The following is from the publication
prepared for the 100th Anniversary Celebration of the Chatsworth United Methodist
100 YEARS IN GOD'S
A BRIEF HISTORY
1888 Rich In Faith
1988 Rich In Heritage
A Story of the
United Methodist Church
1888 -- 1988
The first American family to homestead in the Chatsworth area came in 1870. Ann and Neils
Johnson brought their family and carved a home from the rocky Santa Susanna Mountains in that
It was at their ranch home that Ann held Sunday school for her children and study for those few
children from neighboring ranches as well.
Church was held when an itinerant Baptist Circuit Rider came through the area. On one of his
visits Ann was baptized and remained a Baptist all her life. Besides Anne's ranch, the church was
sometimes held in the warm summer months on the area which later became Chatsworth Lake
Reservoir, a facility of Los Angeles Dept. of Water and Power. The huge oak trees, that still grow
there today, made a shady canopy for the worshipers.
As more people moved into the area, the Santa Susanna Grammar School was built to
accommodate the children who walked to the school from their ranches. Some of those pioneers
were the Iversons, Hills, Williams, and Grays. Minnie Hill Palmer was born on the homestead in
1886 and lived there most of her life. Nelson Gray and family moved here about 1895 and bought
land, vast acres from Topanga Canyon Blvd., west to the county line. It was Gray who gave the
land on which the Santa Susanna Grammar School was built and named for the surrounding
mountains. It was a county school and a small minimum attendance had to be maintained. Ann
used to go with her horse and buggy and round up the children from the various ranches if there
were not enough in attendance on a given day to maintain the quota. Ann must have been proud
when her daughter Leonora later taught at this school.
Ann and Neils had a two-story home built on their ranch with a swimming pool near the front of
the home. Often church was held in this home, and after the Grays came and built a 13 room,
two-story home at Lassen and Farralone, church was held at their home as well. Nelson gray
donated the land from his extensive properties at the corner of Devonshire and Topanga Canyon
Boulevards, the same site where the Chatsworth Park Elementary School still stands today. A
one room school was built, and shortly a second room was added. Mr. Gray had a bell cast in
Philadelphia and shipped around the horn in the late 189's. It hung in the belfry to call children to
school. It also called those pioneer folk to worship, for church service was held in the school for
The folks of this community wanted to have more consistent religious leadership that provided by
the laity and the occasional Baptist Circuit Rider. At that time the MacClay School of Religion
was in San Fernando. This school became the seminary at the Methodist University of Southern
California. Later it was transferred again and is now the Methodist Seminary at Claremont.
Anyway, the pioneer folks appealed to the Methodist Conference to appoint a minister to found a
Methodist Church in Chatsworth. That was at the Conference in September 1888. They appointed
Reverend E.C. Elliot as the first pastor.
The various student ministers, most of whom were young men, were guests at the potluck dinners
following Sunday Service, usually held at the Johnson or Gray homes. Often the men stayed
overnight and drove the horse and buggy back to school on Monday morning. At least one young
minister, for the record, fell in love with Edith Gray and so they were married: Reverend and Mrs.
Gray's youngest daughter Gladys tells us about the meeting held in the community when
concerned citizens felt there should be a house of worship in Chatsworth. A great deal of
discussion took place, but Gray remained unusually quiet until they decided it must be built. But
where would they obtain the land? It was then that Gray leaned forward and offered the acre of
land halfway between the school and town center (which at that time was near Lassen and
Topanga Canyon Blvd.). The address was 10041 Topanga Canyon Blvd.
And so it was then the building which is now the oldest Protestant Church building in the San
Fernando Valley was erected in 1903. It was built by volunteer labor and financed by volunteers
as well. Virginia Watson, Chatsworth Historian, has sought verification that the distinguished
architect Nuzum had designed the building, but has been unable to find the fact behind the rumor.
