Our History

Early Beginnings: the Campus Crusade Years

Take a bunch of zealous kids who want to convert the world, put them in one place - the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) - and you have the makings of something really exciting. That's what existed here in the fall of 1966.

A small group of UCSB students went to hear a man who was speaking at Westmont College about evangelism. It turns out he was a representative of Campus Crusade for Christ who thoroughly wowed those students into thinking that they had the capacity to convert the entire country in no time flat. That inaugurated the first Campus Crusade group on the UCSB campus. There was no resident staff member, but the enthusiasm of what was called a Student Mobilization Group was sufficient to make it a movin' unit!

The initial major event was a trip to Balboa Beach in the spring of '67 to blitz the vacationing college students who flocked there every spring break. That was an amazing experience for this little up-start group of people who had nothing on their minds but spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

That summer was the group's first experience at Arrowhead Springs, a resort and conference facility Campus Crusade operated in the San Bernardino mountains. It also was there that the UCSB students met Jon Braun for the first time. He was the featured speaker of the week-long event. His topic was, "It Ain't Gonna Reign No More," a series from the Book of Romans on forgiveness and victory over sin.

Jon Braun at UCSB

By the time classes started the next fall, Campus Crusade was going full steam with weekly College Life meetings that had a surprisingly large following. They started with groups of 20 to 30 people in 1967, and graduated into groups of 100 to 200 by spring. Jon Braun came to campus and gave his famous series on "Love, Sex, and Marriage," scheduled for the first weekend in January right after the Christmas break.

That event had the Crusade students scared to death. They worried that they would not be able to get the word out because of the Christmas break, and that no one would come.

Well, all fears were smashed the first night. Steve Thomas recalls, "We had arranged for the meeting to be in Campbell Hall which held 900 people. By starting time, we were forced to turn away several hundred. The hall was already packed to standing room only! The opening talk was such a success, campus security called to see if we wanted to move to Robertson Gym for the next two sessions! We did, and the next night the gym was filled. Pretty exciting for a small group of upstart kids!"

The result of this series was the early formation of the people who became the founding core of the Church as we know it today. These students organized into small groups of 6 to 10 students and met regularly to read the Bible, pray, and to encourage each other to talk to more students about Christ. The groups experienced a good measure of success, witnessed by the increase in the size of the College Life meetings. They tried everything. Jack Sparks came down for a visit from his activities in Berkeley to participate in the UCSB "Free Speech" movement. Student leader Steve Thomas stood up on a table in the center of the UCEN and yelled out an introduction of Dr. Sparks to the students for his noon hour message about Jesus Christ.


The next summer Jon Braun resigned from Crusade staff, as did Dick Ballew, Pete Gillquist (as we called them then) and scores of others within the next few months. This startled the UCSB group. At the Crusade conferences held in Arrowhead Springs that summer, several students drove up the mountain to Blue Jay each evening to meet with Jon at his home. There they heard about the grace of God and Jon's concept of house churches, based on the model of communities in the New Testament. This was the passion of those who had resigned from Campus Crusade.

It was 1968. There was a sense of rebellion in the air; these changes were unfolding concurrently with the reaction against the Vietnam war and the prospect of putting a man on the moon. Students were ready and eager for something new and revolutionary in the religious arena.

Fall approached and a new sense of purpose filled those who led the Campus Crusade group at UCSB. Things went smoothly first quarter. Then, there was word of a conference at UCLA to be held over Christmas break. At this gathering students and ex-Crusade staff from all over the West Coast came to hear Jon Braun, Dick Ballew and Pete Gillquist and others who remain with us today. Speaker after speaker urged a return to the life and practices of the New Testament Church. They promised exciting new alternatives to the "establishment" and boring denominational order of Christendom.

Our New Dream: to Find the New Testament Church

From that day forward, it seemed we saw ourselves as a community within a movement. In this period, we also continued our militancy in making the name of Christ known. We began the process of examining our purposes, our motives and our goals. We became enthralled with the writings of Watchman Nee who had fomented an alternate-church movement in China. We tried to copy the methods he and his followers espoused.

Eager to be involved, others on this same journey moved to Santa Barbara. Jon and Mary Ellen Braun, Dick and Sylvia Ballew, and many other families arrived along with numerous single people. Christians came from as far away as Atlanta, but mostly from various points in California. The goal was to experience together what we thought to be the New Testament Church. It was based on a model of free expression along with strong leadership. But sadly, our doctrines wandered sporadically in and out of biblical orthodoxy.

Then in 1973, Jon and Dick announced a meeting at the home of one of our members. There, these men, who saw the need for a more historically based approach to finding what we were looking for, announced that we were going to be a full fledged Church that would provide, "green pastures, cool waters, and a place for our children to raise their children."

