FIRST QUARTER CENTURY: 1915-1940
On March 7, 1915, the Union Congregational Church began as a Sunday School. The Rev. J.J. Chambers, a former Lutheran pastor from Alpaugh, was invited to preach this first English service in Shafter (others were in German). During the summer of 1915, the services were held in the first schoolhouse located on James St., then moved to an unfinished room of the new schoolhouse on Santa Fe Ave. on October 17, 1915. That day Rev. Elsworth E. Smith, a traveling missionary for the Southern Conference of the Congregational Church, preached. Herecommended that the Congregational Board provide preaching services for the Shafter congregation at stated times by circuit preachers. From that time on, the Shafter people were included in the Wasco and Rio Bravo circuit; Wasco having the morning service and Shafter the afternoon. This arrangement continued for eight years.
A year later on April 27, 1916, the Shafter Union Congregational Church was formally organized with 18 charter members. They were: Mr. and Mrs. N.E. Vandam, Mr. and Mrs. Oliver Bullimore, Mr. and Mrs. John Stone, Mr. and Mrs. E.V. Kattenhorn, Mr. and Mrs. Jesse Goodrich, Mr. and Mrs. W.A. Livers, Mrs. C.B. Patterson, Mr. Woods Stone, David Patterson, Josephine Trump, Mrs. W. Parker, and Alma Roe. From 1915-1923, the circuit preachers continued to serve this new congregation, including Rev. I.L. Oakes (1915-16), Rev. James Muir (1917-20) & Rev. O.M. Temple (1920-22).
On July 9, 1920, during the time of Rev. Temple, our church was incorporated. In 1921, the Kern County Land Company gave our church lots at Sunset & James to erect a 38x49 foot building. Throughout the years the building was remodeled several times.
In April 1923, Rev. Owen Hornberg became the first full-time pastor of our church and in September, 1923, he moved into the newly added parsonage. God’s faithfulness blessed this new congregation as membership grew to forty four during the 1920’s under the preaching of Rev. Edwin Waldo. During the 20’s, 30’s, & 40’s our church had a reed organ.
During 1929-31, Rev. John McDonald served our congregation and the interior of the church was finally completed. On April 9, 1929, the Wasco church was invited to a “Church- Warming” to celebrate the completion. Sunday school attendance increased to fifty-four with the Ladies Aid group having thirty-five members. Through the century, our congregation has always been filled with people who love the Lord and make serving the Lord and each other a priority. The Ladies Aid eventually became the Women’s Fellowship and continues to serve today.
Rev. Ratcliffe pastored from 1932-36. From 1936-1943, Rev. Alfred Chandler pastored. In those years, the Constitution and By Laws were revised. The Ladies Aid purchased chairs. A new church stove was purchased.
SECOND QUARTER CENTURY: 1941-1965
Improvements to our church facility was, and continues to be, a priority. In 1942, the beautification of the chancel was complete and a cross was placed atop our church and the entrance covered. The Ladies Aid began their Annual Silver Tea which increased in popularity and revenue.
In 1943, Rev. Wm. Harper became pastor. During WWII, a Service Flag was made which carried a blue star for each member of the congregation entering the service and a gold star for each life lost. By the end of the war, the flag had 46 stars and one gold (Lt. Robert Anderson). At this time, a Christian flag and U.S. flag were donated to our church.
In 1944, new hymnals were purchased with donations from the congregation. Improvements were made to the parsonage. In 1947, a Communion table, Baptismal font, and two pulput chairs were purchased through memorial gifts from Mrs. J.C. (Minnie) Ohanneson and the Arnold Enns families. In August, a Hammond Electric Organ was purchased and dedicated to replace the old reed organ.
For the next six years (1948-1954), Rev. Gordon Baker was our pastor. The Bakers moved into the new parsonage on Dec. 20, 1948, at 213 North Shafter Avenue. In 1949, a grand piano & Rexograph machine were purchased. A Couples Club was organized.
Planning for our new church location, began in March of 1949, and months later a parcel at Sycamore & Tulare was purchased. On February 9, 1950, the plans for our new church building were approved. A ground-breaking ceremony took place August 20th (118 degree weather) and construction began on October 20th. On November 3, 1950, the first load of concrete was poured and on November 28th the bricklayers began on the walls.
On April 23, 1951, the first meeting in the new building was held by the Couples Club who spent their evening repairing and painting old Sunday school furniture. On April 29, 1951 (the 35th Anniversary of our church), the last service was held in the old church building. During the next week and until late Saturday night volunteers helped in moving, painting, refinishing, washing windows, and other jobs to be done so that the first service could be held the next morning.
