The First 125 Years Of Jackson’s Gem

Church of Serbia – 29/10/2019

The oldest Serbian Orthodox parish in North America, dedicated to Saint Sava, in Jackson, California, festively celebrated its 125th anniversary during the weekend of 18th-20th of October, 2019.

The commemoration of the jubilee began in the Amador County Public Library, where the parish clergy and parishioners presented several books that constitute the DNA of our community: The Christian Heritage of Kosovo and Metohija, The Serbian Christian Heritage of America, The Lives of Saint Mardarije of Libertyville and Saint Sebastian of Jackson, All Roads Lead to Jackson (on history and importance of the Serbian community in this city and region) and The Icons of Saint Sava Church in Jackson (with the parish history and explanation of frescoes).

The next location was the Amador County Museum and an exhibition of beautifully illustrated panels describing the 800 years of the Serbian Orthodox Church, prepared and generously shared by Protodeacon Jovan Aničić of the Eastern American Diocese, and the 125 years of the Saint Sava Church in Jackson, prepared by Lazar Larry Angier. The two panels talking about the founding of Saint Sava Church, its worship and frescoes, and about Saint Sava and Saint Sebastian, will stay permanently in the Museum. In the adjacent room of the Museum, the present had a chance to see a model of the Kennedy Gold Mine and a simulation of how it functioned.

The program in the Museum was followed by dinner in the church fellowship hall, with a speech by Stefan Kmezić, one of the three representatives of Saint Sebastian’s Dabović family from the Bay of Kotor, and with gusle playing and singing by Bojana Peković, who all came from Europe for this occasion. The short version of the new documentary film by Dragan Marinković and Boris Gortinski about the Jackson’s church was premiered.

On Saturday, the program continued in front of the National Hotel, the oldest one in Jackson, where the mayor of Jackson, Mr. Bob Stimpson, and Saint Sava’s parish priest, Marko Bojović, addressed the gathered people expressing their joy and thanksgiving for mutual support and contribution. In the name of the city and on the occasion of this significant jubilee, the mayor presented to Saint Sava Church a big flag of the city of Jackson, on which both the already mentioned hotel and church are depicted. The local school Marching Band intoned the American national anthem, and then the melody of the Užice Kolo, to which the members of the Folklore Dance Group „Mladost“ („Youth“) of the four Serbian Orthodox parishes from the Bay area danced kolo in front of the hotel and next to the most popular bakery in town, owned by the Serbian family Živanović. From that same place, just as the founders – miners did it 125 years ago, as we had found out in the archive of the local daily newspaper, the festive procession began along Jackson’s central Main Street, with the melody of the March to the Drina River. It was led by the processional cross, carried by Srdjan Dabović, a great-grandnephew of Saint Sebastian, followed by the new, magnificent and beautiful icon of Saint Sebastian, brought to Jackson as a gift in honor of the anniversary by Srdjan and two other representatives of Saint Sebastian’s family from Serbia and the Bay of Kotor. Behind them, there were church banners, icons, Gospel book, American national flag, flags of the Serbian Church and People, historic flag of King Nikola of Montenegro, which he had sent as a gift to Jackson’s parish, and the newly-received flag of the city of Jackson. In the procession there were six priests (of whom three were from Sebastian’s native city of San Francisco: Dušan Bunjević, Slobodan Jović and Djurica Gordić, a priest of the Russian Church, James Steele, whose Bishop Nikolai consecrated the church 125 years ago, George Elliott, the priest of the Serbian missionary parish from Anderson, California, and the host priest from Jackson), three deacons, Jackson’s mayor and city manager, Parish Council president with a black-and-white photo of the church founders and marching band, the KSS president with the icon of Saint Petka, the patron of our KSS, parishioners with their Slava (family patron saint) icons, youth in Serbian folk costumes, children with old photos of their reposed ancestors who inbuilt themselves into the history of Jackson’s parish. The procession stopped by the Fire Department building for pronouncing litany and „Many Years“ for the parish, city and region and all those in public service. With the sounds of bagpipe and drums, the procession came to the church property, where the marching band played the Serbian national anthem O God of Justice, and then another kolo, danced by the youth again. The two great-grandnephew of Saint Sebastian, Srdjan, and Stefan from the Bay of Kotor, then took the icon from the vehicle in which it was driven and with the sound of the bagpipe and Holy Bishop Nikolai’s resurrectional song People, Rejoice, they started walking through the cemetery up the hill to the church gate. There they presented the icon of Saint Sebastian of Jackson and San Francisco to the priests of Jackson and San Francisco. From the church steps at that moment, Srdjan Dabović addressed the crowd. His family presented this gorgeous icon, the work of Jelena Hinić, an iconographer from Belgrade, as well as the throne made out of beech wood by Paul (Skip) Sharp, an American Orthodox Christian from Mountain Ranch, California. Srdjan invited everyone to come to Sasovići, Herceg Novi and Boka next year in June when the summer celebration of Saint Sebastian would be established. The icon was then taken into the church and into the altar through the royal doors. The procession was completed by the memorial service for all the church founders and all those buried on the church cemetery and finally, once again, with the beautiful resurrectional song sung by children, youth and everyone else People, rejoice.

