Anaheim First Presbyterian Church

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About Us

First Presbyterian Church of Anaheim is the oldest Protestant church in Orange County, and the fifth Presbyterian church in southern California. The church was founded on March 6, 1870, the result of a letter dated February 8, 1870 and signed by twenty four citizens of Anaheim requesting a church to be built. This letter was sent to Rev. Alexander Morrison Stewart, the district secretary of home missions for the Presbytery of the Pacific Coast, and in response to the letter, he traveled from San Francisco to found the church, arriving in Anaheim on March 3, 1870, and the church was started on the following Sunday with nine members in attendance, all of whom signed the letter to Rev. Stewart.

At the third worship service of First Presbyterian, on March 20, the first child baptism took place, the first communion was given, the first two elders were installed, and the church made a call to Lemuel Peterson Webber to pastor the church.

Rev. Webber was born June 8, 1832 in Salem County, New Jersey, graduated from Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts in 1856 (where one of his classmates was future president of the United States James A. Garfield), then studied theology at Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio, and was licensed by the Presbytery of Dayton, Ohio in 1860. His first Sunday service in Anaheim was June 15, 1870. Shortly after coming to Anaheim, Rev. Webber founded the city of Westminster, as well as First Presbyterian Church of Westminster. He named after the Westminster Assembly of 1643-1649, where the foundation of the Presbyterian church was laid. He pastored both the Anaheim and Westminster churches until tuberculosis forced him to resign on June 19, 1874, and the disease caused his death on September 25, 1874.

For the first three years of its existence, First Presbyterian rented space over the Enterprise Hall, which had a bar and pool hall on the first floor, and a meeting room on the second which was rented out for theatrical performances, dances, concerts, and other meetings. This proved inadequate for worship, so a church was built on Cypress and Claudina Street. Charles Geddes, a noted San Francisco architect, donated his services in designing the building. Mr. Geddes specialized in designing churches, and some of his historic church buildings include Westminster Presbyterian Church in Berkeley, California, and Yosemite Chapel in Yosemite National Park. The church building was dedicated on August 17, 1873, with a crowd that filled the new building to capacity. The church was remodeled and expanded in 1904, and can still be seen in its original location, essentially unchanged since 1904.

By the mid 1910's, the church had started to outgrow its building. A bigger lot was needed for the church, and it was found on the corner of Broadway and Clementine, not far from the older church location. The church first met in its new building on January 6, 1929. The original plans called for the eventual construction of a larger sanctuary, but the stock market crash on October 29, 1929 and World War II postponed the construction. The building is currently used for education and the church offices, and the stained glass windows from the first building can be seen in it.

The current church sanctuary, designed by G. Stanley Wilson, had its groundbreaking on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1950, and construction began the next morning. The new building was dedicated on October 7, 1951. The woodwork inside the church was designed by Howard Congdon, pastor at the time, and his wife.

First Presbyterian has been involved in the affairs of Anaheim from its start. Some examples are: By 1886, there were Sunday School classes in English, German, Spanish and Chinese, in order to serve the diverse population of the city.

First Presbyterian was a leader in the anti-Klan movement in 1924 when the Klan tried to turn Anaheim into “the perfect Klan town.”

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Japanese-Americans were taken to internment camps. Pastor Stanley Frederick George publicly opposed the internment, and brought coffee and doughnuts to the train station to serve the internees as they were being taken out of Anaheim.

The city council commended First Presbyterian in the 1980s for its work in combating drugs and gangs in the downtown Anaheim area.

“Living the Journey: 140 Years Serving in Anaheim, A History of First Presbyterian Church of Anaheim 1870-2010” is a complete history of First Presbyterian. Call the church office (714)535-2176 to order.