100 Years Strong: Congregational Church of La Jolla to mark centennial
The Congregational Church of La Jolla is celebrating its 100th anniversary this month and to affirm the 1216 Cave St. parish as a place of worship for the next 100 years, devotees are planning a day of re-dedication starting at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 7. Although the fellowship began offering services in 1889, the church was built in 1916 and dedicated as a place of worship the first Sunday in August that same year.
“Congregationalists don’t believe that we need to bless a building or house, but in the case of building a church, there would be a celebration to dedicate, or in this case re-dedicate, the church for its use as a place of worship,” said Pastor Sam Greening.
When the church was built, a time-capsule of sorts filled with unknown artifacts was placed in the cornerstone. On Friday, Aug. 5, church leadership plans to unearth the cornerstone so its contents can be displayed at the Aug. 7 event.
“The following week we are going to replace it with modern artifacts,” Greening said. “We’ve encouraged people to write things about the church for us to include. We want to include some music, but how do I put music in so it can be read 100 years from now? Will they be able to play CDs or MP3s in 100 years?”
In addition to the time-capsule display, other commemorative events include a 10:30 a.m. service with a celebration of the Lord’s Supper, followed by coffee and refreshments starting at 11:30 a.m. A Congregational Meeting will be held at noon to discuss whether the church should install solar panels. An Ice Cream Social will be held at 1 p.m. with a performance by a barbershop quartet, followed by the re-dedication Service at 3 p.m. with pastor emeritus John Benbow preaching. A reception in the social hall and on the patio will follow the re-dedication Service, at approximately 4 p.m.
All events are free and open to the public. “The day is a celebration of the architecture and history and who we are,” Greening said.
Designed by architect Carleton Winslow, who was responsible for several buildings in The Bishop’s School and Balboa Park, the church houses a congregation whose roots can be traced to the Mayflower. “When the pilgrims came to North America on the Mayflower, they brought something called the Congregational Way,” he said. “What we practice is an open-minded faith. You don’t have to believe in a certain creed to belong to our church, your own faith is individual. We don’t have a statement of faith, instead we have a covenant, which is a statement of how we live together in a community.”
A self-proclaimed liberal fellowship, Congregationalists were among the first to condemn slavery, first to ordain a woman, first to ordain African Americans, first to ordain openly gay and lesbian ministers, and one of the first churches that voted to affirm marriage equality. “We stand for social justice,” Greening said.
100 years in the making
Chronicling the history of the church and changes to its architecture, the church contracted videographer Bob Summers to create an informational video. It was released in January.
“The additions over the years are quite interesting – originally it was just a church, then they added offices and classrooms and in doing so, they created a circle that surrounds the patio. The lot where the office is was empty, so they extended the back of the church into a recreation hall, then the Sunday School classrooms,” he said.
The windows in the 1916 sanctuary were clear and unstained, one of the few changes to the space.
In the 1950s, the bell that rings every Sunday was put in place, thanks to a group of parishioners and the students in the Sunday School. “For a long time, the church didn’t have a bell, the tower sat empty,” Greening said.
In the 1950s and ‘60s, stained glass windows depicting the Old Testament and the life of Jesus Christ were installed.
Although the patio was laid decades earlier, it was heavily renovated in the early 2000s. “The patio was unusable 10 or 12 years ago, we had a big jacaranda tree that had uprooted the pavement, so we had to remove that and replace the pavement,” Greening said.
The main hall was renovated three years ago.
Summers said, “You’d be surprised if you look at the 1915 picture and today’s church, there are really very few changes. It’s a pleasant place. It’s small but great.”