The next location in the schedule was the place where everything had started from – the mine, which is now the Historic Kennedy Gold Mine Museum. At first, two small boys, Bogdan and Miloš, the descendants of the miners Sava Vuković and Mihailo Bakoč, unveiled a memorial plaque, in honor of the miners who founded the church and attached it to one of the mine’s buildings which is informally called the Serbian building. Then the program continued with a picnic, folklore dancing, gusle and bagpipe music, children’s games and museum tours. During the program in the mine, the Serbian bishop of Western America, Maxim, arrived, as soon as he was able to.

After the afternoon rest, people started coming from various cities to Saint Sava Church already around 5 pm and Vesper Service started at 6. Right before its beginning, Bishop Maxim and the retired Jackson’s parish priest Stephen Tumbas took the icon of Saint Sebastian from the altar to the throne. At the end of the beautiful service, the faithful who packed the beautifully restored church were approaching the new icon and the relics of Saint Sebastian with great excitement.

The dinner with the all-evening fellowship, live music by the “Serbia” band from Arizona and kolo dancing took place at Saint Sava Mission after the Vespers.

The culmination of the entire celebration was, naturally, the Divine Liturgy, presided by Bishop Maxim and concelebrated by four presbyters (protopresbyters Stephen Tumbas and William Wier and presbyters George Elliot and Marko Bojović) and Jackson’s deacon Dragan Stojanovich. Another retired priest, Dušan Bunjević, and a retired deacon, Triva Pavlov, were prayerfully present. After reading of the Holy Gospel according to Luke about the apostles’ great catch of the fish, Bishop Maxim spoke in his sermon how this story teaches us that our God is not some distant and indifferent God, who intervenes in our lives only when it is time to punish us or reward us, but rather that the Son of God was incarnate and became a man, one of us, and that He is our Lord but also our best friend, who is continual with us, in our daily lives and both in our small and our great needs and worries. The Liturgy was crowned by the Holy Communion, of which many faithful people partook.

The festive banquet took place in the big hall of the Saint Sava Mission decorated with much taste. The rich program included concise and substantial speeches by six speakers: Richard Broderson, a representative of the parishioners who are not of our ethnic background but who were whole-heartedly embraced by our community and who whole-heartedly accepted our faith and church, Richard Votaw, a representative of the Serbs whose ancestors were miners and church founders, Marko Kljajević, a representative of the Dabović family from the Bay of Kotor, retired parish deacon and priest, Triva Pavlov and Steve Tumbas, and finally Bishop Maxim. The speeches were joyful, warm, optimistic and filled with gratitude.

The musical part of the program started with the very talented local high school jazz band, as an expression of the interconnected identities of the city and the church and in an effort to present the best of each. The “Mladost” Folklore Dance group performed twice with two medleys of Serbian folk dances. Popadija Biljana Bojović and Marielle Petričević chanted two church songs written by Saint Nikolai of Ohrid and Žiča, in honor of the miners’ sacrifice in order to build the beautiful white church on the top of Jackson’s hill. “The Golden Embroidery Trio” (piano: Gorjana Zekić, clarinet: Milun Dosković, cello: Biljana Bojović) played a medley of our folk songs. Bojana Peković, a very talented and young gusle player and singer and currently a student of a prestigious music academy in Finland, came from Europe to take part in Jackson’s festivities in honor of the founders who came from Herzegovina and Montenegro, where gusle music was especially popular. She played two pieces for the first time: one was dedicated to Saint Sava Church in Jackson and the other was an excerpt from Serbian folk poem “Zidanje Ravanice” (The Building of Ravanica Monastery”) sung in the English language. At the end of her performance, accompanied by cello, she played and sang a song on Saint Sava. The musical program ended with the bagpipe of John Elliott, who was accompanied by all other musicians, folklore dancers, children and youth singing one more time the song People, Rejoice, about the Feast of feasts, Holy Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, “through which we know the purpose of all creation”Having accepted a gift – specially treated brick (which was found during the restoration works under the church and which rested there since the founding of the church in 1894) with two attached coins commemorating 800 years of the Serbian Orthodox Church and 125 years of Saint Sava Church in Jackson, Bishop Maxim gave the final speech, inviting us to follow Saint Sebastian’s holy example of modesty, humility, generosity, patience, determination, meekness and love. At the very end, he gave his final blessing to all and the faithful people of God, filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit and, departed in joy and peace, exclaiming one more time the greeting that Jacksonians end with all their celebrations: Živeo (Long-live) Jackson!

Western American Diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church