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Building a Church Community in Burlingame

Burlingame can be considered one of the most unchurched cities in America. But can the restoration of this house of worship make a difference in the community? /// If you’d like to visit this house of worship in Burlingame or any of the houses of worship of the Iglesia Ni Cristo (Church Of Christ), visit


Do Worship Buildings have a Positive Impact Within Communities?


Nan: Thank you Ashley for giving us your time so the question is, worship buildings- are they a positive or a negative thing to have within communities?


Ashley: I think it’s definitely positive. I have a few churches around my apartment building and I see people going all the time.


Nathan: I’m Jewish-atheist but I like the diversity of having buildings from different traditions and I think church buildings sometimes represent an interesting side of culture that I don’t agree with on a spiritual religious political social level.


Preethi: I’m okay with it. But personally I would never spend my Sunday or a Saturday sitting in church for two hours praying to something I don’t really connect with.


Leonard: It’s positive yes.


Interviewer: Why is that?


Leonard: They need to balance out the bars.


Nan: It used to be that the local church would be at the center of the community. But in places like the San Francisco Bay Area, where 61% of the population is considered unchurched, that center is quickly losing its place. Today we’ll learn how the restoration of a worship building is helping to restore more in this bay area neighborhood.


I’m Nan Zapanta. As an industrial designer, I spent years admiring the great designs of products, vehicles, and architectures from all over the world. But I found Architecture to be the most captivating. I love learning about each building, discovering the characteristics that make it unique, and understanding the purpose behind it’s design. Most of all I love hearing the stories behind each structure and seeing God’s plan in putting it all together. Join us as we discover the Blueprint of the buildings and structures inside the Iglesia Ni Cristo.


Nan: Burlingame, California is about as picturesque as any city can be. A charming downtown area, great schools, and nice multimillion dollar homes. What’s not to love?

My first stop of the day is a quiet residential neighborhood in Burlingame to meet with Bob Fernandez, a long time resident of the Bay Area.


Hey Brother Bob!


Bob: Brother, how are you?


Nan: Nice to finally meet you.


Bob: Oh nice, my pleasure.


Nan: I hear you’re the guy to ask questions about the neighborhood, and just, the area, that the neighborhood, the chapel is in and I noticed that even this morning while we were out here, a lot of joggers, a lot of families walking their dogs.


Bob: There are. People love their pets around here.


Nan: It’s been over seven years since the Church Of Christ moved into this Burlingame community, giving Bob and the other members of the [local] congregation plenty of time to introduce themselves to their new neighbors.


Bob: We continue to do things to try and reach out to the neighbors and the neighborhood. We’ve even done- we’ve cleaned a lot of the neighbors’ lawns, even.


Nan: Oh that’s cool!


Bob: As you can see around here, Burlingame is known for having a lot of trees. So in the fall we have leaves all over the place. So, we’ve even gone as far as picking up leaves from our neighbors’ lawns- even their backyards.


Nan: Oh nice and how was that? Were they surprised?


Bob: Yeah they were surprised, but also very  receptive as well. I mean they said “No one’s ever done that for us before.” We just thought it was a nice thing for us to do.


Nan: Because the building had sat empty for so many years, members of the community had gotten used to it being closed and quiet.


Rick: It was a church for a long time and it kind of died away.


Nan: Rick is a long time resident of the neighborhood.


Rick: You know the Church is very pretty and the people that are there now, they’re very courteous and they keep up the property very nicely. Originally I didn’t mind, you know and I still don’t mind I guess, you know that much but, it does create traffic problems and parking problems more than anything.

Nan: While they would face challenges later on, It didn’t lessen the excitement felt by the members of the [local] congregation who had finally found a home.
Among them was Sophia Trigonis who was just a teenager at the time.


When you first saw this building, what was the first thing that kind of caught your eye?


Sophia: Yeah the size, honestly. That was the first thing we were like “Wow out of all the places, this is the place where we can grow because of how big the chapel is.”


Nan: Right right, so there’s room for growth and to really just fill the chapel.


Sophia: Exactly exactly, yeah.


Nan: Having spent most of her childhood worshipping in rented halls, Sophia joined over a hundred members of the [local] congregation the first day the Church took ownership of the building.


Nan: What’s your favorite part of the chapel?


Sophia: Of the chapel, I feel like my favorite part of the chapel other than just how beautiful the appearance is and how you know, once you’re inside it’s just so calm and like peaceful. I feel like my favorite part of having a house of worship like this is having a place to able to pray at the end of the day. Having your own sanctuary where it is so peaceful and where you can offer your prayers to God. That’s my favorite part of having a house of worship like this.


I remember a sister who was my friend, her name is Sister Nicole, she actually looked up and was like, “Wow I can’t believe this is actually ours at this moment.” So we all kind of had that like overjoyed feeling like, “Wow we don’t know what this will look like in a few months or maybe a year from now. But we knew like “Oh this is the chapel where we’ll be able to worship God.”


