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La Jolla’s Faith Communities — La Jolla United Methodist Church: Lots of history converges to define the congregation

La Jolla Methodist Church was founded in 1953 by a few members who first met at Casa de Manana.
La Jolla Methodist Church was founded in 1953 by a few members who first met at Casa de Manana.
( / Milan Kovacevic)

Q: What do reformed Anglicans, a railroad station and the margarita have in common?

A: In La Jolla, they are all part of the history of the United Methodist Church.

Located on La Jolla Boulevard close to the Bird Rock community for more than 60 years, the church is well known for its rose garden, annual rummage sale, large nursery school and music programs, according to Rev. Dr. Walter Dilg, pastor.

The church’s mission statement is “to make, mature and mobilize the disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world,” as described in its “Book of Discipline,” he said. “We do this predominantly through our worship/music programs, our education programs and service projects.”

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The Methodist denomination began as a reform movement in the 1700s when two brothers in England — John and Charles Wesley — had transforming religious experiences and wanted to revive the Anglican Church (Church of England). “It was not so much a theological break,” explained Rev. Dilg. “They had no doctrinary arguments, continued with the same articles of faith as the Anglicans, but with a spirit of expansion rather than a rigid theological jacket to wear.” The movement coincided with the settling of America and the impending Revolutionary War, and became the faith of the colonists. Up until approximately 30 years ago, it was the largest Protestant denomination in the United States (now surpassed by Baptists). It is today an international denomination with churches around the world.

The motto of the Methodist Church is “Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors.”

Rev. Dr. Walter Dilg, pastor
Rev. Dr. Walter Dilg, pastor
( / Milan Kovacevic)

“We try to live this out,” said Rev. Dilg, who described his congregation as “on the liberal/progressive side, a multi-generational church seeking social justice and personal spirituality.”

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“Those looking for the freedom to explore will find it here,” he added.

La Jolla United Methodist offers a full range of services and programs for its members and the community. A traditional worship service is 10 a.m. Sundays. There is also Sunday School at 10 a.m. for children, with childcare for those under age 3. On the second Sunday of each month, a more relaxed service is held at 5 p.m.

The church’s nursery school has been open to all in the community since 1972. It is non-sectarian and offers scholarships. Church members participate in several programs, including fellowship groups for different ages (from teenagers and young parents to retirees) and book discussion and music groups.

Music plays a big part in the church programs and includes a chancel choir, a Dorian bell choir and a praise band. The church offers several concerts a year for the public that feature a variety of music genres — from mariachi bands to Irish pipes. Rev. Dilg, who plays guitar and drums, is helping expand the church’s music programs with a new youth band and a summer music and arts camp.

United Methodist participates in community outreach and global ministries, too. Many are funded by its annual rummage sale, and include Imagine No Malaria, Community Christian Service Agency, Habitat for Humanity, and Meals on Wheels.

La Jolla United Methodist Church was founded in 1953 by a few members who first met at Casa de Manana. In December of that year, they bought the San Carlos Station building on La Jolla Boulevard at Mira Monte Avenue. It was built in 1924 as a passenger station and power substation for the San Diego Electric Railway, San Diego’s streetcar line. (The line ran from 1924 to 1940 on tracks located where the bike path is now. Before it, the Los Angeles and San Diego Beach Railroad ran on the same roadbed from 1894 to 1917.) Although used during the 1940s as an aviator school and as an arts and crafts school, the old station stood mostly empty until the new Methodist congregation made it into their sanctuary.

La Jolla Methodist Church has 225 members.
La Jolla Methodist Church has 225 members.
( / Milan Kovacevic)

Soon they overfilled the small building and so bought two properties next door — La Plaza Mexican restaurant and El Toro bar. La Plaza is thought to be where the first margarita was served in the United States, adapted by the bartender Albert Hernandez in 1947. Hernandez bought the restaurant and relocated it to downtown La Jolla, but the bar’s lease ran for three more years. Since the Methodists were a “dry” congregation, they were careful that the income from the bar did not fund church activities.

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The restaurant building became the church sanctuary for 10 years (a new sanctuary was built in 1969) and is today a fellowship hall used social gatherings. The former bar is the church library, which houses more than 5,000 volumes. The waiting area in back of the original station building (now a chapel) and overlooking the former tracks has been enclosed and is the current youth center. The chapel has been restored and is used for weddings and is open to the public.

Rev. Dilg has been the pastor since July 2009. He was born in Long Island, New York and spent his childhood in a suburb of Chicago. He earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Illinois, a master’s of divinity from Boston University School of Theology and a doctor of ministry degree from Claremont School of Theology. He has served as a pastor at several United Methodist churches in Southern California, including Glendale, Altadena, Moorpark, Santa Maria and Ventura. He and his wife, Debbie, an Advanced Placement high school English teacher, have a grown son and daughter.

La Jolla United Methodist Church

Address: 6063 La Jolla Blvd.

Phone: (858) 454-7108

Website: lajollaunitedmethodist.org

Year established: 1953

Members: 225

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Average Sunday Attendance: 125

Worship Services: 10 a.m. Sunday Services and children’s Sunday School. Adult Bible Study 8:30 a.m. Sunday. Faith & Fun 5 p.m. Relaxed evening multimedia worship service 5 p.m. second Sundays.

Church Programs: Chancel Choir (practice 7 p.m. Thursday). Youth Group 10 a.m. Sunday worship service sermon followed by discussion/fellowship; also meets 6 p.m. bi-monthly on Fridays, Adult fellowship groups (see website for schedule). Book Talk 1:30 p.m. first Tuesdays.

Community Projects: Non-sectarian nursery school for toddlers, pre-schoolers and pre-kindergartners. Summer Vacation Bible School for ages 3 through grade 5. Children’s Christmas workshop. March Rummage Sale. Community Service Forums. Community Christian Service Agency. Generate Hope. Guatemala Project. Habitat for Humanity. Interfaith Shelter. Meals on Wheels. METRO Good Neighbor Center and METRO mentoring. Russian Initiative. San Diego Coastkeeper. Senior Gleaners. Voices for Children. Weddings, including reception facilities. Provides facilities for exercise classes, including yoga and handball, Boy Scouts, AA and Al-Anon. Choir concerts and family-friendly music concerts throughout the year.

Leaders: Rev. Dr. Walter Dilg, senior pastor; Rev. Diane Davis, children & families ministry director; Evan Neel, youth director; Bob Wuertz, music ministries director; Ronel Wishnuff, organist; Debbie Pastor, administrative assistant; Bridget Musante, LJUMC Nursery School director.