Our Church History
One Hundred Year History
Dinuba Christian Church
Published in Dinuba, California, 1981,
on the occasion of the observance of the
One Hundred Year Anniversary
of the founding of the Church.
Families often ask, “From whence came we and to whom owe we our existence?”
Family trees and genealogies are intriguing and worthy ancestors and their achievements are proudly claimed. The glories of the past are used as proof of the greatness of the present. So it may be with churches, and so it is with the Dinuba Christian Church. It has sprung from a succession of hardy pioneers, each of whom was willing to sacrifice himself for the good of a larger and stronger congregation.
Dinuba was an unpopulated bit of hog-wallow, and rail service was less than ten years old in the San Joaquin Valley when four residents of Grangeville, California, met in the Wilson School building in April, 1891, for the purpose of expounding the concept of the Disciples of Christ Church to the settlers in the area.
The Wilson School, named after the earliest settler in the Alta District, Olli Sheene Wilson, was more than just a shake roofed, pin-board school house. When Joshua Lewis, who founded the Christina Church in Grangeville which later became the Hanford Christian Church, and James N. Patterson, Craigie Sharp and Major McQuiddy met at the school, Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians were already using the facility on a rotating Sunday basis.
Members of the families of the Greenes, Dudneys, Tomlinsons, and Wests were attracted to the Disciples of Christ and the Church was organized and given the fourth Sunday of each month as its day for preaching. In November, 1881, Joshua Lewis and his family moved to the Wilson District and he became the pastor of the church, serving without pay.
In 1884, a revival was conducted by James Logan which resulted in a significant numerical increase in the congregation. The West and Simpson families became members, among others.
In that same year, a new town was founded west of the Wilson School along the Southern Pacific Railroad by the ’76 Land and Water Company. Traver rapidly became a thriving community of 2,000 persons and a major shipping point for wheat. In 1886, the church congregation meeting at the Wilson School foresaw in Traver an excellent opportunity for evangelism and growth and decided to move their body to the new town. No doubt the members felt their presence needed in Traver, the heir to many of the gamblers and prostitutes of Bodey, a mining town of the east Sierra Nevada.
On Sunday, April 3, 1887, the Christian Church in Traver was dedicated and the Wilson congregation transferred their membership to the new church. The dedication service was conducted by Mr. Tandy, minister to the Visalia Christian Church.
Joshua Lewis continued to preach for some months until W.E. Hawkins was called as the minister of the new congregation. At this time, E.C. Archer and several others became members of the church. Harry Hurst in his book, “The Alta Pioneers” claimed that the Christina Church and Methodist Episcopal Church were the two strongest congregations in Traver.
The January 1, 1891, edition of the Traver Advocate newspaper reported the following: The Christian Church people deviated from the usual Christmas decorations and built and trimmed a beautiful boat which came into their church on Christmas Eve under full sail and lodged in the northeast corner of the building, where a large crowd of youthful wreckers, and some of older years, assailed and stripped it of innumerable toys and other presents, bags of candies and nuts, etc. Surely a ship coming into port seldom brings more happiness than that one did. But before presents were dispersed by a very venerable looking and funny Santa Claus, who greatly amused the children by a song and a short talk, the following program of exercises was given:
Song, “Glory to God in the Highest”; Prayer by Elder Joshua Lewis; Song, “The Angel Song”; Address by Elder Hawkins; Song, “We Thank Thee O God”; Concert Exercises: “Queen of the Year”, participated in by Mrs. Lottie McCanne and the Misses Ella Durgin, Clemmie Bloyd, Maud Williams, Lottie Milsap, May Sproat, Jane Boone, Ethel Loggins, Lillian Loggins, Gertie Durgin, Mabel Durgin, Minnie Boyd, Maud Tout, Bertie Chase and Willie Crook.
Traver’s spectacular growth was superseded only by its rapid decline. The irrigation water which resulted in tremendous grain production raised the water table and forced alkali to the surface creating a wasteland. This coupled with the construction of the Valley Railroad and the eastern branch of the Southern Pacific Railroad diminished Traver's importance as a shipping point.
In 1891, Monson appeared as a promising young town on the new Southern Pacific Railroad eastern route. Several members who worshipped in Traver, some 10 miles distant, decided a church closer to home would be desirable. The ladies of the Aid Society obtained 80 acres rent free and induced the men to plowing and seeding the land to wheat in exchange for a chicken dinner with all the trimmings. The harvest proved bountiful and in November, 1891, a church building was erected at a cost of $1,531.89. Peter Colvin of Visalia Christian Church preached the dedication sermon. Joshua Lewis again was involved in the formation of the Monson Church and also preached there on those occasions when he was needed. Other ministers who served the Monson Church included Brothers Childers, T.P. Shelton, and A.H. Mahon.
