Climbing out of your car and walking across the crowded parking lot of the Orangethorpe United Methodist Church for a Sunday morning service is something of an adventure. Seeing it as it is today, it's hard to believe that only fifteen years ago, all that stood where the church stands now was a two-story, turn-of-the-century frame house, a water tower, a field planted mostly in sweet potatoes and out back a dilapidated old dairy barn with the sun cutting through the broken boards.
West Fullerton in those days was a relatively new community. Orange groves were disappearing, land developers were leveling the ground and scraping out streets, and builders were nailing together tract after tract of brand new houses. Shopping centers and service stations and stores were springing up and the freeway was still inching its way toward Santa Ana.
In June of 1955 in the midst of all this growth and change, Orangethorpe United Methodist Church was born. It cost the Methodist Board of Missions $30,000 to purchase the 6-1/4 acres of sweet potatoes including the house, barn and water tower. An organizational meeting was held in the living room of the old house to determine what would have to be done to build a Methodist Church that would grow along with the fast growing town of West Fullerton.
Rev. Frank Finkbiner was appointed as the first minister and within a few months, in August of 1955, the first worship service was held in the patched and cleaned up dairy barn.
Week followed week. Each Sunday more and more people found seats in the old barn and listened to the message, sang hymns and became acquainted with each other. The church was growing. November 13th of that same year was set aside as Charter Sunday.
A building committee was organized with Will Lindsay as chairman, and plans for a 200 capacity chapel and additional structures were discussed and formulated and agreed upon.
When January 1956 arrived and the Finkbiners moved into the parsonage in Anaheim, plans for the new buildings had been drawn up and approved, and construction preparations were already underway. Toward the end of 1956, in November, ground was broken for the chapel, the church school buildings, and the minister's study. The Methodist Men, at a meeting the following March, reported that 774 voluntary man-hours had been spent on the new facilities.
Bishop Gerald Kennedy took charge of the Consecration Services on the 12tb of May, 1957. However, by that time the congregation had been meeting in the newly completed chapel for all of a couple of weeks.
Things moved fast after that. The church was growing, Kenneth Adamske was appointed Associate Minister in August. In September, a sprinkler system was installed and the grounds were being landscaped. An announcement appeared in the March 9, 1958 bulletin. "The big house will be pushed over next Saturday." And the past stepped aside for the future.
Membership by that time had jumped 55% and church school attendance almost doubled. In his annual report to the congregation, Lay Leader, Fergus Young, stated the obvious: "We have outgrown our present church home."
A year later, three Sunday morning services were being held instead of the usual two -- even the Narthex was crowded to overflowing -- and plans were being considered for a new building to double as social hall and church school classrooms.
Associate Minister Ken Adamske left Orangethorpe Church in 1959 and was followed in 1960 by Norm Morford. In June of '59, Frank Finkbiner received his doctorate, and by September of the following year he was asked to fill a vacancy in Oxnard. Elwood Wissmann moved in from Encinitas, California, to take over as Senior Minister.
Talk of the need for a Fellowship Hall was turned to action in July of 1959 when Walter Brown was made chairman of the second building committee. The structure was completed and consecrated in January 1961. That same January a second parsonage was bought and furnished in Buena Park, supplying both Senior and Associate Ministers with church-sponsored homes.
During the seven years Rev. Wissmann pastored the Orangethorpe Church, three Associate Ministers assisted him. Rev. W.C. Birmingham, from 1960 to 1965, remained the longest. Paul Crockett served from 1962 to 1964; and E. Lee Wilhelm came in 1964 and stayed until 1968. Rev. Wissmann moved on in 1967, when Pastor Ivan C. Guddal began his one-year term as Senior Minister.
By the time 1968 rolled around, Orangethorpe United Methodist Church was a familiar landmark in West Fullerton. The whole town had grown and the church had grown along with it. The faces of new families were commonplace in the Sanctuary on Sunday mornings. In July of 1968, Pastor Guddal and Rev. Wilhelm left, and Dr. G. W. Abersold and Rev. Lloyd Lafler the present ministers, moved their families into the parsonages.
Things have been happening quickly over the past few years at Orangethorpe United Methodist Church. Growth has been steady. Not only in the number and size of the buildings but also in membership and individual involvement in an ever-increasing number of church related activities.
More and more, laymen are taking active parts in the worship services -- presiding over the morning prayers, serving as greeter and acolytes, and in presenting the contemporary word. A Worship-in-Motion group, comprised of young girls interested in modern interpretive dancing, has been organized and performs from time to time as a part of the Sunday morning services. Two or three times a year, the Guild Players, a drama group within the church, puts on plays in which adults as well as young people are actively involved on stage and behind the scenes. Recent performances include "The Late Christopher Bean", "Song of Bernadette" and "The Frog Prince". A Christmas Eve performance of Charles Dickens' immortal classic, "A Christmas Carol" has become traditional.
