Santa Paula Times

First United Methodist Church celebrates 140th anniversary

November 18, 2016
Santa Paula News

By Peggy Kelly

Santa Paula Times 

The followers of John Wesley were the first religious organization to build a church in Santa Paula and now the First United Methodist Church (FUMC) is celebrating 140 years of enriching the spiritual lives of Santa Paulans.

The church, with its generous Wesley Hall, is located at 133 N. Mill St.

According to Virginia Gunderson — whose Richardson family settled in the South Mountain area of Santa Paula almost 150 years ago — church records show that the charter was presented in 1876 to establish what was then the Methodist Episcopal Church.

The late Robert M. Clarke chronicled area churches in his 1936 book “Narrative of a Native” and Gunderson said Clarke “surmises that the first building was erected in or near 1881.”

Prior to that, a Circuit Rider Minister from Ventura held services in family homes, until the one-room schoolhouse was built on what is now the northwest corner of 10th and Ventura streets, home to Veterans Memorial Park.

Gunderson said in those days “Church services were rotated by the different denominations each Sunday. As the population of the area grew, churches of different groups started to be built.”

The first Methodist Episcopal church wrote Clarke, “Originally was a simple structure in white with a steeple of moderate height.

Clarke noted that although the original Methodist church building — the first in Santa Paula — was not a fine example of architecture, “It was a good place in which to worship God.” 

It certainly worked for Clarke, whose family were early members and who went on to become an attorney and State Legislator before returning to the practice of law.

In fact, he wrote, “The church was a large factor in assisting the building of that splendid institution now known as the University of Southern California. The first recruit was my old schoolmate, George S. Richardson, later Police Judge in Los Angeles for many years. George left us a rather drab fellow but came back with a football sweater and a head of hair resembling a chrysanthemum.”

George’s cousin, Charley Richardson, later attended USC and, wrote Clarke, was “probably the greatest all-around athlete every developed in Ventura County.” 

Starting in high school and continuing at USC Hardison dominated various track and field sports as well as baseball before his tragic 1908 death while swimming at Port Hueneme. 

First United Methodist Church remains a popular gathering place as well as a place of worship and each year hosts a community favorite, the Soup Kitchen & Bazaar featuring homemade arts and crafts, linen and other fabric art, tasty treats and Granny’s Attic Trash & Treasures room.

Gunderson said members of the congregation recognized the 140th anniversary of the church with a cake on Sunday, November 13 capping the church’s annual Thanksgiving Pot Luck.