"This is really where we stopped being a `fellowship,' and began to be a Church," Fr. Jon recalls. For a time he and Dick Ballew were co-pastors; ultimately Fr. Richard was placed in charge, and in short order, our leaders along with Peter Gillquist, Jack Sparks, Gordon Walker, Ken Berven and Ray Nethery, pulled together to become the New Covenant Apostolic Order (NCAO).

Transition: Spontaneity to Liturgy

In 1973 we moved into the old Logos Bookstore in downtown Isla Vista, which even earlier had been a branch office of the Bank of America. We called it the Family Center, and it had orange carpeting and lime green walls!  We stayed in this building until March of 2011 as a church community.

"We took turns facing every wall in the church as our focal point. We began by facing the wall of the room where the choir's books are kept now. We had our chairs in a semi-circle," Penny Brunner recalls.

The worship resembled that of today's non-denominational churches, and it was always evolving.

In 1974 we divided into two home churches, and by 1979 we had grown to five. We began to adapt to our understanding of early Church liturgical worship. Our synaxis or public worship started at 9:00 a.m. on Sunday and we met for the Eucharist in the houses after that at 10:30 a.m. You could bring guests for the synaxis, but it was just our church family at the Eucharist.

These were wonderful times. We had a kiss of peace and everybody hugged everybody. After communion there would be a time of singing and giving thanks to God. It was very significant. There were two priests for each house church: Frs. Jim King and Pat Wallace at St. Mark, Frs. John Carrillo and David Washburn at St. James, Frs. Bill Hartung and Steve Thomas at St. John, Frs. Jon-Stephen Hedges and Dean Brunner at St. Peter and Frs. Nicholas Speier and John Sommer at St. Luke.

One of our early encouragers, alack and alas, was our dear Professor of English friend from Gordon College, Dr. Thomas Howard. On more of a Western track to the ancient faith, his friendship and lectures helped buttress us early on in our pilgrimage to Orthodoxy.

Meeting the Orthodox

By 1977 our bishops began to interact with various Orthodox clergy. OCA (Orthodox Church in America) priest Fr. Ted Wojcik visited us that year, and in 1978 Bishops Jack Sparks and Peter Gillquist traveled to New York to meet with the faculty at St. Vladimir Seminary. The Gillquists moved to Santa Barbara in the summer of 1979 and Bishop (now Archbishop) DMITRI visited and taught here that December. Frs. Alexander Schmemann and John Meyendorff also came and taught at St. Athanasius Academy during this era. Fr. Schmemann insisted we meet people of the other Orthodox jurisdictions.

Also in the late 1970s, as we were discovering historic Orthodoxy, Doug King and John Finley were putting to music the things our clergy were learning about the Church. A favorite was:

Within These Walls

Within these walls,
His priests lift up their hands.
Within these walls,
His children learn to stand.
Within these walls,
you hear the Angels sing.
Within these walls,
we have an offering.

Within these walls,
His Spirit teaches us.
Within these walls,
His wisdom reaches us.
Within these walls,
the injured receive care.
Within these walls,
there is effective prayer.

Within these walls,
His sheep He safely feeds.
Within these walls,
His government He leads.
Within these walls,
you grow to love His friends.
Within these walls,
you know release from sins.

"These songs were just the best," Penny Brunner remembers. "These men had such an incredible gift for music. Everyone would be teary-eyed when we sang because these pieces were such a personal part of our history. The hymns incorporated the things Doug and John saw, but they touched everybody."

Fr. Jack Sparks and John Finley were responsible for examining, incorporating, and adapting when necessary the hymnography of the Orthodox Church. "I remember Fr. Jack ordered a bunch of liturgical music from St. Vladimir Seminary Press," Fr. John says with a smile. "I went to his house one day, and knocked. Fr. Jack came to the door with a stack of books about two feet high, dropped them into my outstretched arms and said, `Here -- figure it out!'"

By 1979, being part of an "Order" was not working. The Church raised up orders, not visa versa. We swallowed hard and became a denomination in February, 1979: the Evangelical Orthodox Church (EOC). This bold move received wide newspaper coverage, including a piece in The New York Times. The NCAO days were over.

In 1980 a delegation from our Santa Barbara parish was invited to the OCA convention in Detroit. Deliberations between the OCA and the EOC leaders took place in the East-West room of the Cadillac Hotel. How appropriate!

