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Alternative Church Faces Uncertain Future

blog babaThe Universal Church of Baba’s Kitchen faces a financial setback

When Alx Utterman and Jonathan Rosen returned to Boulder Creek in 2005 after living in India for five years, they felt an overwhelming desire to heal the needy through spiritual healing, and to share their knowledge with others through social work. As a result, Utterman and Rosen, who both moved to India to learn ancient miracle-healing techniques, created an alternative healing center in Bonny Doon called Universal Church of Baba’s Kitchen (UCBK). According to Utterman, they received formal recognition as a church from the IRS in 2007.

The name is a nod to Indian guru Sai Baba of Shridi. Utterman and friends were trying to decide on a name for their center, and informally suggested Baba’s Kitchen. At that moment, the guru’s photo, which was sitting on a nearby altar, fell off. They brushed it off, put the picture back on the altar, and further discussed the possibility of Baba’s Kitchen. Upon saying the guru’s name once more, the picture fell off the altar again. Utterman found this repeated incident to be more than coincidence, and settled on honoring Baba in the center’s name.

"The ‘kitchen’ in our name means that people can come here to get fed," explains Utterman. "We feed people who are poor, in need, or are homeless, and we provide nourishment through spiritual knowledge."

Finding a place for the church proved to be more of a challenge, however. Utterman and Rosen endlessly searched for locations in Santa Cruz County, but did not find a place until three years after moving back to the area from India. The private home, located off of Empire Grade in Bonny Doon, felt like the right fit due to its large property and gorgeous backyard leading into Henry Cowell Park. When they first saw they house, they could not afford it; but in November 2008, they had gathered enough community resources to finally rent the place.

UCBK started holding healing retreats, ceremonies, classes, and workshops. According to Utterman, their landlady appreciated the fact that they were using the home for sacred purposes and valued the work that UCBK does. However, for financial reasons, the proprietor is now looking to sell the house.

The church, which works with about 300 people a month, receives most of its funding through donations. Healing, meditation, and therapy classes and workshops range from $30 to $100 a session, and monthly weekend retreats begin at $300.

In addition to these services, the church has been providing free weekly vegetarian lunches in partnership with St. Michael’s Catholic Church since November 2009. These lunches serve around 30 to 60 homeless and needy people every week, all with the help of volunteers who cook, serve, and donate food.

UCBK has also been offering veteran services, like therapy sessions for PTSD victims and hospice training, since 2012, and has since maintained a presence on the Veterans Advisory Council in Santa Cruz County.

What they believe sets themselves apart from other services in the county is their "East meets West" approach.

"We are an Indian-style temple that incorporates 2,000 to 7,000-year-old teachings from Ancient India," says Utterman. "But, we are only Western people who have studied these healing techniques that help with illness, depression, and anxiety; and, we recognize Jesus as a cornerstone of our teaching."

Rosen and Utterman serve as president and vice president, respectively, on the UCBK board, along with Treasurer Carmen DeVida, Dr. Michael Koplen as secretary, and Gautami Drahos as the board member who manages the Friday lunches.

DeVida, who has been working with UCBK since 2006, saw the work that Utterman and Rosen were doing and wanted to be a part of it. After being inspired, she visited India several times, and came back to become involved with constructing the UCBK community.

"I think the uniqueness of UCBK is a lot about the spiritual energy and the way that it helps people," says DeVida. "You can see it in their hearts through their feedback. We’re making a difference to people."

The house is currently on the market for $835,000, and they would need $250,000 as a down payment to qualify for a loan. So far, they have raised $19,500 in donations through word of mouth, their website, social media, private donors, and by reaching out to the Indian community in Silicon Valley. As a church, UCBK offers a tax deduction for every donation.

A "For Sale" sign already sits on the property, and they would have to compete with other potential buyers. If they cannot afford the house, they will have to find another facility.

Utterman believes that their unique ministry has proved its ability to heal, and that saving the church would allow others to realize its full potential.

"Right now, we are a service organization that is dedicated to helping nourish our community in any way needed, like with services or donations," says Utterman. "We’re really proud to be connected with members of the community who have a desire to relieve homelessness. We love to help the community help with alleviating suffering."

As for the future of UCBK, Utterman would like to prove that these healings really do work by launching a study on their healings in connection with PTSD. She sees how patrons have been healed, and would like others to experience the mission of UCBK.

Utterman recalls the story of how people would ask Mother Teresa, "Mother what is it exactly that you do in this center?"

"She would never say, and instead answer say ‘come and see’ with a smile," says Utterman. "These people who visited came and saw, and then adopted her practice. I want to invite the community to see what it is that we are doing, and feel the magic of it. Come experience it."

For more information, visit karmatalk.com. To donate, visit razoo.org/ucbk.

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