May 6, 1951, the first Sunday school and Church Service were held in the new building. That afternoon, an overflow crowd gathered for the impressive Vesper Service of Dedication. Praise to God has always been a vital part of our worship and church history. During this era, we were blessed with organists Marion Neufeld, Cathryn Putman and Margaret Southwick. Our Choir Directors were Violet Hemingson, Margaret Green, Bob Snively, and Richard Southwick. The first wedding in the new sanctuary was June 20, 1951, when Mary Ohanneson married Vernon David Anderson. In the fall, monthly family potlucks became a tradition. We still love our potluck fellowships.
On October 5, 1951, the cement walks & curbs were poured with new lawns planted a short time later. Also in October, the old church property was sold to the Church of Christ. A speaker in the bell tower was installed before Christmas so that chimes could be broadcast to the community. As we recall, the chimes were from a record played daily at noon from inside the church office. That same year, the first Christmas Eve candlelight service began with a large crowd attending; featuring special music and the scriptural story. This special tradition continues today.
In 1952, a Good Friday Communion Service was instituted. Rev. Baker resigned September 12, 1954. Rev. Willard Bartlett was our interim pastor.
January 1, 1955, Rev. Paul Babbitt was our pastor. Many new ministries began. There were four choirs: Cherub (1-3 grades); Chapel (4-6 grades); Junior Chancel (7-10 grades) & Chancel Choir (11 grade-adult). “Babbitt’s Rabbits”, a Junior High class, was held to learn church doctrine, evangelism and serve as Acolytes (candlelighters). A three-room Sunday School building to house the Juniors, Jr. High and High School Departments was constructed at the back of the present building. During this time, youth summer camps were popular at Pilgrim Pines. This ministry to our youth continues today with winter camps added.
In March of 1955, the Peter C. Guenther Memorial Chimes were donated to enhance our worship. A Maundy Thursday service and dinner became a tradition in remembrance of the Office of Tenebrae. In 1956, a Thanksgiving service was held the morning of Thanksgiving Day.
In 1957, the Congregational Christian Church and the Evangelical & Reformed Church united to form the United Church of Christ (UCC). Lenten Devotional Services became an annual tradition. The Young Adults organized an informal discussion group that met each Sunday morning at the parsonage. At that time, a beautiful mural of Christ and the children was painted in the beginners’ room by Tess Norris.
In 1958, the Board of Deaconesses reestablished the Coffee Fellowship which is still popular today. Rev. Harshfield, Minister of Evangelism Southern California Congregational Churches, led the “Friendly Visitation” ministry. A Lenten breakfast for High School youth was held. A “Fall Round-Up” sponsored by the Board of Religious Education signed up forty people to serve in the church.
In 1959, a teaching institute was conducted with forty attending. Miss Evelyn Dimond was appointed as the first Minister of Education and was also our church secretary for a number of years. The Richland Aquatic Center was reserved by the church every Tuesday evening during the summer for family fellowship. A prayer Adventure Group began in September. In December 1960, upon the resignation of Rev. Babbitt, Dr. Albert Miller and later, Dr. Torrence Phelps served as our interim pastors into 1961. The Social Action Committee was formed and instrumental in the sponsorship of refugees from Holland, the Flamand family. In January of 1961, the Frank Flamand family arrived from Dutch Indonesia.
In April of 1961, Rev. John Heal preached his first sermon as pastor. In October, two special prayer groups: Prayer Quest and Prayer Therapy were organized. In February 1962, Carl Wells was selected to the newly created position of Youth Director. Vacation Bible School raised money for the Heifer Project. “Feed-Back” was instituted after the worship service to discuss the sermon with the minister. In November of 1962, the new church library in the parlor was dedicated and became a vital ministry of our church under the leadership of Genevieve Craig. This ministry continues today by her daughter, Marcia Krause. The Men’s Fumblers Class met during this time-sometimes outside across the street.
In March 1963, the church presented a musical variety show in the Veterans Hall to raise money for a mission project. In May, the church participated in Shafter’s 50th Anniversary celebration by entering a float in the parade.
On November 30, 1964, the church voted to withdraw from the United Church of Christ. The Board of Deacons established a monthly men’s breakfast at the Shafter Motel.
On February 7, 1965, the name of the church was changed to Union Congregational Church of Shafter. This is the first of five name changes to better reflect our doctrine and teaching. On April 24-25, 1965, The 50th Anniversary celebration of the Union Congregational Church of Shafter took place.