The Greek Orthodox Seminary in Boston, Holy Cross, scheduled two dialogs between Bishop MAXIMOS and the faculty and our leaders in 1982 and 1983. Bishop Peter also met with Bishop (now Metropolitan) CHRISTOPHER of the Serbian Orthodox Church, and attempted on numerous occasions to visit Metropolitan PHILIP. Somehow their schedules would never mesh.

A New Door is Opened

Numerous times between 1980 and 1985, the EOC Council of Bishops met in Santa Barbara. Almost always the agenda revolved around whether or not we should enter the Orthodox Church, and if so how and through which jurisdiction.

At the January 1985 Council, the decision was made to approach Constantinople. Bishop MAXIMOS offered to accompany us, and Archbishop IAKOVOS approved the trip for late May, 1985. Our entire Council prepared to make the journey to Istanbul. At the last moment, Archbishop IAKOVOS changed his mind and the day after our men flew overseas, his telegram arrived at Bishop Peter's house on Pasado Road asking that the trip be postponed. The EOC bishops were turned away in Constantinople.

God closed that door but opened another. Bishops Jon, Richard and Peter met Patriarch IGNATIUS IV of Antioch and Metropolitan PHILIP just two weeks later, in June, 1985, in Los Angeles. "We will do everything we can to help you," the Patriarch assured his new EOC friends. Metropolitan PHILIP became our advocate from that moment on.

The climax to this dialog came in September of 1986 when the EOC Council together with a number of our clergy and laity presented themselves to Metropolitan PHILIP at his Englewood, New Jersey residence. "After three days of dialogue we asked him to receive us," Fr. Richard Ballew told us when he returned. "He said YES!"

The Santa Barbara diocese of the EOC labored night and day to incorporate the revisions to our St. John Chrysostom Liturgy -- as did the other sixteen EOC parishes. Chrismations and ordinations would start for us at St. Michael's, Van Nuys, California, on February 8, 1987.

A New Life as Orthodox Christians

From February to April, 1987, the seventeen parishes and about 2,000 people of the Evangelical Orthodox Church were received into the Antiochian Archdiocese by Metropolitan PHILIP and Bishop ANTOUN. In his keynote address at the Archdiocesean Convention in Detroit that summer, the Metropolitan welcomed us into the Church and challenged us to bring America to the Orthodox faith. Fr. Jon Braun was asked to direct the Department of Campus Ministry and Fr. Peter Gillquist was named head of the Department of Missions and Evangelism for the Archdiocese.

When our parish became Orthodox, Metropolitan PHILIP granted our request to be named St. Athanasius Orthodox Church, giving us as our patron the great hero of the Council of Nicea.

In the years both before and since entering the Archdiocese, St. Athanasius Church has been a center for Orthodox activity on several fronts.

Maturity in Worship

Once we were Orthodox, we used the text of the services as prescribed by the Archdiocese, the same as any other Orthodox Church. But how would we learn all the traditional music? To help us make the transition, the Metropolitan permitted us to use known Protestant hymn melodies sung with rhymed and metered words from Orthodox hymns. Fr. Jack Sparks and Dn. John Finley worked endless hours to bring this music together During communion and at the veneration of the Cross, we were permitted to retain use of some of the original pre-Orthodox hymns we had written. This gave us the time we needed to learn the traditional Orthodox music.

Today, we still use some of our transition music, but we have also incorporate music from the many Orthodox musical traditions, including Byzantine Chant, Russian Chant, and four-part music from around the world, as well as newly composed hymns by American composers.  Each year we feel more and more at home with the music of the Church. Hymns from the major feast days, the wedding service, baptisms and the hierarchical liturgy are like good friends that we have finally gotten to know.

A Birthplace of Books

In large part because St. Athanasius Academy and the Academic Community were here for so many years, many landmark Orthodox books were born in our parish. Immediately after entering the Church, Fr. Peter Gillquist wrote the story of our journey from evangelicalism to Orthodoxy entitled Becoming Orthodox which has gone through several printings. Later, he wrote the biography of our primate, Metropolitan PHILIP: His Life and His Dreams.

Fr. Jack Sparks wrote a number of his books while a part of our parish including the best-selling Mindbenders: A Look at Current Cults and his newer series of three volumes based onUnseen Warfare. Fr. Jon Braun's outstanding book on the Trinity, the Incarnation and our salvation called Divine Energy was written here.

But the best known volume of them all, The Orthodox Study Bible: New Testament and Psalms was put together in our nave and Church office through the efforts of the Academic Community. It has sold over 100,000 copies, and has brought many new people to the Church and strengthened the faith and knowledge of countless Orthodox believers.

