Santa Cruz County History - Religion & Spirituality

Santa Cruz Spirituality: Presbyterian and Congregational
by Paul Tutwiler

The lead line of each association's entry includes its primary name, the type of organization, if not primarily for worship, its location, the time span of its existence.

  1. Presbyterian
  2. United Church of Christ
  3. Congregational
  4. Reformed Church in the United States

The original, early sixteenth century wave of Christian reform on the continent of Europe consisted not only of the Lutheran group, but also of the Calvinistic, or "Reformed," which emphasized the notions of the election of the individual by God and of a tightly knit congregation with strict public morality. Although Calvin himself established a theocracy in Geneva, his Christian worldview as it spread throughout northern and middle Europe, the British Isles, and the United States, emphasized the local congregation rather than the religion of the state. It took the forms of the Reformed Church in the Netherlands, the Huguenots in France, and the Presbyterians in Scotland, and it was the faith of the North American Pilgrims.


Presbyterianism established itself in the United States with English, Scottish, and Irish immigrants early in the 17th century, and it went westward with their descendants. It took divergent forms, especially being divided by Civil War allegiances, but in 1983 its largest bodies, both North and South, united institutionally to form the "Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)." (Melton, Encyclopedia *167) All existing Presbyterian congregations in Santa Cruz County are affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) unless otherwise noted below.

» United Presbyterian Church of Watsonville. 1860-2010.

This congregation dates its origin from 1860 and its first church structure from 1863. From then until the present it has been at the same location although it was greatly altered in 1888 and was totally replaced in 1970. (Lewis, Watsonville Yesterday, p. 97) It is at 112 East Beach St., Watsonville 95076, tel. 724-4737. (2010 Yellow Pages)

» First Presbyterian Church. Santa Cruz, 1889-2010.

Founded in 1889, the congregation met in rented locations until 1891, when it bought the Unity Church building, which it moved to Pacific Ave. and Cathcart St. In 1937 it moved to its present structure, (SC Sentinel, June 22, 1979) which is at 350 Mission St., Santa Cruz 95060, tel. 423-8770. (2010 Yellow Pages)

Additional historical information can be found in Francis, Santa Cruz County, p. 23; and Koch, Santa Cruz County: Parade of the Past, p. 32. Koch's dates differ from those in Francis and the Sentinel.

For the reason why the Presbyterian Church did not organize in Santa Cruz as early as 1857 go to United Church of Christ, the First Congregational Church, Santa Cruz.

» Boulder Creek Presbyterian Church. 1890-1909.

The congregation was organized in 1890 and built its first church structure in 1891. This burned down the same year and was replaced by a new one, still in 1891. (Mountain Echo, Jan. 9, 1897)

When the second building burned down, in 1909, it was not replaced, (Mountain Echo, Feb. 20, 1909) and there is no Presbyterian Church in Boulder Creek now.

» First Community Church of Ben Lomond. 1891-1980.

James P. Pierce, head of the Pacific Lumber Company, donated land for a church in the late 1870s. He specified that it should be a place where anyone might worship, regardless of denomination. After a few years Pierce decided that since no regular services were being held at the community church, he would sell it.

A Presbyterian, Mrs. Corbett, donated $400 for the purchase and others contributed a like amount. The small group of Presbyterians struggled to convince a pastor to serve them, finally succeeding in 1891 when the Rev. G. A. Mitchell became the first pastor of the reorganized church. According to The Mountain Echo of March 25, 1911 services, Sunday school, and Young Peoples' Christian Endeavor were held every Sunday from April 1 to October 1 in the Ben Lomond Presbyterian Church.

For many years Ben Lomond and Felton shared a pastor. The San Jose Presbytery in 1948 decided the two congregations should be separate, so the Ben Lomond group returned to the process of trying to convince a minister to stay in the small community. Because of the many Scots who lived in the area, the congregation changed the church's name to Wee Kirk of Ben Lomond. (McCarthy, Where Grizzlies Roamed the Canyons, p. 89)

According to McCarthy the renaming occurred in 1949. The legal change, however, was in 1959. (Santa Cruz County Articles of Incorporation no. 195) The name Wee Kirk continued to be applied to this church through 1980, (1980 Yellow Pages) although it was also known as the Community Church in Ben Lomond. (Polk 1940 through 1958) In 1964 the Yellow Pages included it under United Presbyterian Church, but it went under the heading "Non-Denominational" in the Yellow Pages, 1976 through 1980, and the 1977 Yellow Pages also listed it as Valley Christian Church under the heading "Churches - Christian."