THIRD QUARTER CENTURY: 1966-1990
In March 1966, Rev. Owen Onsum was called to be the first pastor of our now independent church. His fifteen years of ministry was characterized by teaching and growing in knowledge and application of the Word of God with added Bible Studies on Sunday evening and In-Home studies. This same year, the congregation voted (116-92) to withdraw from the Southwest Conference and Kern Association of the United Church of Christ.
In 1967, our church services could be heard on KWSO radio. Our Music Ministry was blessed with a new Allen Organ given in memory of E.B. Stringham, as well as remodeling of the Nave (Choir Loft) and the purchase of new hymnals. Our wonderful Music Ministry continued with Choir Directors: Dick Southwick, Collie Anderson, Stephen Sloat, Harold Reimer, and Nancy Goehring, accompanied by Doris Unruh, and later, Marcia Krause on the organ until the present.
In 1967, our Constitution was revised to reflect our independent status. A stained glass window was dedicated in the narthex in 1968 in memory of David Muir, Sr. A very active Women’s Fellowship assumed responsibility for Coffee Fellowship on Sundays. Couples Club continued to meet on Saturday evening for Bible Study. During this time, the youth were blessed by Betty Onsum as they focused on building their relationship with the Lord and each other.
In 1969, David Woodworth was called as Youth Minister. A youth “Campus Club” began with thirty three young people. In 1970, the Senior High Canoe and Junior High Bicycle clubs were organized. A youth singing group, “His People”, led by Bob and Marcia Krause, performed and shared the gospel. Sunday Evening Bible Study took on a new format with small group discussion before the lecture. A College Sunday School class, Men’s Bible Study & Ladies’ Bible Study began. The Ladies’ Study continues today-over 40 years later.
During the 1970’s, fellowship, study, and service continued to characterize our church. Women’s Fellowship held the fall Ice Cream Social in the Farrell’s backyard. This has become ‘Church in the Park’ and continues today. The Annual Ham Dinner and Bazaar has continued to be popular for fellowship & the fundraiser for women’s ministry outreach and support for over 50 years. An outreach ministry to the Shafter Rest Home began and continues today.
In 1975, our affiliation with the National Association of Evangelicals was approved. In 1977, construction began on a new church office. That same year, Rev. Onsum had heart surgery and his son, David, preached during the summer. Bruce Camp was our Summer Intern Youth Pastor.
In 1978-79, Richard Dixon became our part-time Youth Director. Some of the youth’s activities were: an overnight canoe trip to Morro Bay, a 3-night backpacking trip to Mineral King Forest, and Bible Studies. Richard’s assistants were Kris Albright, Gary Weidenbach, and Bill Bann. A new church van was donated by Richland Chevrolet. Today, Richard still supports the youth ministry by providing a Winter Camp location. A tape ministry of Sunday sermons began. The Mission Board guidelines were developed and Children’s Church began. In 1979, the Choir purchased new robes. In 1980, the Church Library was moved to the pastor’s former office and governing policies and procedures were developed. VBS was a cooperative venture with the Baptist Church. A pastoral committee was formed and revised the selection and tenure of pastors. Rev. Onsum retired after serving this congregation for 15 years. A dinner in his honor was held on June 30, 1980. In March, Pastor John LeCompte preached and Pastor Reid Jepsen was called as Interim pastor.
In October of 1981, Rev. Stan Jensen was called to be our pastor. Our church participated in a survey of gifts and talents. In 1982, many members attended the Institute of Church Imperatives in Modesto. A ten-year plan was outlined and adopted by the church. In 1982, Stephen Sloat became our Youth Pastor. The Helping Hands community outreach, led by Priscilla Barber, reached many with the gospel and ministered to their needs for many years during this era.
In August of 1983, the Children’s Center Day Care opened under the direction of Susan (Zachary) Mulligan with 79 children attending and continues today. In 1984, a name change for our church was approved. We became the Community Evangelical Congregational Church. Andrew Rottenbacher was hired as Summer Intern Youth Pastor. Women’s Fellowship began the Super Sale (yard-sale) as a fundraiser. In the 1980’s, Home Bible Studies began. In 1986, a Backyard Vacation Bible School in the community of Shafter was held as a joint effort between our church, the First Baptist Church and Mennonite Church. This was a huge undertaking but so rewarding to reach into the neighborhoods throughout the city.