On February 12, 1898, the leaders of the Monson Church were called together by Brother Hawkins to discuss the possibility of organizing a church in the unincorporated area of Dinuba or disbanding the establishing two churches in both communities. Although there are no known notes regarding the events which led to this meeting, the simple facts were that Dinuba was the primary beneficiary of Traver's downfall and although Monson may have appeared as a town of promise in 1891, the expected growth never materialized. Today, Monson can scarcely qualify as a hamlet whereas Dinuba has a population of over 10,000 people. In short, the decision to move to Monson was actually premature and no doubt, in hindsight, the members would rather have gone directly to Dinuba from Traver.
In any event, at the 1898 meeting, it was decided that two sets of officers would be elected, one set to remain in Monson and the other to start a new congregation in Dinuba. It was further decided that the location of each individual membership be left up to the choice of the individual.
Dinuba had, by 1898, become the major population center of the Alta District. The Alta Irrigation District had moved here in 1890. Shortly thereafter, there began a major exodus of businesses and residences from Traver to Dinuba. Miss Gladys Archer today lives in the family home which her parents had moved from Traver to its present location in Dinuba.
The Dinuba Christian Church met originally in the Dinuba Baptist church according to the church history published in 1954. The Alta Pioneers does not mention the Baptist Church stating instead that W.C. Hawkins first perfected the organization into a church in Osterhouts Hall, later known as Music Hall located on the southwest corner of the intersection of K and Tulare Streets.
The early Christian Church in Dinuba decided it was unable to afford the rent at Osterhout's Hall and so moved to the opposite corner into what was known as Tout's Hall, where now stands the Fraternal Hall. This building was in rather bad repair and had no means of being heated in the winter months and so the church was forced to return to the larger hall. Tout Hall was later remodeled and the congregation again moved across the street. The congregation began to expand and due to the limited seating in Tout Hall again made the trek back to Osterhoust's. Today, one must wonder if the individual members didn't wonder where they would be meeting on the following Sunday for worship. The first ministers serving the Church were W.E. Hawkins, J.G. Shelton, T.P. Reid, J.O. Wilmot, and H.G. Shropshire.
By 1903, it was determined that the church in Dinuba needed its own building. In September of that year, Elias Tout, Q.V.P. Day, and John Hoskins, Trustees of the church, purchases lot fourteen (14) in Book number eleven (11) of the town of Dinuba; located at the southwest corner of Fresno and "I" Streets.
Rev. Dargitz, the State Evangelist, was instrumental in assisting the church in fund raising for the new building. Plans for the new building were drawn by W.F. McCracken, proprietor of the local planting mill and the builder of many early residences in Dinuba. He was also awarded the contract to construct the building. Congregation members, Bart Patterson and J.A. Hoskins hauled the bricks for the foundation and B.F. Sproat assisted in carpentry work.
The building was completed in March, 1904. It appears that officially at this time, the Traver and Monson Churches merged with the Dinuba church. The bell originally used in the Traver Church was hung in the belfry of the new structure which was a most impressive accomplishment. An indoor baptistery was constructed below the floor of the sanctuary platform and the adjoining room. To make use of the vessel, two doors between the two rooms were opened and the flooring removed. Ernest H. Locknane was the first person to be baptized in the latest of indoor plumbing.
A hand pump was installed on the back porch where thirsty children and long winded orators could drink from a single tin cup left for that purpose. Wood to fuel two large iron stoves in the sanctuary was stored in a woodshed at the rear of the building. Side rooms were heated with kerosene stoves. Carbide lamps were originally needed to furnish lighting. It is reported that the "little building" in the far corner of the lot seemed a long distance away to a child on a dark night. Horses pulling courting buggies, Petaluma carts or surreys were hitched to the racks along the street or in the "off street" parking across the back of the lot. Both places were unpaved.
Construction of such a large edifice by a congregation which listed a total of twenty three names on the church roll was truly an act of faith.
The church prospered and the loan from the Board of Church Extension of the American Christian Mission Society was paid off in full on November 30, 1908. The loan from the local bank was also satisfied. A "seat" fund was organized whereby families purchases pews to provide seating in the sanctuary.
