The Parish is the Neighborhood: St Barnabas in the Borrego Springs Community

Since the early 1980s, St. Barnabas Episcopal Church has had numerous relationships with the larger community of Borrego Springs and the Borrego Valley.

Since the early 1980s, St. Barnabas Episcopal Church has had numerous relationships with the larger community of Borrego Springs and the Borrego Valley. These have included other churches—Community United Methodist, St. Richard’s Catholic, Borrego Lutheran Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, among others. More than a decade ago, the rector of St. Barnabas, Rev. Laura Brecht, and Pastor Jim Brookings, along with other laity and clergy, formed the Borrego Ministers’ Association (BMA). This ecumenical organization of laity and clergy receives and distributes funds to members of the community in need. Needs take many forms: help with rent and utilities, transportation to medical appointments, property cleanup. Food coupons are purchased from The Center Market and The Desert Pantry, supplementing what residents receive from local food banks at St. Barnabas, St. Richard’s, and The Community Resource Center. Food insecurity is intense across the population, especially among seniors, who comprise a major part of the population in Borrego Springs. Currently, Fr. Michael Plekon and Diane Johnson of St. Barnabas are co-chairs of the BMA, and Shirley Vialpando is a major contact for food coupons and other pastoral needs. Diane Johnson, Llouise and Fred Jee, Ann Nourse, and Margaret Liggett are among the St. Barnabas members who regularly staff the food bank. Others volunteer in distribution.

However, the involvement of the members of St. Barnabas extends much further than the BMA and the food banks. In February and March, St. Barnabas holds a Wednesday noontime concert with a soup & bread lunch afterward for the community. Called BYOB for “Bring Your Own Bowl,” now organized by Jan Naragon, Tom, and Angela Cassidy, it draws a variety of instrumentalists and singers for a half-hour concert and lunch, a reaching out during Lent that brings many residents to the church. Other members are involved in food prep and setup. Likewise, ecumenical services sponsored by the BMA draw community residents together at St. Barnabas—for the Christmas Sacred Concert. Sherry Harapat, Dick Helvig, and Dr. Charles von Gunten, St. Barnabas organist, are involved in the concert planning with other members singing. Other services sponsored by BMA involve the clergy of St. Barnabas and members. These include the Blessing of Animals in October, the Thanksgiving and Easter Sunrise services, and Ashes-to-Go at the Christmas Circle on Ash Wednesday. St. Barnabas also sponsors a performance of the Vince Guaraldi score of A Charlie Brown Christmas. And its Lessons & Carols on Christmas Eve draws as many visitors as congregation members if not more.

Much of the community ministry of St. Barnabas is done by members in the various networks and events in which they are involved. Fred Jee is director of the annual Borrego Film Festival. Diane Johnson works in Rotary and on the Water Board. Angela Cassidy organizes BASIC’s efforts to raise funds for scholarships. Father George Keith was for years the artistic director of the Borrego Springs Performing Arts Center, with Sherry Harapat, Dick Helvig, and Fred Jee immersed in performance and planning. Fr. Michael Plekon writes for The Borrego Sun, conducts adult education on Zoom, with Cary Page offer Zoom sessions on centering prayer and the psalms. Margaret Liggett organized a presentation on Care Partnerships after a visit and sermon and talk by Rev. Ann Cox Bailey. This connects with a weekly support group meeting at the Seniors Center.

The vestry hopes to implement small seed grants to local individuals who are doing important work to build up the fabric of the Borrego community.

Members work with others for learning purposes. Jan Naragon heads up ESL teachers. Jane Lilley and Katie Lee work in the Borrego school system. Dr. Pam McEvoy offers counseling at The Community Resource Center. Frs. George Keith and Michael Plekon provide pastoral counsel not only for parish members but for others in town. Clergy and trained lay communion assistants regularly bring the Eucharist to homebound people or those in hospital or rehab.

There are yet other community involvements.

Jeanne Plekon is a landscape artist and treasurer of the Borrego Art Guild. Rick and Paula Huls are active each spring and summer in the Habitat for Humanity program in Washington state.

Fr. Michael Plekon continues work as a scholar and teacher, after 40 years as professor at The City University of New York. He recently published Community as church, church as community (Cascade, 2021), a study of congregational decline but also rebirth and resurrection. He also continues to publish work on Thomas Merton and is completing a book on the ordained and their ministry today. He is co-chair of the Borrego Ministers Association.

During 2022, the parish experienced its own revival, not so much the one-off event of preaching, prayer, and singing but a sustained course of conversation and reflection. This was occasioned by the establishment of a call committee in the search for a new rector. On February 20, 2022, a lengthy Story Telling gathering took place over lunch in the church patio for brainstorming what members understood of the parish, what they appreciated about its work, and what they hoped for in its future. A survey was constructed by a member anthropologist and Canon Gywnn. The survey was administered to members and others in the wider community and the results were discussed in a Listening Session on March 27, 2022, with Canon Gywnn. Out of all this conversation came a detailed parish profile for the call process.


