Sacramento Center History

History of Sacramento Center

The Beginning

Circa 1970, a little group of seekers in Sacramento learned about Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) by taking a hatha yoga class from Swami Kriyananda at the YMCA. They wrote to the Center Department of SRF to determine if they could become the Sacramento Meditation Group of SRF. The Center Department gave its tentative written approval and then final approval in 1971 (after determining that the group was loyal to SRF). 

Private homes in east Sacramento

The group met in the living room of Richard Epstein's house. One member, Cecelia Watkins, entered the SRF monastic order on January 15, 1972 and is now Sister Gita. Later that year, In the fall of 1972, Richard left to join the SRF order to become Bramhachari Arthur (for the next 10 years). The Sunday School program was started at Richard's home. Then the group moved a few blocks to Tom and Tonya Hersant's home on 41st Street in east Sacramento. Tom transformed his basement into a beautiful chapel. Our first "bookroom" began in Tom's backyard, under a tree, on a card table that was put up each Sunday and loaded with a box of books. 

Class Series, October 1974  

We hosted our first lecture series at the Eastern Star Temple in midtown Sacramento. Twelve volunteers did all the necessary work to support this series by wearing many different "hats." Brother Anandamoy gave the lectures for the successful series that attracted 200-300 people. The series consisted of a free introductory lecture and three additional paid lectures. Brother Sadananda, who accompanied Brother Anandamoy, set us up to operate like a center, even though we were a meditation group. Brother Anandamoy stood in the entrance to our chapel at the Hersant's home, saying that he felt Master's presence and stated unequivocally that there would be a SRF temple in Sacramento some day!

Rented meeting places

After the class series, we rented a room in the Eastern Star Temple building for about one year. The group was extremely cohesive at this time because of the work and cooperation necessary to put on services. Chairs−heavy wooden chairs!− and our altar had to be assembled before each service and put away afterwards. The books for sale, in two heavy wooden showcases, had to be wheeled into position from storage each Sunday.
Since we could not have our own room because of the scheduled activities of the Masonic order, we rented office space at 2222 Watt Ave. We had a fund raising drive to buy 50 chairs for our new chapel. We stayed at this location from 1975-1985, during which time Brother Bhaktananda came to Sacramento to give a Kriya Yoga Initiation at the Sacramento Community Center. Our Spring retreat program started at this time. Brother Turiyananda gave a one-day retreat at our chapel that was so well attended that people were standing in the back of the chapel. For several years, we rented space on the grounds of the Waldorf School near the American River for one-day Spring retreats led by Brothers Abhedananda, Dharmananda, Achalananda, Ramananda, and a number of brahmacharis.

K Street

Larger quarters were needed so the group moved to a church-like building at K and 23rd streets in 1985. We met there for 13 years. These quarters had a chapel (seating around 100), two rooms for Sunday School classes, a bookroom, family room, restrooms, foyer, and kitchen. Since the building had not been used as a church for several years and was in terrible condition, a massive effort was needed to prepare it to be ready by December 1, 1985. Two months of intense work were need to accomplish major cleaning, painting, making and installing new molding and other tasks. One devotee concluded that meeting this deadline created "a new sense of cohesion, and formed a stronger spiritual bond" among Master's chelas in Sacramento.

 We celebrated Paramahansa Yogananda' s birth centennial there in 1993. One devotee, a contractor, spent more than four years designing and constructing a very special altar, as beautiful as those in the SRF temples. In the summer of 1993, we officially became the Sacramento Center of SRF. Approximately 20 years earlier, Brother Bhavananda, then the head of the Center Department, conducted a meditation service at the Hersant's home. He said that we would "soon" become a center and called us the "Sacramento Center" several times that evening. Brother then went to India to serve at Ranchi.
We held our first India Night in 1993, a celebration in honor of Master's country of origin. India Night, consisting of an Indian meal, entertainment and spiritual fellowship, has always been a favorite event because of the combination of spirituality and fun.

In 1997, Brother Mitrananda gave an inspiring and most successful lecture series at the Crest Theatre in downtown Sacramento, followed by Kriya Yoga Initiation. About 370 people, including 40 volunteers, attended the lectures. Analysis of the attendance patterns indicated that Sacramento is an important regional center for SRF. At a dinner for volunteers at a local Indian restaurant, Brother Mitrananda praised the spiritual maturity of the Center workers and explained how we were cooperating with SRF's dissemination of Master's soul-liberating message in Sacramento.

Present location

We moved to our current facilities on North Ave. in 1998, formerly the Unity Church of the Oaks, a church with a meditative vibration. In addition to all of the facilities that we had on K Street, we now had a multipurpose room, a large social hall, private bathroom for monastics, an office, organ and piano, and storage facilities. Our bookroom is two to three times larger than our old one. Although our chapel is extremely large (accommodating approximately 170), we experienced overflow crowds when Brother Bhumananda dedicated our new facilities on April 19, 1998.