The foundation was of large blocks of native sandstone, quarried northwest of the church
property. It came from the same quarry that sent tons and tons of rock to form the core of the Los
Angeles breakwater at San Pedro. The cornerstone block is on display at the present United
Methodist church. The stone had s simple hollow carved in one side. In it was placed a list of
those in attendance at the ground breaking, Sunday School and church papers and a small bible
the adults persuaded a young girl to donate. Over this was a sheet of tin and the church erected
over all. The church was of frame construction and New England Victorian type of architecture.
There was one large room for the church services and two smaller rooms at the back. These
rooms could be thrown open to accommodate an overflow crowd. The census record for 1900
placed the population of Chatsworth as 23! The small rooms were used for Sunday School. There
was a traditional wood burning stove at the back of the room to provide heat in the cold winters
when the north wind blew. Small cardboard fans with wooden handles (advertising the closest
mortuary in San Fernando) were the only air conditioning in the summer.
Stained glass windows were placed in the church donated by organizations and individuals. They
were of diamond paned cathedral glass in amber color with a round stained glass design in the
upper half of each window. One had the Epworth League emblem with the words of Wesley
"Look Up and Lift Up." Another window from the Sunday School had a Bible in the stained glass
portion. The chandeliers hung on long black chains and were lovely lalique glass approximately 14
inches long. The pulpit for the church was placed on a raised dais and was a small simple table
about 24 inches square. The original pulpit Bible was rescued by the late Harold Johnson
(grandson of Ann Johnson) when it had been trashed. Someone had donated a new one. Both the
bible and the pulpit may be seen at the present United Methodist Church.
After a number of years the bell was removed from the school and hung in the bell tower of the
church. On a quiet Sunday morning, in a quiet small town, the sound rang out to call worshipers
at 10:45 for the 11:00 a.m. service. The young people coveted the opportunity to ring the bell by
pulling at the long rope and were at service early in case an adult would give over and the
privilege to them. Ringing had to be done very carefully, for it too much strength was brought to
the task, the bell turned over and the rope came off the track. Then the men had to get out the tall
ladder and climb into the bell tower and get everything back in place. The bell also rang each New
Year's Eve to welcome the year that everyone hoped would be a good one.
This church was financed in a variety of ways. First were the gifts from members such as the
Johnsons and Grays. The women played a crucial role; did a bit of quilting to earn money. I have
seen one such quilt still in the Gray family. The people in the church and town signed their names
around the design, Mrs. Gray embroidered their signatures, and the women put the quilt together.
It was sold at an auction and Nelson Gray purchased it with the highest bid of $25.00, which by
the way, was just double the price paid for each of his extensive acres purchased from Kelly
Johnson's dad in the late 1800's. The ladies had box socials, chicken dinners, ice cream socials,
barbecues, and really helped finance that church. Later, a mortgage was placed on the building; a
loan from Charles Wilden Johnson ( a son of Ann Johnson), and it was always a great worry to
meet the payment we owed. To my knowledge, we never did. He just kept reducing the payment
until it met the amount the people had bee able to raise that year. Mary Shadwick Swartz
remembers one special barbecue that was held to raise money. A deep pit was dug on the church
grounds, and in it was placed the heifer someone had donated and a hog that someone else had
contributed for an overnight barbecuing. The women contributed the beans, corn and other food,
and the entire community came for the event. A "goodly" sum was raised.
In the early 1900"s, the Chatsworth Methodist episcopal Church was partially supported by the
Conference, and nearly all the pastors were students at MacClay or USC. When a pastor and
family stayed long enough, the church would seek to give them a raise. But, of course, the money
went to the conference to pay back a portion of the support that had been providing and never did
filter back to the pastor.
When Reverend and Mrs. Howard Ahlf were appointed to Chatsworth in 1920, they were
newlyweds of six weeks. They stayed for two years, and it was during their time that White Oak
Hall was built. Reverend Ahlf enlisted in the help of fellow students at USC to work in the
construction. The structure had a hall large enough to accommodate about 100 people, a stage,
and meeting room that doubled as a dressing room for productions, and a kitchen. It was used for
all kinds of church and community events.