In 1994 the church property was owned by Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Church. (McCarthy, Where Grizzlies Roamed the Canyons, p. 89) I observed in 2005 that its building, which is at 9500 Central Ave., corner of Main St. was well-maintained and it housed a business establishment with an historical plaque stating that it had been built "ca 1890."

» Felton Presbyterian Church. 1891-2010.

A Presbyterian congregation was organized in Felton in 1891, and by 1893 it had a structure on the corner of Felton-Empire Grade and Gushee Street. In 1954 the congregation moved to its present location on Highway 9, and the older building became a public library. (McCarthy, Where Grizzlies Roamed the Canyons, pp. 89-90 The church's address is 6090 Hwy. 9, Felton 95018, tel. 335-6900. (2010 Yellow Pages) Additional information can be found in 2010.

Felton Branch Library
Dedication of Felton Branch Library, originally Felton Presbyterian church
From Santa Cruz Public Libraries' Photograph Collection.

» Wright's Presbyterian Church. Santa Clara County, 1893-?.

"Union services and Sunday School meetings were held in 'The Chapel' on J. Birney Burrell's ranch. Later services were held in the Burrell School until the Wright's Presbyterian Church was built across the street at the foot of Loma Prieta Avenue in 1893. Reverend Mitchel founded both the Wright's Church and the Skyland Presbyterian Church (in 1887)." (Stephen Payne, A Howling Wilderness; The Summit Road of the Santa Cruz Mountains 1850-1906, p. 89) "The Presbyterian Church on Wright's Ridge, is handsomely furnished and finished, and was built at a cost of $4,500. The Pastor if Rev. Rich." (Sunshine, Fruit, and Flowers, A Souvenir of The San Jose Mercury, San Jose: San Jose Mercury Publishing and Printing Co., 1889, p. 194) See the Skyland Congregational Church below for Rev. Mitchel's other church.

» Westview Presbyterian Church. Watsonville, 1898-2010.

This congregation was founded in 1898 as the Methodist Japanese Mission at 161 Main St. In 1902 it had its first church structure, a rented house, at 134 Kearney St. A year later Presbyterian and Methodist leaders came to a practical missionary agreement: "It was decided that all future evangelism among the Japanese in the Monterey and Santa Cruz counties would be handled by the Presbyterian denomination and the San Jose area by the Methodist denomination." (Westview Presbyterian Church 90th Anniversary 1898-1988, monograph, published evidently in Watsonville, p. 3)

In 1910 the congregation was incorporated as the Japanese Presbyterian Church of Watsonville, (Santa Cruz County Articles of Incorporation no. 566), and in the following year a new church was built for it at 214 Union St. This building remained in service until 1930. (ibid., p. 5) Between 1925 and 1930 the structure was sold to the Salvation Army, and in 1930 a new church was built at 118 First St. (ibid., p. 6). In 1954 ground was broken for a new building on the same site. (ibid., p. 9)

The church is at 118 First St., Watsonville 95076, tel. 724-6222. (2010 Yellow Pages)

» Mount Hermon Christian Conference Center. 1906-2010.

Mount Hermon Christian Conference Center
Chapel at the Mount Hermon Christian Conference Center
From Santa Cruz Public Libraries' Postcard Collection.

At the Glenwood Encampment and Conference in July, 1905 religious leaders, mainly Presbyterian, decided to go about founding a non-denominational "permanent assembly place in a good vacation center," like those in Northfield, Massachusetts and Winona, Indiana. By December of that year the property had been bought and the Mt. Hermon Association had been incorporated. The sale of lots for those who wished to live there was temporarily halted in 1906 because of the earthquake, but rebounded in the same year. (Kay Goodnason, Rings in the Redwood. The Story of Mount Hermon. Mount Hermon CA: Mount Hermon Association, 1972, pp. 4-8)

Furthermore, 2010 states that it was the "first Christian camp west of the Mississippi," founded in 1906 upon the "seed idea" of Dwight L. Moody, and "its original program and facilities were influenced by the conference center in the east founded by him." From its beginning Mount Hermon has not been organizationally Presbyterian, but I place it here because of the way it was founded. Its address is Conference Dr., Mount Hermon 95041, tel. 335-4466. (2010 Yellow Pages)

» Filipino (Presbyterian). Watsonville, 1936.

According to Polk 1936 this church was at 75 Marchant, Watsonville.

» Trinity Presbyterian Church. Santa Cruz, 1937-2010.

