In September 1968, a young dentist, Ted Preovolos, met Charles Patrinellis, an attorney and legal editor. Both were interested in helping form a Greek Orthodox parish in Marin County. They decided to meet with other Greek-Americans they were acquainted with or whose names could be found listed in the phone book. The meetings indicated that the participants, including Peter Kavantjas, George Orologas, Stan Sarganis, Stella Mamalakis, Parashos Kalogiannis, Victor Gavallos, Markos Perivolaris, John Cosmas, Peter Tsigelatos, and several others, were interested in forming a parish. Bishop Meletios was contacted, and he promised to obtain the services of a retired priest if the fifty signatures that were required to apply for a church charter could be obtained. Since only twenty-five families were present at the meeting, the necessary fifty signatures were obtained by having both husbands and wives sign the application. Later, sixty-five families signed a more formal application in the presence of Bishop Meletios at a dinner held at St Anselm’s Catholic Church.
Father John Bersentes served as the first temporary priest of the newly formed community. He moved to Marin County in late 1968, and conducted the first Divine Liturgy at the Elks Hall in San Rafael in early January 1969. Approximately 185 people attended the liturgy, overflowing the hall.
After the Liturgy the parishioners remained at the hall to discuss the election of a governing board for the new parish. A Board of Directors was elected to steer the parish for six months, after which a permanent board would be elected. Dr. Preovolos was elected President, Bill Poulopoulos Vice President, Charles Patrinellis Secretary, and Chris Christo Treasurer.
It was obvious that the Elks Hall was not large enough to accommodate the new parishioners. Stella Mamalakis, who worked for the San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Anselmo, obtained permission from the Seminary to allow the Marin parish to hold its services at the unused Montgomery Chapel, a small, picturesque, ivy-covered stone church in San Anselmo. Sunday School classes for the dozen or so children then in the community were held in an adjoining one-room classroom.
In March 1969, the Ladies Philoptochos Society for the parish was formed. Stella Mamalakis became its first President, with Diane Kavantjas Secretary, and Stella Papadopoulos Treasurer. The Philoptochos is a vital ministry and has been instrumental in raising money and supporting many philanthropic causes, the various activities of the parish and the church building fund.
The choir was started in November 1969 with seven members under the leadership of Stella Mamalakis and Cathie Banks. Soon after, Jerome Caran, who had a background in religious music, became choirmaster.
Father John Bersentes continued to serve as parish priest until he moved to Greece in the spring of 1970. In April of that year, Father George Bogdanos, who lived in Oakland, became the parish’s second temporary priest. He did not drive, making it necessary for a parishioner to pick him up on Saturday night and return him to the bus station on Sunday afternoon.
By October 1970, the search for a full time priest narrowed down to Father James Adams who was serving as the priest in the church in Las Vegas, Nevada. Father James, who was born in Oakland, welcomed the opportunity to return to the Bay Area even though the parish had no facilities of its own and could offer a priest little financial security.
Father Adams served his first Liturgy at Montgomery Chapel on October 25, 1970. As the parish continued to grow from fifty members to sixty-six, the little Church began to bulge at the seams. Again Stella Mamalakis was able to obtain permission from the San Francisco Theological Seminary to hold services in another, larger facility, the Stewart Chapel, which could seat 400 parishioners. Membership soon rose to 86 members.
Land values in Marin were now rising rapidly. The search for a church building site near Novato or San Rafael was started. In early 1972, Demetra Johnson noticed a small advertisement in the real estate section of the Independent Journal, which read: “SPECTACULAR FIVE ACRES – Oak-studded knoll overlooking Marin Country Club Golf Course offers rare opportunity to build house with pool and room left over for future development; 19 miles from Golden Gate Bridge. All utilities. Attractive terms. Only $37,500.”
A final price of $36,500 was agreed upon. The Parish Assembly approved the purchase by a narrow vote, and in March 1972, the community purchased the parish’s 5.14-acre site.
Discussions at Parish Council meetings were now centering around how money could be raised to build on our site. It was decided that the church would sponsor a Greek Festival at the Marin Civic Center.
The first Marin Greek Festival was held on May 27 and 28, 1972, during the Memorial Day weekend. The facilities at the fairgrounds were limited to electrical and water outlets. Tents were rented to set up booths in which food could be barbecued and sold. This festival grossed over $50,000 and netted $25,000.
Once again the community started to look for another facility for church services because the Stewart Chapel had been rented only on a temporary basis. In September 1972, we rented a church “in the round” in Ignacio, which had the altar in the center of the nave with the seating surrounding it.