In the next decade the women of the church organized the Missionary Society and became associated with the Christian Women's Board of Missions. Publications which began to be received by church members included "The Missionary Tidings," "The Christian Evangelist" and "Christian Messenger." The children of the church became involved in Junior Mission Bands or Junior Christian Endeavor societies and received a periodical, "The King's Builders" which described missionary heroes of the church. Young people took part in county and state conventions and activities. Sunday school attendance increased to the point that a committee was appointed to explore the possibility of installing a basement, a gallery, or sliding partitions in the existing class rooms. Another tangible result of the missionary activity at the church occurred some years later when one of the impressionable youngsters of the church, Faith McCracken, went on to become a missionary in Africa for many years.
During the early years at Fresno and "I" Streets, the church was served by a number of ministers. Henry Shropshire presided over the transition from temporary to permanent quarters. His ministry ended in Dinuba in 1908, Mr. Stanley acted as an interim preacher in 1908, followed by J.J. Limerick who concluded his stay in 1909. O.E. Palmer arrived in 1910, and went to New Mexico in 1913. Another interim minister, W. A. Williams, served until Roy O. Youtz received the call in 1914 through 1915. C.O. McFarland served as supply minister until Fred M. Brooks took over the reins in 1917. World War I resulted in participation in the effort of Brooks necessitating another interim minister Mr. Pratt. W.T. Adams followed for four years, 1919 to 1923. Clive Taylor led the church from 1923 to 1926 and Arthur Ritchey did likewise in 1926.
In 1914, the Monson church building was moved from Monson to Dinuba where it was converted into a parsonage behind the church and fronting Fresno Street. The parsonage remains today as the residence of the Foursquare Gospel Church pastor.
Shortly after the parsonage was occupied a frame "temporary" building was constructed on the northwest side of the main church building. The building was used for the children's departments of the Sunday school and the social hall. Two women's classes were formed: The Dorcas Class for young married women and the Loyal Bereans for those "just older."
The music program of the Church was directed by Elias Tout for over fifty years according to the 1935-1936 Year Book. Accordingly, Brother Tout's musical directorship antedated the founding of the church in Dinuba by some 13 years. In the year book it was noted that the choir contained over thirty members and had presented the Cantata "Eastertide" during the year.
In 1931, the church celebrated the Golden Anniversary of its founding at Wilson School. The morning service was preached at the new Wilson School house standing at the same location south of town. A picnic lunch was spread on tables in the school yard following the service.
Although the Depression was devastating to the community in general, the church itself prospered during this time. A large men's class taught by Mr. Ingold of the high school faculty met each Sunday in Washington Grammar School building. The young marrieds organized the Gleaner's class which developed future church leaders.
Missionary activity continued apace. The Missionary Society was renamed the Shelton Missionary Society in 1935, in honor of Dr. Albert Shelton of Tibet. Missionary offering reached a level whereby the Church was able to support Mrs. Faye Emmerson of our mission in Tibet as a "living link." When Mrs. Emmerson was forced to leave Tibet because of war conditions in that country, the church's own daughter, Faith McCracken, was adopted as our "living link" and was supported during her two years of post graduate study at the Kennedy School of Missions and her many years in Africa.
As the Church entered into its second fifty years a new constitution and by-laws were adopted and the church work was carried on by functional committees.
The Church youth were organized into a Christian Youth Fellowship and began an active involvement in youth conferences. For several summers children attended a four-day camp at Camp Tulequoia on Lake Sequoia.
While the first 25 years of the Church's existence at Fresno and "I" Streets witnessed no less than twelve ministers the following twenty-five years were blessed with longer individual ministries.
Richard E. Brown arrived in Dinuba in 1926 to begin a nine year pastorate. During his tenure he held the office of President of both the Tulare County Ministerial Union and the Dinuba Ministerial Union. His sudden death on December 10, 1934, was a tremendous loss to the congregation and community as a whole.
Edwin L. Carter was called to serve from 1935 to 1938. In his annual report in 1935, Mr. Carter noted that in the course of that year, 30 new members were added to the church rolls. Morris Bigbee ministered the church from 1938-1941, followed by Denzil Carlyle, 1942-1943. During the war years the church became a supporting member of the Federated Council of Churches and participated in a national drive for the Emergency Million to relieve conditions caused by war.
During the ten years prior to the celebration of 50 years at Fresno and "I" Streets, building and improvements of the site accelerated. The old "temporary" Annex, constructed in 1914 was sold and moved to a location behind the Wylie home where it remains at this time. In its place a new parish hall was constructed at a cost of $25,000.00 and was dedicated as Christian Chapel on July 24, 1948. Rev. Galen Lee Rose, Executive Secretary of the Christian Churches of Northern California served as the dedication speaker. The building contained Sunday school class rooms, a new modern kitchen, and a large social hall. Much of the labor was donated by members of the church and the structure was completed debt free.