Nan: I met up with the individuals who helped renovate the building, including Sophia’s’ dad, Milton.


Milton: Well when we first got the chapel it was a feeling of excitement because we were going from place to place like gypsies (laughter) and when we finally got this place we were very excited that we have a permanent place to worship in and perform our duties in a proper way.


Nan: Milton Trigonis, Jamie Reyes, and Bob Fernandez have been present for the entire existence of the [local] congregation of Burlingame and have seen the familiar struggle many young [local] congregations face.


Jamie: In South San Francisco, it was actually in Burlingame that hall that we rented which was only limited for the times that we are able to worship that’s when we were allowed to use the facility. But set up, clean up, everything had to be on schedule and on time.


Nan: Right, so it was a really tight window of time that you had.


Jamie: Yes, yes.


Bob: We had to fit everything, even our choir practices where sometimes we would literally just have a few minutes after the worship service to practice for the next service. So we would utilize a lot of our brethren’s homes for not just committee prayers, but for a lot of our buklod meetings, CFO (Christian Family Organization) meetings, our devotional prayers, choir practices and so a lot of our activities at the time, it was hard because we were so spread out but I think it also motivated us more to- and we prayed even harder to have our own house of worship.


Nan: Like what Brother Milton said, like gypsies.


Jamie: Yeah they were moving around.


Nan: But that all changed on July 25, 2011, when the documents to purchase the building were signed.

The idea that they had a permanent place especially hit Bob Fernandez, who was only a child when his family moved to Daly CIty in the 1980’s and had spent most of his adult life waiting for a beautiful place of worship for his family.


Bob: And I remember we were out of town, I’ll never forget it, because we were at Legoland, my two daughters, my wife, we were there and I got the call from one of the ministers and the way he said it, he said, “Ka Bob we got it.” I was eating some ribs and it just dropped (laughter) and I just remember tears coming down and telling my wife. At that time we both started crying and we wanted to leave. Can we just leave the kids here and we’ll just fly back, we want to go there and pray and it was such a- it was a moment in time in my life that I will never forget when we got that word.

Nan: That’s a really significant part of your life.


Bob: It meant so much.


Nan: Built in 1926, the design of the building reflects a number of influences, a bit of spanish colonial era, design cues can be found in the terracotta roof tiles and wooden doors. The columns and arches in the front of the building are reminiscent of architecture commonly associated with Ancient Rome.

A similar style can be found at 2899 Clay Street in San Francisco, another former Church Of Christ Scientist property purchased by the Church Of Christ.

Because it is a historic building, the updates on the exterior were minimal. To update the once empty building, a new coat of paint was added. The roof tiles were repaired and cleaned to maintain the terracotta color and finally, the seal and the name of the Church [of Christ] were added to the exterior.

Inside the building, the renovations focused mainly on the sanctuary, with the updating of the interior to match the worship practices of the Church Of Christ.


Wow, so if we make our way down I mean, this is the stained glass that you were mentioning right?


Milton: Yeah it’s very beautiful.


Nan: When you walk into the sanctuary, you automatically notice light coming from above through lightly painted stained windows.


Milton: It has lights on the inside. On the night time it really stands out.


Nan: And that’s original? And how about the side windows? I notice they’re kind of stained, is that original or was that added?


In addition to the stained windows in the ceiling are two large glass windows, both sides allowing for plenty of natural light to stream into the building. They were repaired and sealed around the window to keep out any moisture or rain.


Bob: There was a lot of repairs made to them, some of them were broken too, I believe.


Jamie: We did a few repairs, but for the most part-


Bob and Jamie: It’s all original.


Nan: So a lot of work had to be done as well.


The seating inside the building followed the same amphitheater style seating many of the Church Of Christ Scientist buildings have with rounded pews surrounding the stage area.

To transform it to better suit the worship style of the Church Of Christ, new sets of pews were added, separated into a men’s and women’s section, which can be found in all worship buildings of the Church Of Christ.


You know as we continue walking, I’m noticing just how detailed the molding is.


Jamie: That’s right.


Nan: The majority of the work inside focused on the area where the podium and choir loft are now located. This area, which was originally used as the entrance, had four pillars.

The renovation removed the four pillars and the existing stage making way for a 65 seater choir loft with five levels, along with a new podium complete with the traditional Church Of Christ woodworking design.

So there were actually columns in this area right here?


Jamie: Yes, yes.


Nan: And I’m assuming those weren’t structural.


Jamie: They were not.


Nan: Oh I see, that was the major-


Jamie: That was the major renovation part of it all.


Nan: Okay so then everything that we see in this area is all brand new?


Jamie and Milton: Yes.


Nan: Yeah, it looks really nice. There’s actually some design elements on there that I haven’t really seen too often in other podiums that we’ve been able to see. So it’s really in the details that you see-


Bob: Yeah it was a very unique design, in fact, funny story. When we first acquired the property, everyone thought there was no lights because it’s- they said they only worship during the day because then they would just use the natural lighting.


