One church, one tree, third incarnation

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"It's wonderful they restored it and took such good care of it," said Townsend, 87, who was sitting with her brother, Ewell, the ring bearer that day.

Marc Richardson, director of the city Recreation, Parks & Community Services Department who led the celebration, had his own connection to the location.

His parents married at the church on Christmas Eve 1949 and later retook their vows there, he said. As a boy, he remembers counting pieces in the stained glass to relieve the tedium of Sunday services, he said.

But not everybody celebrated the opening. Irv Sutley, a disabled veteran with a long history of pushing to get religion out of local government, wrote an open letter to Santa Rosa leaders, decrying the city's ownership and marketing of a church.

From the outside, the building appears without any overt religious symbols, though the stained glass inside shows Christian icons, including two crosses and a book labeled as the Holy Bible.

"It's impermissible under the California Constitution," Sutley said. "They can't have those religious windows and they can't market it as a church."

The city disputed Sutley's contention they were violating church-and-state separations.

"It's an historic restoration of a community building and it's not going to be used for religious purposes," City attorney Caroline Fowler said.

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