Trinity Presbyterian Church
Trinity Presbyterian Church
Image courtesy of P. Tutwiler

Growing out of the First Presbyterian Church in 1937, this congregation built a structure in 1938 at Morrissey Blvd. and Water St. This building was razed, and in the early 1950s the congregation bought the former Latter Day Saints church building on Melrose. (SC Sentinel, Aug. 5, 1988) Polk 1940 - 1960 lists the Morrissey Blvd. address, although Polk 1964 has the present address, which is 420 Melrose Ave., Santa Cruz 95062, tel. 423-8995. (2010 Yellow Pages and 2010)

See Unitarian Universalist for the clarification that the first Trinity Presbyterian Church building was the original Unity Hall, which had been moved to Morrissey Blvd. and Water St., and see Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for the clarification that the Latter-day Saints moved out of the Melrose Ave. structure in 1962.

» Chapel Hill United Presbyterian Church. Watsonville, 1952-1967.

The congregation, which was on Arthur Road, corner of Sonoma Road, was formed in 1952 by dissident members of the (United) Presbyterian Church of Watsonville and was dissolved in 1967 when the rift was healed. At that time it was sold to the Southern Baptists and became the Arthur Road Baptist Church. (Lewis, Watsonville Yesterday, p. 97)

» Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Live Oak, 1958-2002.

The Orthodox Presbyterian Church was formed as a national Fundamentalist Presbyterian denomination in 1936. (Mead, Handbook, p, 251)

The Santa Cruz congregation, incorporated in 1958, (Santa Cruz County Articles of Incorporation no. 2379) was located in 1959 at 2501 Porter St., Soquel, (Polk 1959) and appears to have moved from the Soquel address to 429 Pennsylvania Ave., Santa Cruz in 1961, (Polk 1961) and then, in 1969 or 1970, to 2245 Capitola Road, where it remained until 1996. (Polk 1970 through 1988, White Pages 1989 through 1996) By 1980, according to Polk, it had been renamed the Westminster Presbyterian Church, and in 1996 it was called the Living Hope Church. (1996 White Pages) From 1997 through 2002 it was the Living Hope Church, but its address was 3673 Portola Dr., which was in the El Rancho shopping Center. (1997-2002 White Pages)

» Presbyterian Church Bonny Doon. 1959-2010.

The Presbyterian Board of Missions in 1959 sent a retired pastor to begin holding services in a private home in Bonny Doon. In 1961 the congregation was formally recognized and it dedicated its present small church in what was a private garage. (The Ladies of Bonny Doon Club, Memories of the Mountain, pp. 111-114 and SC Sentinel, Nov. 6, 1961) It is at 7065 Bonny Doon Road, Santa Cruz 95060, tel. 426-6858. (2010 Yellow Pages)

» St. Andrew Presbyterian Church. Aptos, 1967-2010.

This congregation appears for the first time in Polk 1967, where it is called St. Andrew United Presbyterian Church, and it is at 6790 Soquel Dr. It is now at 9850 Monroe Ave., Aptos 95003, tel. 688-4211. (2010 Yellow Pages)

» Korean Central Presbyterian Church of Santa Cruz. Capitola, 1993-2010.

This has been in the Yellow Pages since 1993, and according to the 2010 Yellow Pages, its address is 4575 Capitola Road, Capitola 95010, tel. 476-8291. The current listing is not under Presbyterian (U.S.A.).

» Presbyterian Hispanic Church. Watsonville, 2000-2008.

Same address as the First Presbyterian Church in Watsonville, 112 E. Beach St., but telephone number is 728-8653. (2000 through 2007 Yellow Pages)

United Church of Christ

The United Church of Christ was established in 1961 through the merger of two religious bodies, the Congregational and Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Church.

The Congregational and Christian Churches had been established in 1931 by the merger of two church bodies. One, the Congregational Church, dated back to the Puritans. Additional details about it will be found below, in Congregational. The other component consisted of some congregations of the Christian Church, a post-Revolutionary War movement of return to Christian origins. I have no evidence that there were Santa Cruz County congregations of the Christian Church which entered the 1931 union. For more about other Santa Cruz Christian Church bodies which did not merge in 1931 with the Congregational Church see below, Christian Church/Church of Christ.

The Evangelical and Reformed Church had come into existence in 1934 through the merger of the Reformed Church in the United States, which had been established among German immigrants in 1725, with the Evangelical Synod of North America, which itself had originated as a merger of churches in Prussia and which took form in the United States in 1849. One Santa Cruz congregation of the Reformed Church will be listed below in Reformed Church in the United States. I do not find evidence that the Evangelical Synod of North America was ever represented in Santa Cruz County.

