A Gift from the Past — A Promise for the Future
From Humble Beginnings...
In 1862, Abraham Lincoln was president and the country was engaged in the bloody Civil War when a few people in the village of San Mateo (population of about 400) began meeting in an adobe school house. In May 1864, a group of ten established the Congregational Church of San Mateo with the Rev. J.H. Warren as pastor. Soon thereafter, a parsonage was built on land on Tilton Avenue and San Mateo Drive. The land was donated by Mr. and Mrs. George Howard and their son for the sum of $5. The first church, a frame building, was constructed at a cost of $4,535.50 and was dedicated January, 1869. By means of strawberry festivals, lawn parties and musical concerts, the ladies of the church raised $600 for furnishings. Rev. Goodenough was the minister. His salary was $1,000. Things did not always go well in the early years. By the time the church was dedicated, there had already been four ministers. In 1884, the membership was only 15, but people like the Wisnoms, Goodhues, Dickies and Tiltons hung on. By the 30th anniversary in 1894, there had been 13 ministers.
Difficulties continued when, in 1906, the San Francisco earthquake toppled the steeple. Fortunately, it fell clear of the church, and the church itself was undamaged. Although the minister, Rev. Kimball, took a leave of absence to travel back east to raise money to fix the steeple, it was apparently never repaired. The original church was used for more than 50 years until the completion in 1923 of the new sanctuary, the present Kloss Hall. Also built at that time were the rooms along the loggia (now the Fireplace Room and the Buckham Room, the office etc.) When Elizabeth Alexander came to San Mateo and joined the church in 1928, Kloss Hall was the sanctuary and what is now the Buckham Room was the dining room. The Fireplace room was called the Ladies' Parlor. There have been a number of changes to the various rooms over the years.
In the early years, the membership fluctuated. On one occasion, 17 people — almost half of the congregation — left to form a Presbyterian church.
From 1923 to 1929, however, membership increased rapidly, growing from 177 members to 300 members during those six years. Already the "new" sanctuary was too small. Soon, all in the church were working for the building of another new sanctuary — the one we have today. The present sanctuary was dedicated in 1931, under the leadership of Dr. Kloss. The original plans for our current sanctuary called for a much more elaborate building. Because of cost cuts and difficulty raising money, the plan was simplified. In 1937, the church publication was called Congregational Clippings and came out monthly. By 1938, there was a weekly publication called The Pine Tree.
The 30's to the 50's was a time of great expansion in numbers of people joining the church. By 1956, the membership had reached a peak of 1,600.
Always an Active Congregation
In 1949, the Coffee Hour was instituted, and different women's groups took turns serving the coffee. There are pictures of the ladies sitting at the tables with their hats and gloves serving coffee in china cups with saucers. The first rummage sale was held in 1895. In the early days, the rummage sales were held in a rented store or section of a store downtown.
There is a tradition of fine music in our church. In 1874, the congregation raised money for a pump organ. In 1925, Mrs. Sarah Wisnom presented the church with a pipe organ in memory of her husband. The current Cassavant organ was dedicated in 1955. One of our most memorable choir directors was Patricia Hudson, who served our church for over 30 years. We have continued our tradition of outstanding music in recent years, both in the Sunday services and at special concerts, thanks to people like Angela Kraft-Cross, Bill Coye, Julie Berk, Cari Parker, and the wonderful choir, bell choir, and children's choir.
In 1999, after years of operating with a Church Council and many Boards and Committees, we streamlined our governance. Now the church groups operate under the umbrella of and are accountable to one of the five program Ministries and the Board of Ministries. While it took awhile to adjust to this new format, it is working well. Part of the spirit of this church comes from the tremendous heart we have shown to others through the years. We are known throughout the community for our friendliness, generosity, service, and spiritual leadership. We have supported various people and programs through the years, including assistance to the Japanese-Americans during the 1940's, advocacy for fair school boundaries during the 1950's, sponsorship of community meetings during the Watts riots of the 60's, "adopting" a Vietnamese family in the 70's, and launching the theme "To Believe is to Care, To Care is to Do" in the 80's. Many activities begun in the 90's continue to this day, including working with the Homework Central program to tutor school children in our church neighborhood and home building in Mexico by the high school youth, as well as providing temporary housing for homeless families as part of the Interfaith.
At the time of our 130th anniversary, Dr. Richard Norberg , Pastor Emeritus, wrote, "A very long procession of persons have felt their spiritual needs satisfied here, and the church has been a channel through which they have been able to express their concerns for the needs of the community and the world.... It is a time to both look back and look forward, especially to the few remaining years in this century as we prepare for the twenty-first!
Where We Are Today
Some Special Dates in the Life of the Congregational Church of San Mateo
- 1862 Small group began meeting in a school house
- 1869 Small frame church was dedicated, faced south at corner of Tilton and San Mateo Drive. (15 members)
- 1923 New sanctuary (now known as Kloss Hall) was built. Rooms along the loggia (now Buckham Room, Fireplace Room and office) were built for church school classes and the office. (176 members)
- 1931 Dedication of present sanctuary. (Over 425 members)
- 1951 Christian Education Building was completed. (1,047 members)
- 1955 Enlargement of sanctuary was completed (the chancel was moved forward, closer to San Mateo Drive and the balcony was expanded). The Casavant organ was installed.
- 2003-4 Completion of Phase One of church renovation.