Nan: Right.


Bob: But everyone really thought that there were no light fixtures here, but the way that it was designed was to make it like that so it gives it a very clean look.


Nan: So it was intentional.


Jamie: Intentional, yes.


Nan: The choir loft also made room for a new Ahlborn Galanti pipe organ, a hybrid Electronic and pipe organ which they connected to the existing pipes installed in the building by the previous owners.


Bob: So behind the organ there, you’ll see the design, I mean it’s very intricate, but it was designed that way to let the sound come out from the pipes on the pipe organ.


Nan: So behind, kind of, this space right here, the grill and everything, that’s where the pipes are?


Bob: Exactly.


Jamie: Correct.


Bob: There’s two levels of pipes there, if I recall, there’s well over 2500 pipes all-in-all and there’s two levels to them, or two ranks, or several different ranks to them.


Nan: And the one directly above, along the ceiling, does that serve a purpose, as well? Is that-


Bob: It does and again, it’s for the sound as well.


Nan: For the sound?


Bob: Yes.


Choir (singing): For you are good to us, Oh Father our Lord God.


Nan:  Yeah. It’s actually a lot different because for a lot of the Church Of Christ, Iglesia Ni Cristo houses of worship they have a vaulted ceiling, or like an A-frame design, and this is clearly not the case, but yeah it makes it feel very very open.


After months of restoration and renovation, the worship building was dedicated in December of 2011, in a worship service led by the Executive Minister of the Church Of Christ, Brother Eduardo V. Manalo.


Milton: For me it was very exciting, you know because we finally got what we prayed for, for many years and it was so beautiful.


Nan: It’s definitely beautiful.


Milton: Yeah, yeah.


Jamie: Even with the crew that were involved you know, almost, we actually even worked overnight. We were- of course everyone, we were all exhausted but on the day of, none of that, you know we felt that great blessing up ahead. It is God who chooses the right place at the right time. We just have to love the things that God loves and continue to pray.


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[Video ends]


John: My sense is the more liberal an area is, the less religious an area is in a lot of ways and I don’t mean that people are you know, less moral or anything of that nature. It’s just seems to bear out that people are less inclined to be going to Church.


Leonard: Less, yeah.


Interviewer: Why do you think that?


Leonard: Got too many other things occupying their time.


Interviewer: Right yeah. There’s just so many distractions in the world right?


Maggie: For me, myself, I don’t go, like my family we don’t go. I don’t know.


Interviewer: Is it like not a priority in your life?


Maggie: Yeah no, definitely not.


Michelle: Busy life I guess, people have busy lives. I mean I have very many friends. Whatever their religious background is– varies, but a lot of them say “Hey, I’m religious” Although they almost never attend Church.


Nan: Changing religious climate in the U.S. have also lead to changing attitudes towards churches in neighborhoods


Rick: Well I think for the most part churchgoers are very courteous and you know friendly, and they’re just trying to you know, go to their church but, they do take up a lot of traffic, parking problems so in that sense yeah and then a lot of churches are you know, they have different events at different times so you don’t know, you know you can’t schedule you know, when your parking is going to be available or it’s not going to be available.


John: I think that’s just the sense of convenience that people today feel more entitled and any kind of inconvenience, people are more inclined to complain about so yeah, increase in traffic and whatnot is going to be a cause for complaint, whether it’s a church that does it or a block party or anything of that nature.


Michelle: I don’t think going to church is the problem. I think the parking space is the problem.


Nan: While the congregation has no plans on being quiet about their faith, they have made adjustments to adapt to the needs of their neighbors.


Bob: So we know where, you know, just being in a residential type neighborhood, and having, you know, hundreds of people coming and going can cause somewhat of a commotion, but i think over the years we’ve resolved a lot of that. In our local congregation, we’ve asked the brethren to do certain things that would help alleviate the noise, like not turn on their alarms, you know to just in certain quiet hours we would really do our best to respect that.


Nan: Okay so there are efforts being made to alleviate the whole noise situation?


Bob: Yeah in fact, here in Burlingame, there’s only certain days where you’re allowed to mow your lawn, use power tools, and so on and so forth. So they really try and regulate the noise around here. Which we can totally appreciate because, obviously, when we have our worship services we want that same solemnity as well.


Nan: Right, right. Well it’s good to hear that it’s on a trend to improve.


Bob: Improve, yeah! Ultimately, we hope that they would see what we do for the community and what we’re actually doing for you know, what we’re doing as a church, and our ultimate goal is to, you know, have them hear the teachings of God one of these days.


Nan: The congregation in Burlingame knows they have a long way to go in this community. But just like the day they walked into this building in 2011, they remain committed to the plan that brought them here.


Thanks for joining us on this episode of Blueprint, where in the end, everything is part of God’s plan.


Available downloads

Building a Church Community in Burlingame