Major improvements were also made on the church building. A new metal roof was installed, the foyer was enlarged and the outside of the building received two coats of paint. An electric organ donated by Mrs. Rachel Quinn, and a new pulpit and communion table and chars were donated to the church. A baby grand piano was purchased and new pews were installed.
The Missionary Society disbanded in 1946, and reorganized as a Women's Council which was changed in 1950, to the name which it still retains, Christian Women's Fellowship. The men of the Church reactivated the Laymen's league and thereafter became the Christian Men's Fellowship.
The outreach program of the church reached a peak of $800.00 which sum gains significance when compared with a total budget of $10,000.00 in 1953.
Ministers serving the church at this time included Dwight Hackett 1943-1949, Charles Strickler, 1949-1951, and Hugh D. Brunk, 1951-1957.
The half century mark celebrated by the church at its Fresno and "I" Streets location was a major milestone for the church. 108 out-of-town guests joined in the celebration of re-dedicating the church on March 21, 1954. Dr. Theo R. Leen, Executive Secretary, was the featured speaker. He emphasized the accomplishments of the past as a beckoning challenge of the future. Special music was arranged and performed by the church organist, Miss Gladys Archer. A souvenir booklet was prepared and published by Miss Faith McCracken, Albert McCracken and Charles "POP" Freeman. The highlight of the festivities was the ordination of Chester O. Dunkin, a resident of Dinuba and a member of the church who was at the time a senior at Northwest Christian College.
The church which began meeting in 1904, with 23 members swelled its ranks to more than 250 persons in 1954.
Only two years after the gala celebration in 1954, the diamond celebration of the founding of the church at Wilson School was celebrated in a more modest manner on April 25, 1956, with a pot-luck dinner. Money was raised to help build a new school for Faith McCracken who was then serving in the Belgian Congo.
The Church continued to experience numerical growth in its membership in the late 1950's and early 1960's. Twenty-five (25) new members were reported in the 1954-1955 annual report alone. Under the ministry of Joseph G. Justin, 1957-1962, the church gained 34 members in 1957-1958. The Building Committee report for that year considered remodeling the present plant, tearing down the present sanctuary and moving off the parsonage to build a new sanctuary, or chasing new property to relocate with the possibility of moving the chapel as a first unit.
Missionary activity continued within the church by actively supporting Faith McCracken in the Belgian Congo and Mary Pollard in India. Faith's missionary work which began in 1929 in the Congo was interrupted in 1942, when she returned to Dinuba to care for her aging mother. She taught in Dinuba High School until 1954, when she returned to Africa for the next sixteen years. She returned to the United States in 1969, and toured the Pacific Northwest for speaking engagements in churches of that area. Miss McCracken formally "retired" in 1970, to her home in Dinuba where she actively continues to be involved in church affairs.
The Junior High students were organized as a Chi Rho Fellowship in 1956, sponsored by Mr. and Mrs. Clyde Hamilton and Mr. and Mrs. Karl Newton. A young couples class was also formed that year known as the "Merry Mates" taught by the minister on Sunday mornings.
The 1960 annual report was entitled, "Decade of Decision." In July of that year, the congregation voted down a motion to sell the church property to the Palm Methodist Church for $40,000.00 and purchase land for a new church site. Serious consideration was given to extensively remodeling the existing building including the obtaining of bids in 1962. Minister Ray Aplet, served from 1962-1963, before John Dewey was called in 1964. Finally, however, in 1965, the congregation sold the church property which had been occupied by them for 62 years, to the Four Square Gospel church for $33,000.00 in order to construct a new facility. Two and on-half acres were purchased on Saginaw and Bates Avenues in what was until then farm land north of town.
A large farewell dinner was held in the old social hall on May 15, 1966, after the final worship services were conducted by the Rev. John Dewey.
Ellsworth Lewis, great grandson of the church founder Joshua Lewis, reminded those present that "All we are leaving here is the shell. Life moves on with the people."
Moving on, until the new church was constructed, meant meeting at the Seventh Day Adventist Church. Groundbreaking for the new site occurred in June 1966, and work progressed rapidly. By September 25, 1966, the congregation was able to tour the construction site to observe the class room wing, pastor's study and fireside room, ready for plastering, and the framed and roofed sanctuary. Some of the labor was done by volunteers from the congregation.
