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Keeping the faith for 100 years
Pastor Darrell Thomas talks with worshippers after a mid-1960s service. - photo by Photo Contributed

St. Paul’s United Methodist Church is marking 100 years.

The first services were held in a refurbished Morgan paint shop in 1916. St. Paul’s second church came about two years later. The cost of that church including the land, building and furnishings was set at $12,000

Reaching its centennial observation the church family is recalling its lengthy history every week during the remainder of the year bringing alive memories from its former pastors and its countless members now listed as some 400 men, women and children.

Now located at the corner of Powers Avenue and East North Street, the congregation has much to be proud of for the part it played in the community over the past century. The first religious services were held in the current church  building July 9, 1956 with its consecration held in May of that year. 

Since that date a Biblical Garden was developed by Dr. Claire Weast with plants brought specifically from the Holy Land. He and his wife Elsie developed a dietetic frozen food specialty in their Manteca home for the Flotil Cannery owned by Tillie Lewis Foods in Stockton.

The Weasts lived at 232 North Lincoln and sold their two-story home to Ken Hafer and his wife Alice in the mid-1950s. Hafer said Weast developed his dietetic frozen foods in the small upstairs of the house where he had one very large room consisting of an anti-room and a utility room. It was complete with a combination stove refrigerator, sink and regular kitchen cabinets along with a little table with the two of them working together on his projects.

Today, St. Paul’s hosts the only religious labyrinth in the greater Manteca community set in stones between the church and social hall. It has an entrance on the west end covering a typical circular pattern with a diameter of some 25 to 30 feet with the pathway entrance facing Powers Avenue. The labyrinth symbol dates back to the Neolithic Period through modern times. Both the Classical and Medieval types have proved, by far, the most popular used by various religions to welcome individuals and groups to walk through the pathways while meditating in prayer.

One early history of the church presented at the 50 year celebration reads in part: 

“The pioneer spirit of this ‘first Methodist’ in these parts was the same spirit which sustained other Methodists as they established the more than eight small crossroads churches which dotted the southern San Joaquin County prior to the founding of the First Methodist Church of Manteca of Manteca in September 1915.

“It is to them that we owe the example of Christian Faith which has given our church its first 50 years of vigorous life. Truly this 50 years we celebrate is but the harvest we gather from seeds they’ve sowed years before: back as far as Bible totter Jed in 1827 and that first recorded quarterly conference in the old Turner school house on Christmas Day 1858. In a sense their history is our history.”

Back in April of 1916, the Ladies Aid hosted a bazaar where they served homemade ice cream and cake in the Post Offices’ back room. A sermon by Rev. Chrysler at the end of May warned of the approach of World War I.

For 2015, the church is planning monthly events recognizing their 100th year. They launched the beginning of the anniversary in January by the planting of a Centennial tree. The cost of the tree was borne by its membership donating ten cents each for the number of years of their tenure in the church. Each month will revisit the years passed and will be welcoming back former pastors who are still living. The 12-month-long program is going to focus on a Sept. 13 “Celebration Sunday” with a special church service and catered luncheon along with the honored guests.

St. Paul’s pastor today is Mark Wharaff who first served St. Paul’s when still a student at the University of the Pacific. He has been back in Manteca for nearly two years.

Former pastors returning to the church campus will begin with Lisa Brown on Feb. 15. Pam Cummings will be in the Manteca church on April 12. Judith Bither’s visit is scheduled for May 31 with special piano selection dedicated to the former Pastor. Brandon Austin is coming back to visit the congregation June 14 and Chuck Cordes will return on July 12 with Glenn DeJong providing the music for the Worship Service. On Aug. 9 former Pastor Darrell Thomas will attend the Worship Service. Doug Norris will be back in Manteca with a book signing with Craig Norris providing the music in a 1 p.m. concert with Craig Norris, Glenn DeJong and Darrin Brown. And on Nov. 8 former Pastor Phil Hall will meet with his former congregation. 

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Church at Sequoia, Yosemite targeted by female arsonist

It was in May of 1918 that the church moved into new quarters at the corner of Yosemite and Sequoia avenues. It was in August of 1972 that the church building suffered a disastrous fire believed to be at the hands of a female arsonist who was plaguing the 600 and 700 block of West Yosemite Avenue some 40 years ago. The church bell that hung in the tower is now at the Lutheran Church on Northgate Drive.

The church structure was being staked out by Manteca Police detectives who were watching for the female arson suspect in the predawn hours. Two had positioned themselves in the bell tower when officers on the ground radioed the team of six officers, saying that the woman, who lived next to the church, was making her way down the back alley. Within minutes the fire broke out below that tower and added to other arsons plaguing the area, according to one officer still living in Manteca.

The officers made their way to safety and the building was pretty much destroyed until it was restored. It is now the Historical Society’s museum. That same officer, who was in the bell tower, Clancy Rogers, manages the museum today.

Of special interest – that some referred to as being miraculous – centered on the large, white wooden cross mounted on top of the bell tower. While much of the structure was blackened, the cross appeared to be untouched and remained its original white color. It can be seen mounted inside the museum today after being removed from the tower following the blaze.

In 1925 a federation was established between the Baptist Church community and the Methodist worshipers changed the future of religious services in Manteca in adding the name “federated” to St. Paul’s.

It was in the mid-20s that Rev. Arthur P. Brown, pastor of the Union Baptist Church, was away on a trip to Alaska when a controlled burn developed into a grass fire that “roared out of control” burning the Union chapel with the pastor and his church flock seeking a federation with the Methodists. After reported hesitation by church members, both pastors jointly promoted the new federation that came about in 1926. 

Longtime church members include Dale and Pat Johnson who moved to Manteca from Santa Rosa in 1949 and opened their popular photography studio in Manteca’s downtown. Dale Johnson followed the inspiration he found in the rose garden that was begun by Charles and Betty Bergthold – owners of Bergthold Mortuary years ago. Dave Johnson has been an avid supporter of the church with his undying passion to make a difference. His favorite rose in the garden is The Peace Rose.

Friday morning found him working with his “Doorkeepers” group at the church marking his 64 plus years in the religious community. He has long chaired the blood bank and has been St. Paul’s representative at countless funeral ceremonies making a difference for the mourners.

The church today has numerous stained glass windows with silver gray slate making up the center aisle leading to the elaborate but simple sanctuary – one of the few that still retains a communion railing.