In 1963, Allan Hemphill and Herb Larsen, two young men in their early 20s, sanded, waxed and buffed a first-growth redwood round five feet in diameter and 10 inches thick. They did the same with a four-foot redwood round about three-feet thick. Each piece weighed three or four hundred pounds, maybe more. This happened in the parking lot of the new Guerneville Community Church that Oscar Birkhofer and his crew were building on Armstrong Woods Road next to Guerneville School.
Oscar had obtained these beautiful pieces of wood from stumps on either the Korbel property or the Laughlin ranch where huge trees had grown back in the day. Oscar’s idea was to have a communion table of redwood rounds right in the middle of the worship space of the new church. For 56 years, it sat there directly under a glassed-in tower that brought beams of light upon it, a powerful spiritual symbol in the center of that exquisite room.
Over the decades, communion was administered, wedding vows exchanged, little ones baptized and the deceased gratefully remembered around that table. Allan and Sharon Hemphill were married there 50 some years ago, their seven children circling the table. The kids passed the rings from the smallest to the largest and then to the bride and groom. It was one of many memorable days the table blessed in its sturdy way.
Recently, as reported in this newspaper, the congregation found it impossible to keep its building in working condition and sold it to the Guerneville School. This brought a call from Allan asking, “What’s going to happen to the communion table?” Not wanting to take a chance on it being hauled off someplace, Allan and I decided we needed to find it a good home. Our first thought was the Cloverdale Community Church. Allan lives in Cloverdale now, so that seemed like a happy solution, but the congregation wasn’t sure they had room for it.
We had a backup location in a woodshed on a ranch north of Cloverdale, but we weren’t eager to set the table down among the rats and bugs of a woodshed. At the last minute, the good folks at the Presbyterian Church Camp at Westminster Woods on Bohemian Highway showed interest, so we made plans to move the table there.
We knew we had a job on our hands. Though they had dried out some over the years, those redwood rounds still weighted three or four hundred pounds each, and they were large and unwieldy. At 5 p.m. on a recent Tuesday, Allan showed up at the church with a U-Haul truck, piano dollies, thick blankets and several brawny young men. Former pastor Brian Plaugher came with his strapping young son Joe. We had a good crew.
Because the bridge across Fife Creek had been red tagged, we couldn’t drive the truck close to the church. Allan brought along a farm scooter and trailer, and these able guys got the rounds onto dollies, rolled them slowly down the wheelchair ramp, slid them on blankets onto the trailer, put-putted them across the parking lot and slid them on blankets up a ramp into the truck.
The superintendent of grounds at Westminster Woods wasn’t sure the floor of the building where they wanted the table could support its weight. So each piece had to be carried from the truck and set up on the concrete floor of his workshop, which these young men accomplished, but not without strain. So now the table sits among hand tools, power tools and workbenches waiting its new home.
I told the people at the camp that when they get it situated, our moving crew might like to have communion around that table, just like old times. They seemed open to the idea.
Bob Jones is the former minister of the Guerneville and Monte Rio Community Church.