Newlyweds were appointed again in 1927. Reverend and Mrs. Kemp Winkler stayed for two
years as well. It was during their time the parsonage was built, a pretty little two bedroom Spanish
style bungalow. The Winkler's parents supplied a major portion of the financing. The Ladies Aid
work earned a major portion of the remaining money needed. The town was still a farming
community with a population of approximately 500; that is, if you counted those living at the
Twin Lakes and Chatsworth Lake Manor developments as well.
When Reverend Charles and Martha Bacon were assigned this charge in the 03's, he had a difficult
task to keep the church afloat and in service to the needy in that great depression. The Bacons
contributed greatly to the growth of the church. It was really ecumenical with the two sons of the
only Jewish family in town attending; five or six Catholic young people were there each week, and
the gamut of Protestant or Evangelical faiths represented, especially in the youth programs. The
wife of the only registered member of the Communist Party in Chatsworth was an active
The church was the social center for the youth, and the Bacons took them to camp at Arroyo
Grande; Martha did a lot of the cooking. The counselor for the Epworth League was Katherine
Johnson (Kelly, her husband, was her very able assistant). They had many good times at their
home with the youth candy making, popcorn popping, taffy pulls, rousing sings with Katherine at
the piano or Julio Lomardi with his accordion. And wonderful beach trips, wiener bakes at Castle
Rock (now called Malibu), and Grunion hunts that to my knowledge never produced a grunion
but were lots of fun anyway. We did a lot of folk games in those days as folk "dancing" was
frowned upon, but it looked the same to me whatever the name. At Katherine and Kelly's home,
at the conclusion of the socials, the youth "cleaned up", girls did the dishes, handed them to boys
to dry, who tossed them to a boy standing beside the cupboard, who put them away. These were
often her hand painted or Bavarian china - now that's dedication to youth!
It was during these hard times that the church/community soup kitchen was established for the
hungry; those needy within the community as well as those just passing though "ridin' the rails."
Farmers donated produce to use, the meat market with enough meat to make it tasty, and the
ladies made it all into very good soup. The hobos who had a camp up near the second railroad
tunnel often came down for this before drifting on to another town.
A camp for vagrant young men was established in the hills north of us. They did county flood
control and road work, fought hillside fires, and were paid their room and board and a small
pittance more. When they earned enough to pay their fare, the county shipped them back home.
The Epworth League provided religious services each Sunday morning at the camp.
When the "knights of the road" stopped at the parsonage for a handout, Martha Bacon would
always feed them, but she had them split a little wood for the meal. It was often this wood that
provided the heat for that stove at the back of the church. And during his period, Martha Bacon
had a little boy born to the family that now numbered four children.
When Reverend Marvin Davis, wife Mary Lou and tiny daughter Janey came to this church, w
were all so pleased and proud too. Marvin was a local boy from a Van Nuys church, and it
seemed so special to have him with us. They too had a son born during their time here.
When Reverend and Mrs. Stone were here in the 40's, a Building Fund was started, for the
facilities had long been outgrown by the church family. But during World War II years, building
could not take place. It was during the time of the Stones that John Abbot was so tragically
murdered, and Mts. Abbot donated the baptismal font in his memory. Reverend Stone selected the
beautiful marble and had it created. Out Methodist babies (and adults) have been baptized from
the font for over four decades; turning great sadness into joy.
Our first woman pastor was anointed along these years; Reverend Helen Toner. She had to leave
soon after, but left us a legacy of her devotional book "When Lights Burn Low."
