Watch a video of the artist who constructed the Stained Glass Window that dominates the Sanctuary at Murrieta United Methodist Church who describes the art and the story behind it. This video was recorded at the dedication of the Sanctuary Expansion on July 10, 2005.
As people drive by the Murrieta United Methodist Church, they seldom have any idea of the extensive history that has molded the church that exists today. What follows is a capsule history that attempts to give the reader a flavor of the past and perhaps a glimpse into the future of this vibrant member of Murrieta’s Lore.
The Original Church
The early pioneers of Murrieta first held church services at the Fountain House Hotel. The first recorded preaching was April 12, 1885. Sunday School classes, led by Rev. Boyden, began meeting the following June.
The pioneers faced a dilema of whether to build the church or the schoolhouse first. The decision was reached to build the school first because it was better to hold church services in a school than to hold school in a church. Daniel Buchanan was retained to build both the school and the church. The school was completed in October, 1885, and church services were moved there soon after completion.
Early trustees of the Murrieta Methodist Episcopal Church, in June of 1886, were Mr. and Mrs. R. N. Bollen, Mary Buchanan, A.B. Burnett, Dr. and Mrs. H. B. Lashlee, Josie M. Ogborn, N. N. Tower, and Horatio Warren. They filed Articles of Incorporation with San Diego County on June 29, 1886.
Daniel Buchanan built the church for $2000 and when it was completed, it was debt-free. The original church was located at the corner of Washington Avenue and A Street. Here were some excerpts from Daniel’s Diary of 1887:
Jan 12 Wed. Fixed doors at church
Apr 22 Fri. Church Windows came
Apr. 23 Sat. Working at church
Apr. 25 Mon. Worked on church; Miller, Doolittle and I
Apr. 26 Tues. Shingled church; Cheney, Knox, Doolittle, Freeman and myself
Jun. 26 Sun. Went to school-preaching
July 2 Sat. Working on church steeple
July 5 Tues. Finished church
July 7 Thur. Settled with trustees. of M. E. Church
Sept 11 Sun. Today the M. E. Church was dedicated; a large turn out.
Services at the church were held on alternate Sundays by the Reverend Amos M. Ogborn, who was the first pastor assigned to the church. Rev. Ogburn also was responsible for the church in Winchester. Sunday school was held every week in Murrieta. In the spring of 1909, the congregation provided a new parsonage next to the church. In 1942, C.W. Sharer, the pastor at the time, made plans and did much of the construction on an addition to the church. The addition housed a social hall, kitchen and two classrooms. The hall was named Sharer Hall in tribute to the pastor.
Fire Destroys Original Church
It was early in the morning of April 10, 1963, when a neighbor saw flames coming out of the roof of the church. She called a friend who rushed to the fire station. Tom Warmer, the pastor at the time was sleeping next door in the parsonage. The same neighbor woke Pastor Tom.
The fire department was unable to save the church, which was a total loss, but saved the parsonage by spraying water on the walls. The windows on the side of the parsonage next to the church all broke. Among the ashes were the remains of three pianos, an organ, stove, refrigerator and the recently-installed kitchen flooring. Most of the church records burned. A few old journals remained safe in a private home. Mrs. Hale Curran, due to her interest in the recorded history of family and friends, hand-copied a few names and dates prior to the fire.
Reverend Tom Warmer, on the premise that the church is the people rather than a building planned his next service “…even if it had to meet under a tree.” The following Sunday was Easter, and the traditional sunrise service was held on a hill at Sykes’ Ranch.
Following the Easter sunrise service, District Superintenent Dr. Donald O’Connor met with the congregation and took immediate action to launch a building fund.
The new building committee included Gordon House, Chairman, Carl Cain, Louis Gagnon, Tavia Thompson, Jack Roripaugh, Shannon Morrison, Paul Thompson, Harold Smith, Jackie Sheld and Ross Rail. The goal was to locate a site for a new church to seat 150 people. For two years, Sunday school classes met in members’ homes and church services assembled at the school.
Insurance money, private donations and many fund raisers, including children who sold flowers and nails from the burned church, made consturction of the new church possible. A final contribution, on the day before the dedication, left the church debt-free.
The funds went to purchase a parcel of land on the corner of Kalmia and Adams. Dedication of the 29 X 100 foot multi-use building was on March 28, 1965. That building housed a narthex, sanctuary, four classrooms, a kitchen and restroom facilities. Dr. L. F. Hawley, a senior pastor of the First Methodist Church of Ontario consecrated the buillding.
Mrs. Ethel Silva, daughter of J. V. Thompson and granddaugher of Henry Clay Thompson, presented the church with a new electronic organ. Mrs. Tavia Thompson, organist, accompanied the hymns on dedication day.
Robert Newkirk and Ted Holderness were co-chairpersons for the construction of a new sanctuary on the property as the church continued to grow. Members and friends of the church donated toward the new project. Grading began in March 1988 and construction started in May.
To a large extent, labor for building the new sanctuary was contibuted by members of the congregation with the help of Harold Campbell of the United Methodist Regional Construction Services. It was estimated that the volunteer labor saved approximately 25% of the $350,000 value of the new building.
Completion of the new sanctuary came nearly one hundred and two years after establishment of the original Methodist Episcopal church in Murrieta. Bishop Jack Tuell, District Superintendent Willie Foreman, and Pastor Isabelle Rimbach dedicated the church on June 4, 1989.
An important addition to the building was added and dedicated on October 20th, 1990. The stained-glass window, built by Richard Graff, is called the “Good Shepherd” window. Donations were raised for the construction and installation of the window. A video is available showing Richard Graff describing the window.
In 1991, the church community was again growing, and it became necessary to expand further. Our Sunday School classes were being held in portable classrooms. It was decided that a third building was needed to provide a fellowship hall and those much needed classrooms. There were many church wide discussions about the size and configuration of the fellowship hall. Some wanted to include an indoor basketball court to attract more youth. All agreed that a larger kitchen and more Sunday School classrooms were the most important. The use of the accordion doors gives House Hall the flexibility that we need for our busy congregation. Construction began while Rev. Brian Kent was our pastor and was finished under the leadership of Rev. J.T. Greenleaf.
The general contractor for the fellowship hall was one of our members, Rich Perry. He also utilized some finish work from members of the congregation. In December of 2000 we consecrated the hall. It was later renamed the House Hall in honor of Gordon and Virginia House. Virginia had been the pianist and organist at the church for nearly 50 years. Her husband Gordon had taught adult Sunday school classes for the same amount of time.
Soon after the consecration of House Hall we realized that our sanctuary was too small. We were having 3 services and even rented a tent to hold the overflow crowds from our Easter services! The sanctuary was constructed to facilitate further expansion. The panels from our beautiful stained glass window were carefully taken down and stored. The south wall was removed, the raised platform was moved to the fellowship hall, and services were held there from 2004 to 2005 while the sanctuary expansion was completed. We widened as well as extended the sanctuary. This time all the construction was done by an outside contractor (Rich Perry). The congregation wrote prayers, scripture, and good wishes on the construction beams before the walls were sealed. The newly configured sanctuary was dedicated in July of 2005.