May 8, 2015
Supporters of the first-ever Orthodox Christian church in Southern Oregon Thursday burned down a decrepit old house near the Valley View freeway interchange just north of Ashland and have begun fundraising to build their church there in a “Byzantine style.”
The Archangel Gabriel Orthodox Church has been meeting for 20 years at the Walsh Memorial Newman center just above the Southern Oregon University campus but, says Father Andreas Blom, priest of the church, the congregation has grown to exceed 150 members and has outgrown its current facility.
They’ve been holding services in recent weeks at the Shops at Exit 24 in Phoenix and will continue to do so, he said, until they raise enough money to break ground on the church. It will be 45 feet high, with a spherical dome in the Orthodox style, not the Russian style with onion domes.
The church owns seven acres in the 600 block of South Valley View Drive. The property is north of Interstate 5 and south of West Butler Lane, near the on-ramp heading north on I-5. They had a dramatic burn-to-learn exercise performed by Fire District 5 Thursday morning, clearing the land for the church.
Architects drawings of the 3,150-square-foot church are not yet available. Fundraising for $1.5 million is underway among the Orthodox Church at large and the Ashland-based church, he said.
Asked how Orthodox Christianity differs from the mainstream or evangelical, Fr. Andreas said, “It’s consistent. We live in a time of a lot of variables and change. People find comfort in an Orthodox faith, with roots going back a few thousand years to the beginning of Christianity.”
At services, parishioners stand the whole time and sing the entire service a capella, using no musical instruments, the way it was done in ancient times, he notes.
“It’s not based on ideology, is not in reaction to someone else and has no founders,” he says. “The singing, instead of instruments is because the human body is viewed as the sheath that offers up the soul.”
Fr. Andreas says the building of the church here is historic, as there has never been a full-scale Orthodox church built in Southern Oregon, although Orthodox people have worshipped in the region for decades.
“We’re hoping for functionality in the church, but also beauty,” he says, “and getting it done depends on the people who come alongside us to do it.”
The church’s website, www.stgabrielashland.org, says a parishioner last year gave them an interest-free loan to buy the land and get started on the church. All county permits have been obtained, he adds. County records show approval was granted at the staff level in 2014.
The plans call for a community garden, orchard, a cemetery, landscaping and fellowship hall.
The church phone number is 541-690-8822.