Reverend Millard Wolfe and his wife Marian were appointed in the 50's. They arrived to find the
Official board had been planning to dissolve the congregation, but no one had told the District
Superintendent what they had been planning. It was a big surprise to the Wolfes. They soon had
us turned around with a PLAN. Marian proposed to the woman that we use our talents and make
"A Dollar Grow." Some baked cakes, some babysat, some gave luncheons or dinners. However
they make their dollars grow, it gave new heart to all, but trouble came again! Because Marian's
asthma bothered her so much in this climate, they moved to Arizona in the middle of their
The Conference could not provide us with a pastor, so God provided. Dr. Harold Hayward and
his wife Loucille came to minister to us. He had been a chaplain at the Veteran's Hospital near us
and was willing to be our pastor al long as he could live in his own home in Granada Hills. It was
during this period we grew by the proverbial "leaps and bounds." In order to provide more room,
the plant was enlarged. Louise Arnold Lounge was added to link White Oak Hall and the church.
The church room was reoriented to the west creating a long nave; a choir loft was built; an office
and restrooms added; the two Sunday School rooms were linked together; the "Katherine Johnson
Youth Chapel" was created to honor Katherine's many years or service, and to the fellow who
were in the Armed Forces during World War II. Paul Ruff arranged for a fit of a small home, and
it was relocated on the rear of the property, and with Paul doing a great deal of the work it was
soon usable. All of these rooms were filled with Sunday School children as well as the rooms in
the parsonage and the parsonage garage. Two large services were held each Sunday morning, and
a somewhat smaller service at 8:00 a.m. During this time of change, the Johnson family donated
the beautiful stained glass window (at the back of the present sanctuary) to honor the memory of
Charles Wilden Johnson, their father and grandfather.
About this time, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans were sent to minister to us. They moved to their
ranch at the extension of Lassen Street where many of their TV movies were made. Dale taught
the Adult Sunday School class when she could - always one Sunday a month for sure. Juanita
Murray was the long time president of the class.
Sometime previous to this period, Lloyd Fellows and other laymen in the Valley formed the San
Fernando Valley Union. Each member of the West Valley Methodist Churches contributed 25
cents. Later, this amount was budgeted by these same churches. The money was used to assist in
the creation of new churches in the area. Later, this group became the Santa Barbara District
Union for Church extension. Hundreds of new people were pouring into the Valley. Chatsworth
was able to retain its rural atmosphere and orchards because large housing tracts could not be
built this far west.
All this tremendous growth made a very difficult decision necessary. Should we move to a lager
plat of land and build our church, or should we remain at the same site and move the parsonage
elsewhere and create more parking and restructure some of the buildings. The final decision was
nor reached without many a noisy argument, but gradually the largest percentage of the
membership favored relocating. The Methodist Conference at this time required the purchase of a
five acre plot when building or relocating a church plant. John Spinks purchased the Pioneer
church and the acre of land (it was he who owned the surrounding land, and he wanted to develop
a shopping center), and a five acre plot was locate at the foot of Stoney Point complete with a
small cottage and surrounding orange groves.
When the decision was made to move, the church could not get financing. Walter Ericson knew
the President of Glendale Federal Savings & Loan, and they finally provided the loan we needed.
We had the money that had been accumulating in the Building Fund, the money paid by Spinks for
the land, and now the mortgage money. Work could move ahead, but the members also brought
their tithe money and other gifts to the project. Eileen Janess recalls (she was a member of the
Finance Committee then, as she has been these many years until the present) that an important
step was taken then. It was decided to tithe the money people gave to us for our building project
and contribute it to help establish new churches in this rapidly growing valley. Chuck Janess was
lay Leader at this time and for the next decade.
Reverend Wesley Neil and wife Wanita brought leadership through this period. He taught us an
appreciation of our African brothers and sisters, and many gifts were sent to that country to help
in the ministry.