A Center for Outreach

The word is out in the Protestant community that if you're interested in Orthodoxy, a good place to visit is St. Athanasius, Santa Barbara.  For several years, we were the host parish for the Pan-Orthodox Missions and Evangelism Conference held at nearby Francisco Torres.  About one-fourth of the attendees were non-Orthodox seekers.

Many non-Orthodox pastors and laity come to visit as well. Many have become Orthodox and joined our parish, while others have gone on to start new missions across the country - the most recent being Fr. Joseph Corrigan and his parish, St. Peter, in San Dimas, California. One year after establishing St. Luke's Mission in Santa Barbara, Fr. Josiah Trenham, a former Episcopal priest, and his flock merged with St. Athanasius in December, 1994.  Fr. Josiah is now the senior pastor of St. Andrew Orthodox Church in Riverside, California, a large and vital community that consecrated its new temple in 2013.

In addition, we have had the joy of welcoming to the faith students and faculty from adjacent UCSB and from nearby Westmont and Santa Barbara City College, and this with little formal outreach. Perhaps the day will come when we will have on our parish staff a person who does full-time campus ministry.

The Food Distribution Program, St. Brigid Fellowship (ministry to the homeless and needy) and Council of Christmas Cheer have played important parts in our community outreach, along with involvement in work to protect the lives of unborn children. Many of our members support needy children in the Middle East, others assist in International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) and Project Mexico/St. Innocent Orphanage.

A Commitment to Orthodox Unity

A vital ingredient in the spirit of the Antiochian Patriarchate over the centuries has been a commitment to unity among Orthodox Christians. Fr. Nicholas and our parish clergy have worked together to build strong relationships with other Orthodox in the area.

The Central Coast Clergy Association has been one result of this effort, bringing together Orthodox priests and parishes from Santa Maria to Camarillo. We share a deepening friendship with the first Orthodox parish in Santa Barbara, St. Barbara Greek Orthodox Church, and its pastor.  A strong relationship exists with Mother Victoria at St. Barbara Monastery (OCA) in Ojai.  The monastery began in Santa Barbara with the strong and loyal support of our parish. Fr. Nicholas also works with neighboring non-Orthodox Christian leaders in areas of mutual concern.

Our Social Register

Through the years, many local parish traditions have already come into being. A favorite is the annual St. Nicholas Night on or about December 6. Open to the public, this event features music, story-telling, gifts for children, and a visit from St. Nicholas.

Every now and then we host a Family Night, when everyone gets out their musical instruments for a wonderful trip down memory lane. Often on these occasions the faithful from our sister church in Lompoc, St. Timothy, will join us for the evening. For an hour or two we sing together many of the songs which brought us through the expanded 30 years of our history.

Our ladies look forward to the annual Annunciation Tea and the Women's Retreat, while the men would gather each month for Men's Fellowship. Summertime means summer school and Magic Mountain for the kids, and at least a few Church picnics at Goleta Beach or Stow Park.

And, as we continue on our Orthodox journey, we are developing local traditions for celebrating the major feasts of the Church, such as when we all head to the ocean for the Great Blessing of the Waters at Epiphany, the Meatfare Sunday picnic and lots of potlucks to celebrate feast days. As Fr. Nicholas says, feasting is one of the things we do best!

But Pascha - Easter Sunday - must rank as the pinnacle of our worship and social experience. Very early in the morning we gather at the church to proclaim in one voice, one heart, and one mind, "Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!" Parishioners work for days to prepare the food and special entertainment which follows at the agape feast. We have adopted many traditionally Orthodox Pascha customs, as well as some of our own. It seems that on that morning, more than any other day of the year, we are at peace . . . and we are truly one. On that day we celebrate the greatest miracle of them all, the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, as well as the love God has given us for one another - past, present, and future.

A Place for You

St. Athanasius Church means not only a place for us, but a place for you. As a visitor, we invite you to join us as often as you can to worship and glorify the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Don't hesitate to ask about the Inquirers Group, and when the next one will begin. We urge you to consider becoming an Orthodox Christian, and invite you to make this Church your home.

Through good and lean years, God has been wonderfully faithful to us. You will notice the joy of Christ in our clergy, our families, the singles, the children and the grandparents. But most of all, we hope you will find the spirit of worship here.

Two thousand years ago, our Lord Jesus Christ revealed to the woman of Samaria that God the Father seeks people who will worship Him in Spirit and in truth. The parish of St. Athanasius desires to be true to that call. The first decade in the Orthodox Church has far exceeded our expectations and we believe that the years ahead - from now until the return of Christ - will be even richer in their rewards.

Just as Metropolitan PHILIP, of thrice blessed memory, did for us a decade ago, may we also have the matchless opportunity to extend to you a welcome home!