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Ripon church is 129 years old
Ripon Methodist DSC 7300
Ripon Free Methodist Church Pastor Chuck Roots in downtown Ripon stands in front of the redwood building built in 1884 by members of the Brethren congregation. - photo by GLENN KAHL/The Bulletin

Nestled in the heart of downtown Ripon is the historic 129-year-old Ripon Free Methodist Church built completely out of redwood thus keeping it free of termites all those years.

Pastor Chuck Roots has led the congregation for more than a decade except for the two years away from his flock when he was called up by the military to go to warn torn areas.  Roots is a veteran of both the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Navy where he attained the rank of captain as a Navy Chaplain.

In his earlier service in the Marine Corps he served as a jet engine mechanic reaching the rank of sergeant and a platoon leader, not imaging he would pastor a church in Ripon built in 1884.

Gone for his last tour of duty overseas, it was evident his flock didn’t intend to lose him due to circumstance, They brought in visiting ministers during his absence. They waited patiently for his return.

Roots spent 34 years in the military – four active duty tours in the Marine Corps and the remainder with the Navy Reserve.  He was commissioned in December of 1983 when he was 35 years old. He was again called to active duty in 2002 a year after 9-11.  In 2003 he was assigned to the post of deputy command chaplain for the largest Marine fighting unit to Kuwait as command chaplain for Camp Commando with headquarters in Babylon south of Bagdad.

He had earlier served in DaNang the better part of 1972.  He remembers getting orders from WESTPAC to report to a duty station in Japan just before Christmas of 1971 which he said didn’t make his mother happy.  But it was a year later when he came home again just a week before Christmas that she felt was the best present ever.

The Brethren Church sold the building and side buildings to the Free Methodist in 1927.  A 75th anniversary of the Ripon Methodist site was held in 2002 with six former pastors attending the celebration.  A time capsule was interred near the rear of the church with a five-foot-high white, steel cross marking its location to be opened in 2027. The only other church still functioning in San Joaquin County from the 1800s is St. Mary’s Catholic Church built in 1851 in downtown Stockton.

Pastor Roots counts his congregation as 65 to70 regulars attending every Sunday, devoted to supporting the mission of the denomination.  There are often 20 to 30 visitors who also come on a somewhat regular basis but aren’t actually being on the membership rolls.

A traditional call to prayer can be heard every Sunday morning from the old bell tower when the pastor takes joy in pulling the bell rope himself. The historic series of “clangs” that can be heard throughout the Ripon downtown and nearby residential areas.  In the infancy of the Ripon Fire Department it was that bell that called volunteer firefighters out of their homes.

• • •

Mules helped

lift church

Among his supporters, the minister voiced his appreciation for the men who have contributed to the upkeep of the building with their wood-working skills.  Ralph Scheel of Lathrop, along with his son and grandsons, built the rear steps to the church replacing a narrow deteriorating stairway using a non-wood product.

The roof of the building has been lowered twice, Roots added.  In its early days the entire building was jacked up clear of its foundation with the help of mules and a basement that was hollowed out below the structure to provide for meeting rooms.  The church was lowered back down to rest once again on its foundation with a stairway for members to go downstairs, he said.  

Before they were extended, the front steps were shorter leading to the bell tower church entrance.  It was commonplace to enter a church through the bell tower, he noted. The right and left front corner sections of the building were added to the sides of the bell tower creating two small rooms, one a cry room, and the other an audio control area at the entry way to the sanctuary.  At the time of the added steps and porch area, a handicapped access was also added to the facility.

Stained glass windows on the sides of the church and in the front of the façade had peaked at a higher level than the shorter and more modern windows of today.  Jerry and Gayle Mottweiler created the new windows seen today that were put together on their living room floors. 

The double doors’ windows entering into the church were dedicated to their son.  The window has a blue world behind a cross and with a flame representing the Holy Spirit.  They also designed a stained glass window at the center of a large cross in the rear of the church behind the stage area.  Jerry serves as Pastor Roots’ delegate in the church family.

Another couple that has gone above and beyond for the Free Methodist Church is Jim and Julie Smit.  Jim has done endless carpentry and cabinet work throughout the building from a complicated book case to a rolling lectern – all out of maple woods. 

The church sent Pastor Roots and church member Bob Greer to Israel on a religious trip several years ago to see the Holy Land.  Roots brought back an intricately hand carved work of the Last Supper that he brought back as his gift to the church.  A year later he led a similar trip for some 25 members of his church family.

At the back of the pews is an antique basin set in a framed mount that is used in the ceremonial washing of the feet of church members on Good Friday that Roots said has been a humbling experience for his membership.  The Good Friday event includes a form of the Stations of the Cross ending at a wood cross in the front of the church.  When members reach that cross they are asked to pen their experience and attach the notes to the cross followed by community from a visiting pastor.

Located on about an acre of land, the church campus includes Sunday school rooms and the pastor’s office against the eastern property line.  Behind the church is a modern meeting room that is used by the congregation for both social and educational meetings.

The church is located in the 200 block of West Main Street between Bank of Stockton and an old two-story apartment building that also houses the Divine Décor Boutique.

Pastor Roots put it succinctly when he said:  “All are welcome!