Historic Poway chapel celebrating 125 years on Saturday
By Barbara Norton
One of the most recognizable buildings in Poway, the Community Church of Poway’s historic chapel is more than just a building. In its 125 years, the white Victorian chapel has served as a center for the community as well as a church. It is also an historical landmark and the oldest wooden church still in use in the county.
To celebrate its 125th birthday, along with its recent renovation, the congregation is throwing a party Saturday, June 23 at the church on Community Road and Hilleary Drive. The community is invited to don period attire and come to an old-fashioned picnic. The festivities begin with an opening ceremony from 3 to 4 p.m. The picnic follows from 4 to 6 p.m., featuring hamburgers from the Hamburger Factory. Entertainment will be by the Rattlesnake Creek Old Time String Band. Meal tickets are $15 for adults, and $12 for children under 12, seniors and military. Free activities include an antique car show, an exhibit of winning art depicting the chapel, games for children, and tours of the chapel.
During the opening ceremony, proclamations received from the city and county and a letter from the governor will be displayed. Also, a plaque will be dedicated honoring the more than 70 who donated to the chapel’s recent renovation. Donations not only came from church and community members, but other congregations as well, including the Green Valley Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which donated $13,000. LDS Bishop Tom Konold described the chapel as “a symbol of faith in the community.”
The Community Church of Poway has been the home to many faiths. Eighteen different faith bodies had their beginnings at the church, according to Pastor Glen Larsen Jr. Currently it is hosting a gathering of Hindus. It is also part of the Poway Interfaith team and hosts a variety of their events.
Not only has the chapel been a center of the faith community but it served as a meeting place for the secular community. Larsen said that at one time the church was configured differently. To accommodate community meetings, the altar was pushed back and the cross removed. According to Larsen, its use for community meetings was only rivaled by Templar’s Hall.
The chapel had its beginnings in 1887 as the Poway Methodist Episcopal Church built on land donated in 1883 by Joseph and Amanda Stone. Members of the congregation and the community built the church out of redwood. Early photos show a dark-colored Victorian church set in the middle of an empty field. The original colors were dark green with white trim.
In 1894 the Methodists in Poway and the Congregationalists in Oceanside swapped churches. The Poway church became the Congregational Church of Poway, served by Rev. Henry C. Abernathy. Sometime before 1916 the congregation repainted the church white.
Membership waned at times during the 1930s and 1940s along with the area’s population. When there was no permanent minister, the mothers in the community kept the Sunday School going. In 1945 the name was changed to the Community Church of Poway.
In 1949 things got so dire the church was in danger of closing, according to recollections written in 1963 by Mrs. Forest Paulson. Members contacted the Congregational Conference in Los Angeles and with their help formed a new corporation. Mrs. Paulson relates how Rev. Lambreth E. Hancock came from the Ramona church and for eight years conducted Sunday morning services in Ramona and Sunday evening services in Poway.
During the 1950s the congregation stepped up their efforts to improve and preserve their historic church. This included replacing the kerosene lamps with electric lights and building an annex for Sunday School classes. The annex also included indoor plumbing, replacing the privy.
In 1960 a baptismal font was added to the church, according to the church’s newsletter, “The Echo.” It was built out of redwood by George Gill, since none of the commercially available fonts fit the interior design. Also in 1960, the two original kerosene lamps were returned to the church by Paul Agsten, who bought them after the 1950s renovation. Those lamps are now hanging in the church.
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