A service of dedication and open house was held April 2, 1966, just 80 years after the church was first started. Josh L. Wilson, Jr., Associate Secretary of the Christian Church of Northern California and Nevada delivered the dedication message. The new sanctuary seated 230 persons with additional balcony seating for 50. Unfortunately, because the balcony has only one exit, the fire marshal now limits the number to twenty. A social hall seating 200 persons was soon completed after the sanctuary and Sunday School room were finished.
A report of a Task Force on Evangelism dated November 10, 1976, concluded that during the period from 1965 to 1976, the peak in membership occurred during the period of 1966-1967, which not surprisingly coincided with the construction and dedication of the new facility on Saginaw Avenue.
Evangelism, however, was a major emphasis of the time period after occupation of the new church buildings. In 1967, the Evangelism department conducted a calling campaign in preparation for a week of meetings with Dr. Norman J. Conner who held a "New Life in Christ Crusade." Rev. Virgil Halbig conducted a fall crusade in 1969, and the following year, Dr. Floyd Diem spoke on the importance of calling. In 1972 and 1973, Lay Witness Missions were conducted stressing the importance of lay persons and their corresponding responsibility in spreading the Good News. Small prayer groups and Bible studies resulted from the missions. Bibles and portions of scripture were dispensed at Raisin Day celebrations from 1973 through 1975.
In 1975, the founding of the Bus Ministry to provide transportation resulted in over 50 new youngsters arriving at Sunday school.
On the death of a long-time member, Rachel Quinn, the church received a sizeable memorial for which a committee was created to oversee its use. Improvements were made in the social hall, but the primary beneficiary was the music department. New robes and sound equipment were purchased and a music minister, Kenneth Gerbrandt, was called to lead that department in 1971.
In 1972, Phil Runner filled the pulpit as interim minister before John Wrench was called fro the Grand Canyon to head the church. In 1976, Bob Collins, a seminary student, became the first employed Youth Director in church history. Lois Straub, in that same year, was elevated to the position of Administrative Assistant.
In March, 1977, a "Burning of the Mortgage" celebration lasted the weekend. The Guest Speaker for the occasion was George Richardson, pastor of the Shields Avenue Christian Church, and a child of the Dinuba Christian Church. George's message concerned "Looking to the Future."
In 1978, John Wrench left our congregation and an interim pastor was secured. Dr. Barton Dowdy, recently retired president of Northwest Christian College, intended to spend some years filling in to assist churches while they called new ministers. Instead, Barton was called to serve our church which he did by providing the love and healing hand which was a specific need in the congregation at that time.
Until health problems required Dr. Dowdy to retire in the winter of 1981, several new programs were instituted in the church. A new evangelism program entitled, "Evangelism Explosion" was instituted, equipping those who attended the classes to spread the Gospel to our neighbors. Mike Dye was called to serve as Associate Pastor in 1980, and he, along with George Richardson, are now providing an interim ministry as a new senior minister is called. Sharon Isaak had recently agreed to take on the directorship of the church choir.
This historical sketch would not be complete without mentioning many of the yearly events which make the Dinuba Christian Church unique. From the Hanging of the Greens to the Maunday Thursday service, portraying the Last Supper, many seasonal and religious events are celebrated by potlucks and socials. Fond memories include ice cream socials at the McCracken home, the yearly birthday dinner, snapshots by Karl Newton, trimming the Christmas tree, church picnics in El Monte park, Christmas Eve services, barbeque dinners on Raisin Day, George Shelton and Ray Roach ushering and handing out Sunday bulletins and everyone wanting to ring the bell in the building on the corner of Fresno and "I."
Then there were the CYF breakfasts, the senior citizens banquets that were always sponsored by the CYF, turkey steak dinners, circle meetings, church camps and Easter services. In the planning and preparation; serving and fellowship; clean up and dishwashing, the interaction and sharing of the people of the church creates a true family seeking to become the body of Christ.
In many ways, the church is now at a crossroads. The search by the Pulpit Committee for a new senior minister is always critical. In a church as independent as the Christian Church, Disciples of Christ, however, the situation is even more serious. Our active membership is down even while the town has grown up around us. Financial obligations seem increasingly difficult to meet. At times, it appears our ship is cast adrift, moving without direction or purpose. Even so, we are convinced of the rightness of our cause. We seek not to keep the "doors of the church" open so that future generations may celebrate a bicentennial. We seek the continuance, the prosperity, the growth of this church because we believe that God's love and covenants are as necessary for the people of this community now and forever as they were in 1881. Now is the time to learn from the past; to move with courage and in faith, much like 23 members did in 1903, when they built a sanctuary large enough to service a membership ten times their number.
By Steve Worthley