Congregational life at the Community Church of Sebastopol revolves around the usual mainstays of the Christian calendar: Christmas, Epiphany, Pentecost, Lent, Easter and the like.
Then in August comes the observance that sets the church apart: apple pie days.
For three days each year at this time, the Gravenstein Highway church turns itself over to the making of pies — sometimes 2,000 of them — a volunteer effort involving scores of church members and supporters whose efforts raise about $12,000 a year to send kids to summer church camp.
Marked by the delivery of 50-pound cubes of Crisco shortening, huge sacks of sugar and flour, and peeled and cored Gravenstein apples by the barrel, the pie event brings generations of families together for what, over more than four decades, has become a well-orchestrated endeavor singular to the Sebastopol church.
“I grew up doing this 40 years ago,” said Karna Dawson, a small patch of flour visible above her lip as she cranked out flattened pie shells with a device much like an old-fashioned laundry wringer, “and my girls come here, and they love it.”
“It’s an amazing operation,” Marian McDonald said, seated with a handful of other slicers in a fellowship hall bustling with too many cooks to count.
Most of the pies made between 5 p.m. Thursday and 5 p.m. today will be sold at the Gravenstein Apple Fair. Now in its 41st year, the fair runs today and Sunday at Ragle Ranch Park.
But many of the pink-boxed pastries will be sold, as well, during drive-up sales at the church that permit passers-by to purchase them curbside, without even having to leave their cars.
It was directly from the church that the first pies were sold back in 1972, when the funds available to send those who wanted to attend Camp Cazadero fell short and someone figured out that 100 apple pies sold at $2 apiece would fill the need.
The pies were made in individual homes those first few years, but soon were coming out of the church kitchen as demand grew.
Lloyd Lerum, 88, remembers pickups loaded with Gravensteins in the parking lot and teenagers seated right on the tailgates peeling apples.
Now, the apples, purchased from Sebastopol’s Manzana cannery, arrive cored and peeled in bright blue 50-pound drums — 11 of them this year — for quartering and slicing by workers in hairnets and scarves seated at plastic-wrapped tables in the church fellowship hall.
In the attached kitchen, a different crew works a commercial mixer and uses a hamburger press to flatten discs of dough that are then run through a flattener that spits out pie crusts into aluminum pie pans.
Kids as young as 4 help as runners, working alongside veteran bakers, mother-daughter teams and longtime friends who fill the shells with apples, butter and cinnamon sugar and crimp the edges before the pastries are divided for baking in two ovens that, combined, can accommodate 75 pies.
Though most volunteers are church members, some are members of the youth group or community residents who attend camp on scholarship or have family members sponsored for camps.
“It’s really nice,” said Laura Steyn, whose two daughters, Emma and Jessica, also helped Friday. “I’m glad the kids are involved, as well. It’s kind of a family event.”