January 10, 2006 > The Little Brown Church of Sunol
The Little Brown Church of Sunol
by Venkat Raman
There's a church in the valley by the wildwood,
No lovelier spot in the dale;>
No place is so dear to my childhood,
As the little brown church in the vale.
- Dr. William S. Pitts
Tucked away in the quaint town of Sunol, on the far side of Niles Canyon, about six miles from the intersection of Mission Blvd. and Niles Canyon Road, is a picturesque church that has endured the test of time. Established in 1885, the Congregational Church of Sunol, today known as The Little Brown Church of Sunol, primarily served families that made Sunol their summertime resort.
The church, a United Church of Christ with a Congregational heritage, flourished for three decades, adding gas lighting in 1903 and a residence for its pastor (or parsonage) in 1907. However, attendance dwindled in 1916 and the church entered a "dark age" of sorts.
The church endured through the Great Depression era as well as World War I and II and even managed to appear in several silent movies. Finally, after three decades of a lull of attendance, membership began to increase in 1949 from four to 30. In 1954, the church was painted brown and given a new name, "The Little Brown Church of Sunol," taking inspiration from a popular song "The Little Brown Church in the Vale."
An important philosophy of the church can be found in its Open and Affirming (ONA) statement that says its doors are open to all. The church specifically extends a welcome to lesbian, gay, and bi-sexual people because as the statement says, "we recognize the fear, discrimination and injustice they face within society. "We don't care who you are or what you are," says Rose Drake, manager of the church, adding, "You are welcome in our church."
The Little Brown Church of Sunol today has about 100 members who come from Sunol as well as neighboring cities of Pleasanton and Fremont and as far away as Tracy. The church offers weekly Sunday service at 10:30 a.m. as well as special services for holidays such as Christmas Eve.
Weddings are a big draw for the church and take place throughout the year. "August through October is our busiest wedding season," observes Drake. "We try to limit weddings to about one to two, sometimes three in a weekend."
Church members hold a potluck the first Sunday of each month and these are usually held in Babbitt Hall, which connects the main church to the parsonage where the church offices are located. The church also holds an annual drive to "adopt" about 15 families during Christmas, giving each family member a gift and providing a Christmas dinner.
Pastor Yolanda Moreno describes herself as an "intentional interim" pastor who moves from church to church, spending about two years in each place, helping evaluate the church's past and set a course for its future. Moreno is a graduate of the Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley, and has been ordained in the United Church of Christ as well as the Christian Church Disciples of Christ.
Moreno began as an interim pastor yet became a "settled pastor" in the United Church of Christ, Livermore, for eight years before reverting back to being an interim pastor to help out a church in San Leandro and then Sunol. She began serving as pastor of The Little Brown Church of Sunol on November 15, 2005 and says she is currently in the process of "discovering the heartbeat of the congregation," to have a better sense of the church's future.
An accountant by profession, Moreno lives in Hayward and spends a little over 25 hours a week in her role as pastor, presiding over regular services as well as planning the future for the church. Wedding ceremonies are officiated by Pastor Dr. Steve Hinerman.
While there are many similarities in the words of the song, "The Little Brown Church in the Vale," written by Dr. William Pitts, it actually refers to The Little Brown Church in Nashua, Iowa. However, both churches are United Churches of Christ with a Congregational heritage.
For weddings or other information about The Little Brown Church of Sunol, please contact Rose Drake, manager of Little Brown Church of Sunol or visit www.littlebrownchurch.com
The Little Brown Church
141 Kilkare Rd., Sunol