In 1985, Pastor Sloat combined many of the youth activities and studies with the Wasco and Shafter Congregational Churches. Diana Williams became the Children’s Center Director. Helen Farrell retired after 10 years as church secretary. In December 1985, the Titus Task Force was called to help the church through a pastoral transition. Rev. Bill Fox from Titus Task Force served as Interim Pastor. Small group meetings were planned to diagnose the needs of the church. The name of our church, once again, was changed to Congregational Church of Shafter. Eight Care Groups were formed. The church sold its parsonage on Mannel Avenue. A ‘Maronots” (married or not) young adults study was formed. There is a continuing fellowship & Bible study for this age group today known through the years as: Young Couples and now Young Adults.
In July of 1987, Pastor Mike Kotrla was called as pastor. He continues to shepherd our church 28 year later. Expanding Bible studies and a renewed interest in Missions and participation in mission trips has continued to characterize his ministry. Wednesday Evening Study and Dinner for the whole family began, as well as a Men’s Saturday Study. In 1988, Care Groups, Family Nights, praise music led by Judy (Onsum) Fortenberry began. A Praise Band followed, during this time, led by Helen Records. Jay and Janet Ables began to commute from Los Angeles to minister to the youth.
In 1989, the church held its first Mission Conference featuring Jerry Miel, John & Marge Cosby, Bill & Marjorie Fox of United Indian Mission and Tom & Bev Gooldy of Campus Crusade in Japan. The first summer Mission trip was to the Totonac Bible Center in Mexico led by Pastor Mike and Tom Almberg. Our mission trips continue annually today. Bruce Camp of Evangelical Free Mission (now Dual Reach) facilitated our church in adopting a “Missions Outlook” plan of who, where and why we support. The Community Singfest in cooperation with other Shafter churches, continued for several years. The first men and boys campout was to Buena Vista Lake.
FOURTH QUARTER CENTURY: 1990-2015
In 1990, the second Mission Conference featuring Manuel Arenas of the Totonac Bible Center in Mexico and Dick Ernstrom of Central American Missions, was held. A summer Mission Work-trip to Flagstaff, Arizona, to help United Indian Missions was taken. Weekly Bible studies began for Juniors, Junior High, Senior High, and College and Career with leaders from our congregation. A ministry to those over 60 called “Young at Heart” was led by Helen Farrell. The “In-Between” fellowship group was led by Don Zachary. Some attended the Single Parent retreat at Hume Lake Christian Camps. Barbara Payne became our church secretary and served faithfully for over 23 years. John Sloas III was our Summer Intern Youth Pastor.
In 1991, Jay Ables was hired as our Youth Pastor. He served our congregation for 7 years as Youth and Associate Pastor while commuting to Master’s Theological Seminary. His ministry was characterized by communicating God’s Word and Prayer. Youth groups called Bible Learners and Impact Group began. During this time, the Ladies’ Bible Study was blessed by Janet Ables’ teaching. A special Passover Communion Service was given by the Jews for Jesus organization for our congregation. A series on cults was presented by Rev. Orville Swenson. The Summer Mission Trip was to Gallup, New Mexico, for United Indian Missions.
In 1992, the first Fireworks Booth under Jay Ables’s direction raised money for the Youth Mission Trip to Cortez, Colorado in 1993. This Fireworks Booth continued to raise the necessary funds for our mission trips. Shirley Bell was recognized for her 18 years of faithfulness in chairing the Ham Dinner. The first of several golf tournaments were enjoyed. The College-Career Sunday School class was led by John Sloas. Our Mission Conference featured Jim and Janet Sweeney serving with Wycliffe in Kenya.
In 1993, the church developed a vision statement; “Helping people grow spiritually so that they impact others for Christ”. To accomplish this goal there are four objectives: (1) Celebrating God; (2) Communicating Christ; (3) Cultivating Believers; and (4) Caring for Others.
The Children’s Center celebrated its 10th Anniversary of caring for children. We have been blessed by faithful servants as our directors and staff. In May, several members went to revisit the Totonac Bible Center in Mexico after the death of director Manuel Arenas. In June, the Youth Mission Trip, under the leadership of Jay Ables, was to Cortez, Colorado to help at the United Indian Missions’ facility with a water project. Youth camps included winter at Hume Lake Christian Camps and summer at Hartland Christian Camps.
In 1994, the Mission Conference hosted Felipe Ramos of the Totonac Bible Center and Gordon and Shirley Hummel with Greater Europe Missions as featured missionaries. Our Youth Mission Trip was to Washington D.C. and the Kentucky Appalachian Mountain Mission. The church participated in the National Day of Prayer and the Promise Keepers Men’s Convention. Azusa Pacific University Male Chorale performed in February. During church services, Marcia Krause was joined for several years by Bernice Almberg on the piano.
