Thursday, August 27, 1998Author writes: Feel free to forward, post, print, e-mail or paper mail to anyone you
think might be interested. Thank you.

BRIEF SUMMARY: Due to the legal and ecclesiastical conflicts at
Saints Peter & Paul Orthodox Church in Ben Lomond, the St. Theophan
Academy, which serves students from first grade through high
school, is in urgent need of financial assistance in order to
continue its operations for the fall academic semester. This is
one of the few grade 1-12 Orthodox schools in the country, and
enrollment of 50-60 students is expected when school begins in a
few weeks. To make a contribution, see the information at the end
of the following letter.

Dear friends,

Some of you have been following the controversy surrounding Saints Peter
and Paul Orthodox Church in Ben Lomond, California, for the last six
months. One of the “untold stories” behind this tragedy is the status
of the parish school which has served many of the children in the parish
for the past seven years.

Realizing the need for an alternative to the secular public education
system, families in the parish worked together to establish a school
that would not only give an excellent academic education to their
children but would also instruct them in the Orthodox Christian faith.

The academy began teaching a combination 6th/7th grade class and then
gradually expanded, year by year, to the point where it now includes
first grade through high school. The academy is staffed by the
principal, Wendy Russell, and nine teachers: two teachers for grades
1-2, one teacher for grades 3-4, grades 5-6, grades 7-8, and four high
school teachers for math, science, history, English and Spanish.
Enrollment last year was approximately 75 students, mostly the children
of families attending Ss. Peter & Paul Church.

Earlier this year, a tragic church split divided the parish, with about
two-thirds of the clergy and parishioners petitioning to leave the
Antiochian Archdiocese. The reasons for this upheval need not be
recounted here, as they have been extensively documented elsewhere. . . .

The Antiochian Archdiocese then sued the local parish corporation which
held title to the church property, and on Thursday, August 20, a verdict
was handed down by the Santa Cruz County Superior Court, in which the
Archdiocese was awarded control of all of the property, bank accounts,
and so forth.

The principal, all of the teachers, and the families of about 60 of the
75 students in the academy were among the majority of parishioners on
the losing side of the court case.

Because the school had been run by the parish, all of the academy’s
classroom space, office space, school supplies, curricula, office
equipment, desks, books, computers, and bank account were among the
property turned over to the Archdiocese. Neither the Archdiocese nor
the minority group in the Antiochian parish which gained control of all
this property has indicated any intention of continuing the academy.
With the beginning of the school year approaching quickly, Wendy
Russell, the principal of the academy, submitted a request to the parish
council of the Antiochian parish, requesting the use of the facilities
for 2-3 months until alternative arrangements could be made to
house the academy elsewhere. This request was rejected. Negotiations
are still taking place to determine whether the academy will be
permitted to retain any of the curricula and school supplies.

Meanwhile, school was originally scheduled to begin next Monday.
However, this will be impossible, as the school now has nowhere to meet,
no curricula or school supplies, and no money to pay teachers’ salaries.

Parents are determined, however, that, regardless of what happens with
the parish, the academy must survive.

The current plan is to delay the start of school by 2-4 weeks in order
to work out all of the necessary details. Office space in the San
Lorenzo Valley is expensive. It appears that for the coming academic
year, the school will operate “satellite classrooms” in the homes of
parents who can volunteer a garage, living room or attic. Parents have
been asked to pay tuition several months in advance if possible in order
to provide some up-front operating funds.

This is only the third time in my life I have ever written a
“fundraising letter” asking for money. I believe that this academy is a
worthwhile endeavor, not only for the parents and children here who have
benefitted from it, but also for Orthodox education in general. It is
one of the few Orthodox academies in the country. Over the years, the
parish has received phone calls from people wanting more information
about the academy and about how they might start a similar school in
their own parish. This academy is indeed a “bright light,” and it
should continue. Although I do not have children in the academy myself,
I have enjoyed driving and chaperoning for academy field trips, playing
with kids on recess at the church grounds, and attending last year’s
graduation ceremony.

After the court’s verdict last week, some of you asked me how you might
contribute to help us. This would be an excellent way. I have just
made a donation to help ensure the academy’s survival, and I hope that
others will join me in this effort.

Checks to support the academy may be made out as follows.

Payable to: Orthodox Christian Fellowship
Memo field: St. Theophan Academy

Mail to: Mark Swearingen
St. Theophan Academy
245-M Mount Hermon Road #102
Scotts Valley, CA 95066-4045

Now for the legal fine print: the California corporation that held title
to the property was named Ss. Peter & Paul Orthodox Church, Inc., and
had a board of directors consisting of Fr. John Hardenbrook, Fr. Thomas
Lindsay and Fr. Terry Somerville. The result of the court’s verdict is
that the board of directors retains the corporation itself and the same
tax ID, but loses all of the assets of the corporation to the Antiochian
Archdiocese. Until such time as a new parish can be established under
another Orthodox jurisdiction, the name of the corporation has been
changed to “Orthodox Christian Fellowship.” (Yes, I realize that there
is an Orthodox college campus ministry that goes by the same name, but
no one asked my opinion about the name change. However, the corporation
has its own tax ID that is independent of the college ministry, so the
money will be used for the purpose for which you designate it.)

Because the church office has also been turned over to the Archdiocese,
I am asking that contributions for the academy be sent to my own home
address. I will ensure that these checks are given to the correct
person, deposited to the correct account, used for the correct purpose,
and that you receive a tax-deductible receipt.

Thank you for your assistance.

Yours in Christ our true God,

— Mark Swearingen

Self-Ordained, Non-Canonical, E-mail Historian
of the Ben Lomond Crisis