When Orthodox Christians move to Ashland, many of them aren't aware that a parish exists right in their backyard.

There are no minarets or traditional Orthodox architecture because Archangel Gabriel Orthodox Church, with about 30 regularly attending members, rents space in the Newman Center, owned by Our Lady of the Mountain Catholic Church on the Southern Oregon University campus.

"The Catholics have been very good to us over the years, but we do consider it to be other people's space," said Father Isaac Skidmore, who leads the parish. "It's very difficult to gain a lot of visibility in town."

Many smaller congregations in Ashland also lack a building to call their own. Although such a situation poses a myriad of challenges, spiritual leaders said, it also creates more flexibility and allows members to focus more on other ministries.

Limited options

One of the biggest challenges to renting worship space is the lack of growing room.

A smaller space makes it harder to do outreach or community events and attract more members, creating a "double bind," Skidmore said, because more members would make it easier to raise money for a building.

Other congregations would like to start children's or teen programs to attract young families, but like Archangel Gabriel, they don't have available space.

Living Truth Center, a science of mind congregation formed in Ashland just three years ago, began renting the sanctuary of Havurah Shir Hadash on Sunday mornings this fall at the same time Jewish classes are held, preventing the Living Truth members from providing kids programs.

"We do have a couple people that have kids, and they just don't bring them," Reverend Ruth Kirby said. Other families come once and don't return when they find out their children have to sit through the entire service, she said.

Another challenge for Living Truth was simply finding an appropriate building to rent at a convenient time.

"There are people from our group who didn't want a sanctuary with a big cross up and pews that was very Christian-looking," Kirby said. "When you're renting someone else's sanctuary, it's also someone else's tradition."

Although the group must adjust whenever Jewish high holy days fall on a Sunday &

and like all nomadic organizations, face an uncertain future &

it enjoys its current cooperative arrangement. At one time, the Havurah also rented space from various Christian churches around town, and now they pass on the generosity they once received.

"We were the wandering Jews without a home. Now we've arrived in the promised land," said Rabbi David Zaslow about the building his congregation purchased in 1998 and currently rent to both the Living Truth Center and the Rogue Valley Peace Choir.

Church without walls

Although both Archangel Gabriel and the Living Truth Center would like their own building one day, other groups are content to wander.

"We actually like being flexible, and I have a philosophy behind it," said Norma Burton, the minister of Unity in Ashland, a group formed more than 20 years ago that recently moved its Sunday services to Jackson Wellsprings. "It's like a church without walls. It's a church that's free to follow the movements of the spirit and it really decreases your overhead when you don't own a building, so we're less financially constrained and we can put our money more into the community."

Until their recent move, Unity met in the Bellview Grange, helping to preserve the community institution, Burton said. They will also direct funds that might have gone toward building maintenance to a homeless ministry and outreach to Native American and Mexican peoples.

The Baha'i of Ashland have a similar philosophy of directing more resources to the community or their own spiritual development. The group's schedule of meeting every nineteen days for services also hinders their ability to rent spaces on a regular basis.

"Bahais are very accustomed to meeting in homes," said member Richard Head. "We've been doing it forever."

Nearly all of the groups said not having a building helps them to focus more on their members and developing deeper relationships.

"It's gotten us into each others' homes, so we're in a very community-minded parish," Skidmore said about the Orthodox community. "We believe that God will provide for us in the future, and God has provided for us right now."

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or .