitters to send signals to and receive signals from its cellular phone customers. These transmitters are located in the top of our bell tower where they are hidden from view. An unobtrusive shelter houses equipment needed to power the transmitters. The Verizon system has minimal visual and audio impact on our neighbors, while providing a nice revenue stream to help us keep ahead of our expenses.
FUTURE CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS
St. Anselm’s does not intend to rest on its laurels. Major projects it is considering are repaving the parking lot, building a narthex on the front of the church building, and adding another cellular carrier’s system to the existing Verizon system.
“Agape” Coffee Hour
From the beginning, St. Anselm’s has followed the tradition of having a refreshment period in the parish hall after the service (right). This corresponds to the Agape (“Love Feast”), which was the custom of the first Christians, following the Eucharist. This weekly event is well attended and promotes our goal of welcoming newcomers, catching up with old friends, and extending the feeling of communion beyond the actual service.
At mid-service, after the announcement period, people who have birthdays and anniversaries and who are traveling are invited to the altar rail to receive a blessing. Many newcomers say that this, along with the friendliness of the congregation, makes them decide to make St. Anselm’s their church home.
Partly due to its small size, many of the parishioners of St. Anselm’s are active in the church in some fashion. They may be members of the Altar Guild, the choir, the vestry, one or more commissions, ushers, lectors, oblation bearers, acolytes, church school, youth group, coffee hosts, and so forth. For more information on church activities, click “Activities” on the left menu and follow the links.
St. Anselm’s celebrates Pentecost Sunday by decorating the sanctuary interior with red, orange, yellow, and pink balloons with dangling red curled ribbons. This colorful assembly not only evokes the “tongues of fire” the early Christians experienced at the first Pentecost, but also appeals to the young and young at heart. This child-centered tradition continues after the service with appealing activities for youngsters, such as an inflated jump castle.
St. Anselm’s has a strong tradition of outreach and has a reputation as one of the most generous parishes in the area. The church’s goal is to commit ten percent or more of its total income to outreach projects, both close to home and far away. The photo to the right shows some of our young members working in Mississippi to rebuild structures damaged by Hurricane Katrina. For more information about our outreach program, click here.
Blessing of the Animals
At the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, parishioners are invited to bring their animals to the service to participate and be blessed (left). Many dogs attend, but some people have brought their cats, guinea pigs, and even snakes. For more information and some fun photos about this interesting event, click here.
RECTORS THROUGH THE YEARS
Rev. Clarence H. Stacey (1958 – 1961). Rev. Stacey left St. Anselm’s to become the Diocesan Missioner, but returned here after his retirement and was an associate pastor for several years.
Rev. Stanley Smith (1961 – 1965). After leaving St. Anselm’s, Rev. Smith served in the New York City area.
Rev. George N. Hunt (1965 – 1970). Devoted to social justice, Rev. Hunt received the ACLU Civil Libertarian of the Year Award in 1984, among his many other accolades. He eventually became the Bishop of Rhode Island.
Rev. James B. Jones (1970 – 1972). Rev. Jones later was on the faculty of the Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP).
Rev. Robert Tsu (1972 – 1985). Rev. Tsu was active in retiring the church debt and enabling St. Anselm’s to become a parish. After leaving he was very active in hospice work.
Rev. Charles L. Ramsden (1986 – 1991). Rev. Ramsden had served as a seminarian at St. Anselm’s from 1971 – 1974 before being called to parishes in Idaho and San Luis Obispo. He is currently employed by the Church Insurance Company.
Rev. Robert B. Moore. (1992 – 1998). Rev. Moore, now retired, is remembered for his warm pastoral care for our many elderly parishioners.
Rev. John D. Sutton (1998 – present).
For more information about Reverend Sutton and his staff, click here.