Melton, Encyclopedia *177 and Mead, Handbook of Denominations in the United States, pp. 289-299 present a clear and concise account of this progression of mergers.

As Melton observes (loc. cit.), the United Church of Christ is probably the closest to a general Christian and ecumenically-minded Protestant church in the United States, bearing strong characteristics of independent congregationalism and resting on a peculiarly American version of the Calvinistic worldview.

Santa Cruz congregations of the United Church of Christ are:

» First Congregational Church, Santa Cruz. 1852-2010.

First Congregational Church
First Congregational Church, Santa Cruz
From Santa Cruz Public Libraries' Postcard Collection.

Founded in 1852 as the 4th Congregational church in California, it was formally incorporated in 1857. Its first structure was on Church Street, dating to 1858, and it moved to a new building at Center and Lincoln Streets in 1890, and then to its present site in 1959. The congregation is affiliated with the Northern California/Nevada Conference of the United Church of Christ. (A Century of Christian Witness: History of First Congregational Church, Santa Cruz, California. Santa Cruz: Church Historical Committee, 1963) It was originally incorporated in 1867 and it changed its corporate name to United Church of Christ in 1966. (Santa Cruz County Articles of Incorporation, no. 21) Additional information can be found in 2010.

A Century of Christian Witness, p. 35, quotes from the church's historical committee of 1897, telling why it was Congregational, not Presbyterian:

"At this meeting [of 1857] the question of organizing a Church was settled, and also its form. All were agreed as to the need of organizing, but the vote stood eight to eight for a Presbyterian and a Congregational Church. It was then proposed by the Presbyterians, at the suggestion of William Anthony, that a Congregational Church be organized with a Presbyterian Confession of Faith, which was agreed to, and the First Congregational Church was born...."

Another item from A Century of Christian Witness, p. 57, is that "Through Radio Station KSCO, Mr. Cunningham [Rev. Ed Cunningham, Pastor from 1948 to 1955] conducted a radio service Sunday mornings, with marked success."

The church is now at 900 High St., Santa Cruz 95060, tel. 426-2010. (2010 Yellow Pages)

» Skyland Church. Santa Cruz County, 1880-2010.

There was a Presbyterian congregation in the Santa Cruz Mountains Summit Area meeting in a local school beginning in 1880, and work toward a church building for it commenced in 1887. (Stephen Payne, A Howling Wilderness: The Summit Road of the Santa Cruz Mountains 1850-1906, p. 89) In 1890 the congregation was incorporated as the Santa Cruz County Articles of Incorporation no. 185) The building was completed in 1891 and was used for some years. (Margaret Louise Rapp Tarquinio, Mama's Memoirs: Growing Up in the Santa Cruz Mountains, p. 66) In 1946 it was incorporated as Santa Cruz County Articles of Incorporation no. 1442) although the way the newspaper put it, in 1949, after 40 years of disuse, it was reconstituted as the Skyland Community Church. (Los Gatos Times - Saratoga Observer, July 30, 1959) In 1951 it was received into the Santa Clara Association of Congregational Churches. (Koch, Parade of the Past, p. 136) In 1957 it was incorporated as the Skyland Community Congregational Church. (Santa Cruz County Articles in Incorporation no. 1442) Still called the Skyland Community Church, it is affiliated with the United Church of Christ. (SC Sentinel, March 18, 2006)

The church is located at 25100 Skyland Road, Los Gatos 95033 (corner of Miller Road, five miles east of Highway 17), tel. 408-353-1310. ( 2010)

Skyland Community Church
Skyland Community Church
Image courtesy of P. Tutwiler.

» Congregational Chinese Mission. Santa Cruz, 1881-1920.

Congregational Chinese Mission
Congregational Chinese Mission, with sign
"The Congregational Association of Christian Chinese"
Image courtesy of P. Tutwiler.

"The 'Chinese Mission' of Santa Cruz was organized by Mrs. Anna H. Willet, the wife of the pastor of this [Santa Cruz Congregational] Church, May 1, 1881...." (A Century of Christian Witness, p. 39) Also known as the Congregational Association of Christian Chinese, its structure stood in the Santa Cruz Chinatown for 25 years. (Koch, Parade of the Past, p. 215) "The feasts held in the Congregational Chinese Mission were ended when the building was torn down in 1920...." (Sandy Lydon, Chinese Gold; The Chinese in the Monterey Bay Region, Capitola, California, Capitola Book Company, 1985, p. 439)

» La Selva Beach Community Church. 1951-2010.

