Although a never-built freeway off-ramp presented a detour for further development of diocesan property in Rancho Cucamonga, all roads — happily — have led the mission congregation of St. Clare of Assisi home to its original sponsoring parish, St. Mark’s, Upland.

The two congregations celebrated this homecoming with Sunday Eucharist on Aug. 16, with Bishop Diocesan J. Jon Bruno presiding. The liturgy was followed by a festive ice-cream social – well timed with mid-day temperatures soaring to 106 degrees.

“This is a warm day in several respects, and especially in terms of the true friendship between the people gathered here to continue a new chapter of their faith journey together,” Bruno said of the congregation, where St. Clare’s members now worship as parishioners of St. Mark’s.

“It has been a joyful experience blending the ministries of St. Clare’s, Rancho Cucamonga, and St. Mark’s, Upland,” said Canon Gisele Tackoor, retiring bishop’s warden of St. Clare’s, where Sunday attendance had averaged 40-50 persons. “To witness the Holy Spirit at work is quite amazing.

“I feel that we are going to be a blessing to St. Mark’s, and St. Mark’s will be a blessing to us,” Takoor said.

“On behalf of St. Clare’s, we thank Bishop Bruno, the L.A. Diocese, Deanery 6, the retired Episcopal clergy living at Pilgrim Place, and all the other clergy within the diocese who were instrumental in the transition,” Tackoor said, adding her appreciation for the Upland clergy and parishioners: “St. Mark’s has been very warm and welcoming.”

“It is a great pleasure to welcome the people of St. Clare’s,” said the Rev. Keith Yamamoto, rector of St. Mark’s. “We’re happy to have them join us and multiply the possibilities for ministry from St. Mark’s, including in the community of Rancho Cucamonga. Their enthusiasm and energy is greatly appreciated as we learn from one another and look for ways to collaborate and partner and welcome them as new members of St. Mark’s. With their heart for the gospel, we’re all on the same page.”

Formed in 1986 as a preaching station of St. Mark’s Parish, the congregation of St. Clare of Assisi became a mission congregation of the Diocese of Los Angeles in 1988. The next year an eight-acre parcel was purchased for the congregation, but zoning restrictions prompted resale of that property at a profit. This transaction was followed by the purchase several months later of the five-acre East Avenue parcel where St. Clare’s opened a multipurpose building in 1996.

Also on that parcel stands a 1913 Craftsman home that has been designated an official landmark by the Etiwanda Historical Society, a measure that significantly limits structural changes to that building. Because the parcel continued to retain its residential zoning, St. Clare’s was required to pay property taxes that began at $10,000 annually.

Another complication with the property occurred when CalTrans began extending the 210 Freeway. At first a proposed off-ramp threatened to take much of the church parcel, leaving the land virtually unsaleable. Later, because the ramp was never built, the congregation found its buildings isolated by the freeway’s eventual route.

Add to this challenges encountered in 2014 when leaders of the congregation discovered that its conditional use permit had long since expired, and reactivating it with the city of Rancho Cucamonga would involve significant cost. During the process of evaluating options open to the congregation, a purchase offer was received from a developer seeking to build 11 homes on the property.

Leasing space for St. Clare’s was explored but deemed unaffordable, said Tackoor, who cited insights gained from a field trip that she and other parishioners made to Thad’s, an emergent Episcopal congregation meeting in leased space in Santa Monica. “We greatly appreciated the time and advice provided by the Rev. Jimmy Bartz and the people of Thad’s.”

Gradually, Tackoor said, the people of St. Clare’s reached agreement that merging with St. Mark’s would be their path. “The change was a process,” Tackoor said, taking time, and not reached easily, but she said members of St. Clare’s “are joyful now” about their decision. “Change is healthy,” she said. “It helps us to grow in our faith and ministry,” adding “Not all of us like to accept the hard, non-Christian-feeling, business side of the Church; but the reality is that there are times when difficult financial decisions need to be made if we are to continue doing God’s work.”

Diocesan mission leaders praised the willingness of the St. Clare’s members to seek practical solutions to the challenges it faced, much as the former mission congregation of St. Martha’s, West Covina, did in 2014 when faced with declining attendance and rising bills to maintain a deteriorating church plant in need of seismic retrofit.

After the former St. Martha’s congregation voted to merge with nearby Holy Trinity, the West Covina property was sold to a residential developer, allowing for support of the ongoing ministry at Holy Trinity, Covina, and other diocesan mission.

“People are the church, not the building,” said Tackoor. “We are the church, wherever we may be.”