Bob and Diane Ellison were among the people my age or older

who began to show up at Church of the Open Door in San Rafael.

Although there was a whole pack of young people involved, few

had actual jobs or only had low paying work. What I mean is, for a

church our size, our income was below average. Bob and Diane, to a

considerable extent, made up the difference.

After Bob and I had met and been friends for a while, he decided

to invest in our ministries. I don’t have the details of all he did, but

one thing I do recall clearly is the small farm in Petaluma he bought

for use as a Christian house, in maybe 1972 or ’73. The address of the

little farm was 1399 Springhill Road, Petaluma. Because Bob’s first

wife, then deceased, was named Lydia (and students of the book of

Acts know that Lydia was from Thyatira, one of the seven cities of

Asia addressed in John’s revelation), Bob and Diane named the farm

they bought Thyatira.

From the beginning, Bob involved me in the purchase. We checked

out several places in Sonoma County, but the little farm that had once

grown Christmas trees was the most attractive. Our forays into farmland

searches were also enjoyable, because Bob loved hamburgers

like I do, so when we drove up to Petaluma, we always stopped at

a hamburger joint on Washington Blvd. He could have afforded big

steak houses, but he preferred the old-time little places.

Bob’s parents had been with the Salvation Army, and he learned

the thrift store business from them. Later on, he opened a chain of

stores he named Purple Heart, and they flourished. He was a faithful

tither, and that money was put to many good purposes.

Thyatira had a modest main house of maybe 1,600 square feet,

but its best feature was a nice, big swimming pool. Some of my favorite

photos are of baptisms we held there.

Kenny Sanders was the first leader of Thyatira. The first time

I met Kenny was just after he had come to Berachah House in San

Anselmo. His black hair was matted and covered his face. I walked

up to him and parted the tangled, greasy mop that shielded his face,

and got a look at him. His looks at the time did not give a clue that his

father was in the inner circle of attorneys who worked with Martin

Luther King, Jr.

The farm’s bedrooms quickly received their occupants, and the

group next expanded a tool shed and converted it into a dorm of

sorts. When the Petaluma branch of Church of the Open Door opened

soon after a bookstore, they then needed a parsonage, which the guys

promptly built on the property, mostly through the work of Ken Sanders.

Cliff Silliman ran the bookstore in Petaluma, and it was a place

where the community could drop in and get to know the Jesus People

who had taken up residence in the town. Cliff was always welcoming

and cordial, and although the bookstore eventually proved not to be

financially successful, overall it was a solid ministry.

One of my favorite escapes from the counseling work and pastoring

in San Rafael was to drive north up highway 101 to Petaluma.

I would visit Cliff at Berachah House and then drive over to Thyatira.

Those were some of the most pleasant days of my life. It was so nice to

be in that beautiful country and walk around the farms and plan new

projects. As I write this I find in me a desire to go back and find the

locations of those farms. Perhaps I will someday soon.

I recall days when I would paint on work crews that Kenny and Cliff organized

in order to make money for the parsonage on Thyatira. Kenny learned painting

on one of the work crews I headed in Marin while he was at Berachah House

in San Anselmo. Kenny became an excellent painter. The parsonage was expensive

and nicely built, and we had to raise money for it. Kenny was the first pastor of the

Church of the Open Door in Petaluma, later became a medical doctor, and recently

retired as an emergency care doctor with Kaiser.

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