Reverend Bob Fehlman and his wife Francis was or pastor at the actual time of moving to the new
site. The cottage located on Topanga Canyon Blvd. (then called Santa Susanna Ave.) was
relocated to face Andora Ave. on the east side of the five acres. The Youth Chapel and offices
were built on the south side of the acreage and the education buildings on the north. However, the
northwest portion was reserved for the sanctuary we all knew would be needed in the near future!
It was a thrill for all to watch these changes taking place. Finally, the ground breaking ceremonies
were held, and we did move in with much to be done. As each new project was completed, it
brought a real sense of satisfaction.
At this time, the Chatsworth Historical Society was founded to save the old Pioneer Church
building. Katharine Johnson wrote the letter to the newly appointed Los Angeles Cultural
Board which resulted in the naming of the building as Los Angeles Historical Monument #14.
Katharine had played a leading role in the church since she came here in the 1920's as the bride of
Kelly Johnson. The church was moved after the site was cleared at Oakwood Memorial Park,
practically on the spot where those first foundation stones were quarried back in 1903. Charles
Janess and Virginia Watson were co-founders of the Historical Society with Katharine, and chuck
was the founding president. Dale Evans gave the first gift toward the project to honor the memory
of their daughter Debbie, and hosted our thank you reception for the many folks who had helped
with the project. Bill and Frank Schepler chaired the actual moving and rehabilitation. Lila
Schepler was president of the Society at this period. After raising $20,000 with the help of the
community, the building was rehabilitated and presented to the Oakwood Memorial Park
Association who pledged to keep the building in perpetuity for the town. They have done that,
and are now renting it to an Anglican Catholic Church for their services.
Later, Dr. Richard Brooks and wife ruth were appointed, and he brought great leadership and
many changes. First he added the new Social Hall which was a much needed facility. It was
Richard and L. Murray who designed and created the altar rail as well. The shade shutters on each
side of the sanctuary were his design. He added a large living room and utility area for the
parsonage. The membership grew and the church thrived. It was during these years that many new
churches were built in our town: Catholic, Nazarene, Four Square, Baptist, Lutheran,
Congregational and others. We not have 14 in all.
Reverend Stanley Creighton and Lucille came to minister to us in these next two years. They gave
new impetus in training teachers for the Sunday School and Vacation bible School which in turn
drew many children into the program. Reverend Creighton was active in the community with the
Coordinating Council and other civic organizations linking the town and church programs for
Reverend Ray Firth and Isobel stayed two years with us. He ha just completed building the large
Methodist Church in Westchester. a new program was instituted under their leadership; small
"cells" or "groups" of families met together, shared dinners, attended special events and became
well acquainted sharing the life of the church. It was designed to draw the new members into a
church family so they could more easily become an integral part of the church.
During the stay of Reverend Robert Bjorkland and his wife Margaret, the old parsonage was
rented out as Bjorklands purchased their own home in Chatsworth. During this period, the church
sponsored a Cuban family and helped them begin a new life; they later returned to the Florida
area. Donna Boldon was chairperson of the Social Concerns committee when we sponsored two
families from Vietnam. The Le family (pronounced llay) of seven members, and later tne Nguyen
(pronounced Nin) family of eight. Both are now well established in Los Angeles County. We
rejoiced with the Bjorklands when Bob received his Doctorate while assigned to
When Reverend Rex Wignall and Barbara were assigned here, it was the first time young children
had lived in the parsonage for many years, and it was a joy to have them and the vitality they
brought. During this period, the old parsonage was completely rebuilt. The contractor was
Charles Johnson, great grandson of Ann Johnson, though it was with volunteer labor that the task
was primarily accomplished. the membership not only did sanding, painting and concrete work,
loaned the financing as well. It was a ingenious idea of many small loans of $1000 to $3000 that
made it feasible to create the beautiful home it is today. Rex led us in many creative services of
worship: Worldwide communion with the kinks of bread used in different countries; Maundy
Thursday dinner and service modeled after the Last Supper; sermons at Sunday morning worship
where he played the role of various disciples and preached from that person's viewpoint.