The combination of several factors resulted in our ability to buy the church. The untimely death of member John Arana left us with a large donation from his will and the sale of his house. This was the seed money that eventually grew into our church. After these funds sat in an account for some time, Brahmachari Paul (now Brother Vijayananda) prompted us to make plans for their use. A Building Fund Drive was created and was enthusiastically supported by Center members. A search committee was also formed to evaluate available properties. When our current church was found and thoroughly evaluated and approved by SRF monastics, the Mother Center gave us a loan for the difference between the selling price and the amount that we had accumulated to buy the church. Using continuing donations from the Building Fund Drive, the loan from Mother Center was paid off, and the title for the property was transferred to the Mother Center.  We retained the building fund to make necessary improvements over time. 
Among the major projects completed are:

  • Installation of a new roof 
  •  Re-landscaping 
  • Re-paving of the parking lot 
  • Re-carpeting of the chapel and other rooms 
  •  Front End Renovation Project

Clearly, the Front End Renovation Project is the most important and time consuming project that we have recently completed. The Project was necessary to resolve issues that existed since we moved to the church in early 1998: (1) walkways were cracked and uplifted, apparently from tree roots; (2) parking spaces closest to the main entrance were not ADA compliant; (3) storm water in 1986 and 1997 flowed across the front doors which required sandbagging and mopping/vacuuming to control seepage into the foyer; (4) a vehicle had failed to negotiate the curve in approximately 1997, and lightly struck the building to the right of the front doors; and (5) we discovered that we were responsible for repairing portions of the cracked County sidewalk .
In approximately 2000, Brother Satyananda developed conceptual plans to address most of these issues. However, an unintended consequence of Brother's plan would have resulted in storm water backing up onto our neighbor's property, according to a hydrologist's evaluation. Before modifications to Brother's plan could be completed, SRF placed a hold on this type of work, apparently due to the economy in general.

During subsequent years, Center members, with the assistance of a landscape designer, submitted additional conceptual drawings to SRF. In January, 2010, the matter was referred to the SRF Property Administrator, who reviewed all of the suggestions and ultimately drew plans which addressed all the issues. The plan was approved by the Center membership in late 2010,and the front end renovation project manager lined up contractors to complete the work. During approximately May of 2011, we learned about a new SRF approval procedure that would require additional time. However, we completed the sidewalk replacement on June 2, 2011, because it had been mandated by the County. Final approval for the remainder of the project was granted by SRF in September, 2011; but due to the need to find several new contractors and pending winter weather conditions, ground breaking was delayed until April 30, 2012. The project was essentially completed on July 12, 20012, about 12 years after Brother Satyananda had developed the original plans.

Fund raising for the Front End Renovation Project officially began on February 20, 2011, with a letter sent out to all Center devotees. A total of about 51 people made donations, many of these more than once. In addition, an unknown number made anonymous donations. So the actual number of donors exceeds 51. The fund raising drive officially ended on December 31, 2011, although a few donations were received after that date. This drive raised about $52,000.

The Sacramento Center currently (July 2012) has 63 volunteers serving on its 24 committees. In addition to Sunday morning services, we offer a weekly Wednesday evening Meditation Service and a monthly Saturday Five-Hour Meditation Service.
We have important events that are held each year or every other year. Our Spring Retreat program at the Jesuit Retreat Center in Applegate, CA during the last four years has been a total blessing for retreatants and monastics alike. Monastics have conducted Kriyaban Ceremonies in our chapel in 2009 and 2011. We celebrated India Night annually for approximately 16 years, but starting in 2009 we now alternate India Night with a Volunteer Dinner each year.

It has been a joy for us to "live" this history and see Master's work thrive in Sacramento. We are amazed (although maybe we shouldn't be!) that Master sends us devotees to serve his work that have the skills we need at the time we need them. We have seen this happen time after time during the last 40 years. As we deepen our relationship with Master, he blesses our efforts in doing his work in Sacramento.

As we have developed this history, we are struck by the loyalty and dependability of so many devotees. A few examples: During our 1974 lecture series, one man dropped out of law school so that he would have time to work on this series; one couple, with two young children, attended every service and event during the first six months that we met at the Easter Star Temple; two devotees taught two Sunday School classes every single Sunday for one year when we were on Watt Ave.; one member has assumed responsibility or oversight for just about every major project and the technical aspects of putting on all events at our Center probably for more than the last 35 years; several contractors have given their time and talents to work on improvement projects at the church. It is these selfless, Guru-loving efforts that portend well for the future.