Personal involvement is stressed at the Orangethorpe United Methodist Church. Teachers and counselors are always needed in the Church School which reaches out far beyond the usual Sunday morning sessions. It encompasses the entire overall Christian educational program of the church. Included in this is the Family Life Committee, stressing total family participation in church activities.
During the early days of summer a few weeks are set aside for vacation Church School when a program of Christian teaching mingled with arts and crafts keeps young hands and minds constructively active.
There are group activities for married people and single people, the older, the younger, the in-between-people. And for those who have a creative hunger to satisfy, the Creative Arts group has a variety of outlets, including painting, writing, stitchery and ceramics.
Annually there are talent shows and family campouts and barbecues. Over the years the Methodist Men have believed in a complete Scouting program and have sponsored Troop, Cub Pack and Explorer Post No. 45. They are still active under the new number 245. Once a month the Methodist Men put on a Sunday morning pre-service breakfast meeting where programs primarily of interest to the men of the church are presented. It is a time of fellowship, and guests are invited.
Currently, under the sponsorship of the Methodist Men, a mini-park is rising from the bare ground where the old barn stood until its removal in 1968. Tables and benches and barbecue facilities will be available for picnicing beneath the trees. Horseshoe pits, a volley ball and badminton court, and other recreational relaxations will help to make an occasional afternoon luncheon in the mini-park a time of enjoyment for Orangethorpe Church families.
On the other hand the women of the church, through a vigorous Women's Society of Christian Service, provide study classes and put on programs of local, national and international interest featuring appropriate and timely speakers and films. The annual rummage sale is put on by the W.S.C.S.
And there is the U.M.Y.F. (United Methodist Youth Fellowship), a year-round program available for the teen-age set. They get together for beach parties, camping trips, picnics and other activities, with emphasis on Christian values.
Community problems are church problems too. A Committee on Social Concerns studies and appraises local needs, and through fund raising projects within the church and outside of it offers financial help to activities such as the Mexican-American community of Colonia Independencia in West Anaheim.
And yet with a myriad of activities, if a church is to survive and grow in today's complex world it must reach out and beyond its own narrow geographical boundaries and concern itself with the problems of people everywhere. The Commission on Missions of the Orangethorpe United Methodist Church does this in a denominational sense by its financial support of men and women missionaries sent to foreign lands. In another way, through the support of Project HOPE the church helps to bring medical services to needy nations. In November of 1969, Dr. Abersold flew to Tunisia for a two-month tour of duty as protestant minister aboard the hospital ship HOPE. It was his second such tour. Up to now he is the only protestant minister from the west coast to serve on the HOPE.
So now we're moving into the salad years of the seventies. A brand new decade lies ahead of us. We are in the midst of the six-month celebration of the fifteenth anniversary of the founding of Orangethorpe United Methodist Church. From October through March, noted ministers and laymen from all over the United States will be guest speakers in many of the services. Each month during the celebration, a different form of worship will be accentuated, in the belief that God can be praised in many ways, using the talents each of us has been given. Not just through preaching, but with music or drama or the arts or the written word.
In November during the celebration, Bishop Gerald Kennedy will again conduct consecration ceremonies for a new sanctuary and will speak in the Sunday morning service. Throughout the six-month celebration, the fullest utilization of the church facilities will be stressed. It will be a time of praise and thanksgiving for all that God has done in the past fifteen years for the Orangethorpe United Methodist Church.
Looking ahead, if the past is any indication of what the future holds, then it's not at all out of reach to assume that Orangethorpe United Methodist Church will continue to grow and bring on increasing awareness of God to the hearts and minds of more and more people throughout Fullerton and the surrounding cities of Orange County.
Who knows? Perhaps pulling into the parking lot on a Sunday morning in 1980 and looking across at the impressive sanctuary with the up-swept roof, the surrounding buildings and the landscaping, it may still be the adventure it is today. Especially when we remember that it all began in the summer of 1955 when God, whose hands formed the Universe and all things in it, saw fit to gather together a handful of His people and begin to change a West Fullerton sweet potato patch into the vigorous, dynamic Orangethorpe United Methodist Church.
[I found this history, obviously written just before we dedicated our new Sanctuary, among some papers from the Seventies. It may have been handed to us around the time we joined OUMC in 1976. It was mimeographed and filled five 8-1/2" x 11" pages. I've used a typewriter-like font to preserve its appearance. Does anybody know who Tom Harvill was? CWC Nov 2010.]