Reverend Sandy Lidell was a local girl raised in the chatsworth Church. she moved away, was
married and had a family, and them became a minister. When her husband transferred to this area,
she came to minister to us on a part-time basis. She worked with the young people through clubs
and teaching, with young married people in social clubs as well, as they sought guidance in raising
their children, deepening their faith an in service to their church. \We rejoiced with Sandy when
she received her appointment as Associate Pastor at Camarillo Methodist.
Our present minister, Reverend Jerry Steele, wife Elaine and daughter Missy came to us three
years ago. He has led us to rediscover our talents and abilities, strengthened our membership roll,
and has led us in seeking a sound financial base. During this period, we have dedicated a new
organ for the sanctuary, and we are now embarked on a project of capital improvements. First,
the improvement of lighting on the grounds; secondly, the replacement of aged septic lines; and
soon to come, air conditioning and heating for the sanctuary, offices and social hall.
Reverend Dot Graham serves as part-time Associate Pastor, and part-time at the Santa Barbara
District Office )now located at our education building). We look forward to her time of preaching
with us, her children's sermons, her uplifting prayers and praise. We know her excellent ministry is
being shared throughout the Santa Barbara District and is a great blessing. We are fortunate to
have a Registered Lay Preacher in our church - Nellie Smith. It is a great joy when she givers her
leadership to preaching or program.
In this Centennial Year, it is interesting to look back so briefly on our pioneer roots. We give
thanks to god for Ann Johnson, Nelson Gray, and the other pioneers who gave us our early
beginnings. We give thanks to God for the "Endless Line of Splendor" - those pastors and families
who gave of their lives and service to create what is not the United Methodist Church of
Chatsworth. We remember with joy and gratitude the men, women and youth who gave
themselves in laymen's leadership through these past 100 years.
We also remember that John Wesley said "The World is My Parish," as we now dedicate our lives
in service to God's children and the work of telling the Good News to all people.
Lila Swartz Schepler
September 25, 1988
1888 --- J.C. Elliott
1890 --- E.S. Roberston
1891 --- W.H. Marks
1892 --- Adam Bland
1893 --- A.W. Fields
1895 --- J.H. Ainsworth
1896 --- F.W. Warrington
1902 --- S. Gascoigne
1904 --- Charles H. Scott
1905 --- O.W. Cook
1906 --- A.E. Chase
1907 --- E.D. Guild
1908 --- F.M. Moody
1909 --- C.D. Husted
1910 --- J.H. Henry
1911 --- J.H. Henry & H. Goodsell
1912 --- W.V. Smith
1914 --- Jas. Blackledge
1915 --- W.V. Smith
1916 --- F.D. Mather
1917 --- Hugh Pomeroy
1918 --- S.A. Thompson
1919 --- J.L Muchmore
1920 --- Howard Ahlf
1923 --- H.D. Shepherd
1924 --- Alex Lyall
1925 --- George Bourgaize
1926 --- H.J. Smith
1927 --- Kemp Winkler
1929 --- J.B. Soules
1931 --- C.T. Harrison
1932 --- W.H.D. Hornaday
1934 --- (Feb.) H. Preston & Chas. M. Bacon
1938 --- J. Marvin Davis
1940 --- Geo. W. Richmire
1942 --- M.D. Stone
1946 --- Thos. W. Walker
1947 --- Helen L. Toner
1948 --- (Mar.) S.R. Smith Jr.
1950 --- Millard W. Wolfe
1953 --- Harold Hayward
1958 --- J. Wesley Neil
1960 --- Robt. B. Fehlman
1963 --- Richard L. Brooks
1968 --- Stanley Creighton
1970 --- Ray H. Firth
1972 --- David M. Peters & Morris Fisher
1974 --- Robt. C. Bjorklund
1980 --- Rex S. Wignall
1985 --- Jerry Steele
END OF DOCUMENT
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