First Christian Church Centennial celebration

September 29, 2000
Santa Paula News
By Peggy Kelly Santa Paula TimesIt has been the site of hard work and worship, even a miracle, and on Sunday, October 1st, the First Christian Church will celebrate its Centennial with a special day of prayer and celebration.In November 1898, a basket dinner was held at a schoolhouse following the morning worship of the church and the Rev. James F. Stewart suggested that the congregation purchase a lot and build a church; they did, completing it less than two years later.The church - a beloved historical monument and architectural treasure - was the site of a “Miracle Day” on Sept. 18, 1999 which drew over 100 volunteers from all over the state to redecorate and repair the church, located at the corner of 9th Street and Railroad Avenue, where it’s glorious stained glass windows look out over the city. The church is a favorite of tourist train travelers who often stroll over to take a closer look and has been used as a location for numerous films.“The windows are one of the most beautiful parts of the building,” said Don Olivier, a member since 1937. The church front parlor has been transformed to its original turn-of-the-century look, with furniture, artwork, church memorabilia, a history corner showing old church paperwork including those related to its creation. The pump organ was donated at the time the church was built, as well as the ornate altar chairs gifted by the First Christian Church of Los Angeles, noted Olivier.“The First Christian Church is a real piece of history and Santa Paula history. It survived the St. Francis Dam collapse, the Main Street fire, another destructive fire right across the street years later, earthquakes. . .it's still there, still beautiful and still means much to its members and the city.”Sunday's centennial celebration will be an all day event: worship service will be at 10 a.m. and an invitational luncheon (donations will be accepted to fund a new restroom) will be held at noon.The Centennial Service will start at 2 p.m. and feature Beverly Harding, the great-granddaughter of the Rev. Stewart. Harding will discuss the history of the Stewart family and its relationship to the church, said Olivier.
The Rev. Stewart was “Kind of a preacher-farmer,” who grew apricots and walnuts east of town, Olivier added. “He rolled up his sleeves and helped with church construction.”The church's unique design was based on existing churches in the Mid-West, but it's what inside that is important: “The function of any church is to worship, of course,” said Olivier, who is a member of the Board of Directors of the Disciples Seminary Foundation (Pacific Region). “And fellowship; the church is open to anyone that would like to come and participate. Churches should provide some sort of service to the community; we're talking about starting some kind of preschool program and starting a pantry for indigents, canned food for the hungry. That's a service I believe all churches should offer.”The church's Harrington Hall, built in 1949, is used for public meetings and activities, another aspect of community service Olivier - who has been a church Deacon and Elder and is presently the Chairman of the church's Board of Directors - would like to see others offer.Olivier noted that his wife, Velma, has been involved in the church even longer than he has and they have seen it “go up and down in membership (there are about 40 now) and activity. I've always enjoyed the church and think I'm a better person for being a member, that's the crux of it for me.”The church's bell tower was vacated in the 1930s when fears that the supports would not hold its weight caused the members to store it across the street: unfortunately, it was in the building that burned down and the bell melted.“We replaced it about 20 years ago,” when a bell from the Boosey Ranch was donated. “It's smaller but it's in the bell tower and we ring it with a hand pull,” said Olivier. “And we'll ring it for the Centennial Celebration.”

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