In the summer of 1973, the vacant St. Vincent Catholic Church became available, and we celebrated our first Divine Liturgy there on July 1, 1973. Because of the generosity of the Catholic Church, we remained at St. Vincent’s for nearly seven years until we built our own church edifice in Ignacio.
By 1975, membership in the church was over 100, and there was over $80,000 in the building fund. A Building Planning Committee was established with John Papadopoulos as chairman. The parish was incorporated in 1976 as the Marin Greek Orthodox Church.
In 1979, the church chose as its official name The Nativity of Christ Greek Orthodox Church. Having eliminated the alternative of building on an alternate level site to save money, the Building Planning Committee started to explore the possibility of building on our Ignacio property. The estimated cost of building a 7,000 square foot church, a 7,525 square foot community center, and a 4,500 square foot parish office and classroom complex was estimated to be $1,500,000, which was beyond our budget. It was decided to build in stages, starting with the church as the first phase.
Ground was broken for the church on Sunday, July 8, 1979 by Bishop Anthony. Since there was no road to the building site, parishioners made their way through brush and other obstacles to the top of the site. Each parishioner was given the opportunity to turn a shovel full of dirt during the Groundbreaking. At the banquet following the Groundbreaking, Bishop Anthony obtained over $200,000 in new pledges.
In order to build, we needed an additional $200,000 for our building fund. To borrow that amount from a local bank, thirteen members of the parish had to sign a continuing guarantee of the loan permitting their homes to be held as collateral security.
Parishioner Dennis Garbis, an army career officer and a trained engineer, proposed that, under his direction, the community itself could prepare the building site in order to save money. He rented heavy equipment and, with the help of other parishioners, finished site preparation at less than half of the $140,000 that contractors had estimated.
A contract was signed with architects Reid and Tarics for the design and construction of a village type church on the site. The contract called for construction of both the church and administration building to cost approximately $500,000.
On October 9, 1979, a contract with Victor Gavallos, a founding member of the church, was signed in which Victor agreed to act as general contractor for the sum of $1.00. As the result of the cost cutting of site preparation and contract management, construction of our church became possible.
In October and November 1979, the foundation for the church and administration building was poured, using volunteer help whenever possible. In May 1980, less than a year later, the church and administration building were completed.
The first Divine Liturgy was celebrated in our new church on Sunday, June 1, 1980, and on September 28, 1980, Bishop Anthony officiated at the official Opening of the Doors – Thiranixia – of the church.
After serving the parish for almost fourteen years, Father James was called to become the Chancellor of the Diocese, and in September of 1984, Father Constantine Efstathiu came from Stockton, California to become the pastor of the Nativity of Christ Church.
Soon the parish began to run out of room. The Sunday School had grown to over 100 students, and classes were overflowing into every spare nook and cranny. Through generous donations and a number of fundraising garage sales sponsored by the Sunday School, a rented portable unit was brought onto the property to house three classrooms.
The Building Planning Committee was reinstated to begin planning the second phase – the Fellowship Hall. Parishioner Christ Kamages of Ekona Architecture designed a beautiful facility to house large social events and a basketball court. In 1992, the Fellowship Hall was completed at a cost of $1,200,000. The original social hall was remodeled to provide three large classrooms, and the portable classroom building was removed. The new Fellowship Hall also made it possible for the parish to host the Greek Festival on the church property, enabling the parish to showcase both its culture and its Faith to the public at large.
The large mortgage for the Fellowship Hall weighed heavily on the parish. At times it seemed that we might not be able to meet our financial obligations. During those years, Father Constantine assured us that God would provide, and by the grace of God, we always found the funds to squeak by. In the summer of 1998, Jim Paponis, a member of Holy Trinity Church in San Francisco and also a frequent visitor and worshiper at the Nativity of Christ Church, bequeathed $1,000,000 to the building fund of each church. This generous bequest allowed the parish to pay off the mortgage on our Fellowship Hall. Improvements to the property soon followed, including installation of air conditioning in the church and administration building and a new sound system in the church and hall. Relieved of its burdensome mortgage, the parish could commit funds to other endeavors and was quick to add a substantial line item to the operating budget for philanthropy.
With payment of the mortgage debt and the making of needed improvements, the Nativity of Christ Church had reached a stage of completion calling for its consecration. On October 4, 2003, during the Great Vespers of Consecration, Metropolitan Anthony carried the relics of Saint Panteleimon, Saint Cyricus, and of the Holy Martyrs of Raitho to the Altar Table of the church. On October 4 & 5, 2003, by the grace of God, the Nativity of Christ Church was consecrated. Glory to God for all things!