The Profile has information on Borrego Springs demographics, the prominence of the Anza-Borrego State Park which surrounds the town. Also noted is the seasonal character of the population, with the permanent, year-round population at least doubling, even tripling in the season extending from October till late March or early April. In addition, there is a Latino community, employed in many sectors such as agriculture, hospitality, groundskeeping, construction, and other trades. In both the year-round and seasonal populations, there is a prominence of seniors.

The model for ministry at St Barnabas is both sacramental and evangelical. From the scriptures, prayers, preaching, and communion in the weekly Eucharist, members of St. Barnabas are charged or empowered to go out and do the Gospel in the week in the larger Borrego community. The liturgy is extremely important and beloved at St. Barnabas. The parish values good preaching and the musical gifts of Dr. Charles von Gunten have greatly enhanced parish singing and prayer. Holy Week is fully celebrated, with Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Paschal Vigil. Anointing for healing is provided, and the monthly newsletter aims at highlighting the liturgical season and notable saints’ feasts. Occasionally some important feasts are transferred from weekdays to Sunday celebration.

As a small community, there are only a few ministries in which a number of St. Barnabas members can participate at the same time, unlike much larger parishes. Thus, the above-detailed description of members’ ministry involvements in the larger Borrego community.

Beyond these, all who gather and pray carry the faith received from the Word and the Eucharist into their homes, neighborhoods, and networks of friends at Road Runner, De Anza, Sun Gold, and elsewhere.

The people of St. Barnabas are devoted, as the Acts of the Apostles (2: 42) says of the Jerusalem church, “to the teaching and the fellowship, the breaking of the bread and prayers.” They regularly gather for Agape dinners, at which conversation about the life of faith and discipleship takes place, along with supper and friendly conversation. There are other gatherings, but the Sunday “holy happy coffee hour” after the Service is the time and the place where friends catch up on each other’s lives. Right at the end of the Service, before the dismissal and postlude, there are announcements by the clergy and lay leaders, prayers for birthdays, anniversaries, medical procedures, travel. During the liturgical prayers of the people a list of names of those who have asked for prayer is recited along with other intentions and matters local and global, including the diocesan fellowship of prayers.

This overview along with the Parish Profile should offer a thorough view of the parish, the community, and the ministry that is done with the community.

Quick Facts:

Here are the key facts from the document about St. Barnabas and its involvement in the Borrego Springs community:

  1. Historical Community Relationships: Since the early 1980s, St. Barnabas Episcopal Church has maintained relationships with various community churches in Borrego Springs, including Community United Methodist, St. Richard’s Catholic, Borrego Lutheran Church, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
  2. Formation of the Borrego Ministers’ Association (BMA): Over a decade ago, Rev. Laura Brecht, Pastor Jim Brookings, and other laity and clergy formed the BMA, an ecumenical organization that helps community members in need with funds for rent, utilities, medical transportation, property cleanup, and food coupons.
  3. Food Security Initiatives: St. Barnabas and other local entities purchase food coupons from The Center Market and The Desert Pantry, supplementing what residents receive from local food banks. This is especially important for the senior population, which is a significant demographic in Borrego Springs.
  4. Community Engagement and Events: St. Barnabas hosts various community events, such as a noontime concert series called BYOB (“Bring Your Own Bowl”) during February and March, and ecumenical services like the Christmas Sacred Concert and Ashes-to-Go service.
  5. Broad Community Involvement: Members of St. Barnabas are involved in numerous local activities and roles beyond church-specific events, including leadership in the Borrego Film Festival, Rotary, the Water Board, the Borrego Springs Performing Arts Center, and educational initiatives.
  6. Scholarly and Cultural Contributions: Fr. Michael Plekon, co-chair of the BMA, is noted for his academic contributions and recently published a book on congregational community dynamics.
  7. Church Revival and Strategic Planning: In 2022, St. Barnabas underwent a revival focused on sustained conversation and reflection, including a Story Telling gathering and a Listening Session to understand and plan the church’s future direction.
  8. Community Demographics and Needs: The Parish Profile notes Borrego Springs’ demographics, highlighting the seasonal population changes and the significant Latino community working in various sectors.
  9. Ministry Model: St. Barnabas adopts a sacramental and evangelical ministry model, emphasizing scripture, prayers, preaching, and communion. The church values its liturgical practices and community involvement as central to its mission.
  10. Outreach and Ministry Involvement: The church’s members are deeply involved in various ministries that extend into the larger Borrego community, fulfilling roles that blend spiritual and community service.

These points highlight St. Barnabas Episcopal Church’s integral role in fostering community spirit, addressing food insecurity, and supporting various cultural and educational initiatives within Borrego Springs.