In 1995, our Mission Conference featured Rod Tidwell & several residents from Teen Challenge, Bruce Camp from Evangelical Free Mission, and Jim Sweeney of Wycliffe Bible Translators. Jay Ables completed his studies at Masters’ Theological Seminary and was ordained for the ministry through our church. The Mission Trip was a return to the Totonac Bible Center in Mexico. The Wednesday Night Family Dinner and Bible Study continues to minister to families. This ministry continues today-20 years later. The Azusa Pacific University Male Chorale performed.
During the 1990’s, more ministries were begun and continued: Men’s discipleship “Iron Sharpens Iron”, Christmas Missionary baskets, church picnic to Costerisan Lake, Valentine Banquet, and our Mission trip to Houston, British Columbia, to the Rocknest Ranch under the direction of UIM. Our church celebrated our 80th Anniversary of ‘Touching Lives with the Love of Christ” on March 23-24, 1996. In 1996, Pastor Mike completed his Doctorate of Divinity. In 1998, our church supported a Hispanic Outreach Ministry to our community through UIM. Diana Williams retired after 12 years as the Director of the Children’s Center and Lisa Lindgren became Director. The Mission Trip was to Puebla, Mexico.
We have continued to be blessed with faithful Youth Pastors. Those in this era are: Jay Ables (1991-1998)-communicating God’s Word and prayer; Roger Lee (1998-2000)-servanthood & mentors; Reggie Rogers (2001-2006)-evangelism; Travis Hobbs (2007) joy; and Pastor Mark Scialabba (2008-present) teaching and applying God’s Word and servanthood.
Women’s Fellowship has continued to encourage faithfulness through fellowship with activities for both women and families: Church in the Park is a continuation of the Ice Cream Socials, Ham Dinner & Bazaar for over fifty years, Christmas Women’s Fellowship, Valentine Dinner, Green Hotel Luncheon, Mother-Daughter Events, Outreach Ministries (within our church and community), Support Ministries to youth, facility, Coffee Fellowship, Nursery, Altar and Church Flowers, and Sunday Greeters.
In 2000, we began our annual Mission Work Trips to Mexico; first in the Ensenada area, and then near Rosarita Beach assisting the YUGO missionaries (Johnsons and then the Coles) with building projects. For the last four years, we have been going to the Ebenezer Bible Church in the Tijuana area to build homes and church facilities. Since 2000, we have built over 15 church facilities & homes. At this time, we participated in the Community Jesus Video Project. Women’s Fellowship held its first Church in the Park in October. In 2001, our church began to participate in Operation Christmas Child. This continues annually today. In 2002, Pastor Mike, under Greater European Missions, taught at the Zaporozhye Bible College in the Ukraine and was able to do that every other year for four years. In 2004, a new Rodgers Organ was donated to our church. We participated in the Franklin Graham Crusade held in Bakersfield.
On March 6, 2005, we celebrated our 90th Anniversary of the Congregational Church of Shafter, “Ninety Years of Service”. This year the Wasco Congregational Church joined us on our Mission Trip to Mexico.
In 2006, a new Mason-Hamlin grand piano was donated to the church. We had our Church Picnic and Baptismal service. In 2007, our parking lot was black-topped and then surrounded by a new fence, trees, sprinklers, grass and later lights from donations. We received the Shafter City Beautification Award. Rhonda Haworth became our Children’s Center Director.
In 2008, we celebrated Pastor Mike’s 20th Anniversary as our Pastor.
In 2009, we changed our name, once again, to the Congregational Bible Church of Shafter. In 2010, a new Choir Room and Youth Pastor Office was built. Our Young Couples attended a retreat.
In 2011, the church family participated in the Community ‘Colours’ Celebration of the Arts. New sanctuary stained glass windows were donated.
In 2012, Barbara Payne retired after 23 years as our church secretary. A new Ladies Bible study began on Monday nights.
In 2013, the Juniors went to Wagon Train at Hume Lake Christian Camp for Summer Camp and the Junior and Senior High continued to go to Hartland Christian Camp. Also, the youth went to Los Angeles to serve the needy under the direction of Pastor Mark Scialabba.
We have been blessed with a Century of God’s faithful love and guidance, love for others, and the desire to serve within our church, community, nation, and world. Praise HIM.