This congregation was incorporated in 1951. (Santa Cruz County Articles of Incorporation no. 2358) Presumably it is the same as the La Selva Community Church of Polk 1973. It is at 306 Playa Bd., Watsonville 95076, tel. 688-4033. (2010 Yellow Pages)


Congregationalism in general, of course, involves autonomy of the local group based on a high degree of trust in it. American Congregationalism came with the Pilgrims and was Calvinistic in its worldview. It soon began to foster education, and to it we owe both Harvard and Yale, which were founded so that there could be an educated clergy. As the American Protestant environment became more and more one of denominations, pure Congregationalism suffered, and it also lost many of its liberal members, who went over to Unitarianism. The spirit of Congregationalism lives on in the United Church of Christ, but there were local Congregational churches that existed only before the United Church of Christ was formed, and there is one which did not join it. They are:

» Congregational Church of Soquel. 1868-2010.

The Soquel Congregational Church was incorporated in 1868 as the Religious Society of the Congregational Church of Soquel. (Santa Cruz County Articles of Incorporation no. 32)

Principal events in its history are:

  • 1868 Sunday school and prayer meetings started in Soquel as a "mission" of the Congregational Church of Santa Cruz.
  • 1869 Church erected and inaugurated.
  • 1870 "At a regular meeting of the church, it was voted to change the Confession of Faith to the form given in the first model in the second edition of the hand book (sic) of Congregational Churches of California."
  • 1924 Incorporated as the Congregational Church of Soquel.
  • 1957 The majority of those present voted to accept the Basis of Union of the organizing plan of the United Church of Christ. (This did not imply acceptance of the union.)
  • 1963 At the annual meeting the vote was 15 "for continuing indefinitely as an independent Congregational Christian Church without any denominational afffiliations," 107 "for continuing as a Congregational Christian Church with membership in the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches," 24 "for moving in the direction of membership in the United Church."
  • 1964 The congregation voted to accept an invitation "to become a member of the California Association of Congregational Christian Churches."

(The above information is from The Story of the Little White Church in The Vale; Soquel Congregational Church, 1964. Authorship not acknowledged. This work is not paginated, and is written by a "we," who, however, state at the end that "The data contained herein has (sic) been taken from the records of the church and we are indebted to Mrs. Myra Archibald, in whose style much of this story has been reproduced.")

The church is located at 4951 Soquel Dr., Soquel 95073, tel. 475-2867. (2010 Yellow Pages)

» Congregational Church of Corralitos. 1884-1890s?

The First Congregational Society began construction of the church on or near present day 19 Eureka Canyon Road in 1883 and dedicated it in 1884. By 1901 it was said that they still owned the building, but had not held services there for many years. (Malmin, Corralitos, p. 110)

» Congregational Church of Bonny Doon. 1894-1920s?

According to the SC Surf for March 9, 1889, as reported in The Ladies of Bonny Doon Club, Memories of the Mountain, p. 116, two ministers were assigned to organize a Congregational church in Bonny Doon. Whether or not they succeeded at that time, the SC Surf for July 10, 1894 reported that "Ten of the Endeavorers from the Congregational church of this city went to Bonny Doon Sunday morning and held service for the purpose of organizing a Christian Endeavor society... The society of the Congregational church of Bonny Doon starts out with a good prospect and some splendid workers and a membership of eleven active and six associate members."

In 1905 the Rev. Phelps R. Adams, a resident of Bonny Doon "established a Congregational Church in Bonny Doon, holding services in the schoolhouse built on land donated by Ormond Jenne." (Memories of the Mountain, p. 75) This schoolhouse was located "just above the intersection of Pine Flat and Martin Road." (Memories of the Mountain, p. 96)

Whatever the relation between these three events was, Rev. Adams became the pastor in 1905. (Memories of the Mountain, p. 116) He was pastor there "for many years," and he lived until 1932, passing his final years in Santa Cruz. (Santa Cruz Sentinel, Apr. 29, 1932, as reported in Robert L. Nelson: Old Soldier. The Story of the Grand Army of the Republic in Santa Cruz County, California. Santa Cruz: Museum of Art and History, 2004)

Reformed Church in the United States

As stated above in the introduction to the United Church of Christ, its Evangelical and Reformed Church component consisted of two mainly German traditions which merged in 1934. The one, the "Reformed Church in the United States," traced its origin to 18th century immigrants from the German Palatinate (region along the middle Rhine), the so-called "Pennsylvania Dutch." It was represented in Santa Cruz by:

» German Evangelical Church. Santa Cruz, 1912.

This group met in Arion Hall on Front St. (Thurston 1912-1913)

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