Almaden Valley United Church of Christ began in spring 1965 when a small group of families met in each other's homes.
The founding group had the vision of a church close to home: a small friendly church with a warm intimate atmosphere. They wanted to give their children a safe place to grow and learn, and to counter the rootlessness and transience of an era when being transferred across the country was a way of life. The UCC’s Northern California Conference supported this church in what was then mostly rural Almaden Valley.
By May 1966, the church was 80 members strong. It began meeting in the Prune Shed, which was a former fruit drying facility near Crown Blvd. and Almaden Road. The warm spirit of the new church made up for what the building lacked. The roof leaked all winter, and the worshipers stepped over buckets which were color-coded to match the holes in the roof above. Today, Some old-timers even say the lights in our sanctuary remind them of the those buckets from the old days.
In 1968, AVUCC informally partnered with an Episcopal congregation to share the Prune Shed. When the church moved into its new building in 1969, the Episcopal Church in Almaden (ECA) moved also. Work began with the national denominations to formalize the arrangement and the Joint Venture became a legal entity in 1970. It is much more than a legal and economic agreement. The ecumenical spirit has flourished and strengthened through the years, adding a deep dimension to the lives of both congregations. We have shared, grieved, and celebrated together. In addition we share our Sunday School and Youth Programs and occasional worship together.
Over the years, AVUCC has been actively involved in many
outreach programs, especially Habitat for Humanity. As the church has grown, new
members have come as others have moved away. But in less than 35 years we have
families representing three generations in the church. AVUCC continues to grow in spiritual vitality and energy under the skilled leadership of Pastor Kevin Smith.
In 1965, our Northern California Conference projected the future growth of Almaden Valley. They subsequently recruited a sponsoring committee, drawn from Santa Clara County UCC churches, to form a new UCC congregation in the Valley. Several members of that committee eventually became AVUCC members, including Dale Weishaupt and Stan and Ethel Yumen.
The Rev. Frank Jaggers became our first pastor on August 1, 1965. He joined other members as they knock on doors and invited folks to the church. The first service was attended by 37 worshipers and was heald on August 29, 1965 at a youth center located at the Southeast corner of Almaden and Blossom Hill Rd. The another new church used the same facility immediately after we did each Sunday, so our Sunday School and coffee hours were rotated among people’s homes. The first Easter service was held at Simonds School, and 119 worshipers attended our first Candlelight Christmas Eve service at the Almaden County Club.
What did these first families want in their new church? 1) a church close to home - a small, friendly church we wanted to feel part of it; a place where we could know all the members as much as possible. Rev. Jaggers always dreamed of having a church in the round - to keep a friendly, warm, intimate atmosphere. Dale Weishaupt compares the spirit of this church to a "good marriage" - start for the right reasons and on a good basis and it will hold together through all the ups and downs.
In 1966 we rented the "Prune Shed" for $50 a month and then later it was reduced to $0. The Prune Shed was located on the corner of Crown and Almaden (where Copperwood townhomes are located). In May of 1966 we had 80 members. The Prune Shed was a wooden structure, a concrete floor, and a tin roof ,cold in the winter and hot in the summer. The patio area was covered and that was where we met for coffee hour. A small house was used for the office, kitchen and Sunday School. Fleas and other insects worshipped in the summer with us, and wind and rain entered in the winter. Somehow AVUCC has always had a leaky roof!!!
Outreach has always been important in the life of this church - we pledged money to OCWM and then Heifer, Night Ministry and Head Start became a part of our Outreach program.
Lay participation in worship services was first talked about in 1968 and approved for occasional participation by men and young people; but there was expressed hesitation about using women in these roles. That would come later.
In Fall of 1968 talks began with Episcopal Church in Almaden about becoming a cooperative endeavor. First we agreed to share the Prune Shed and this started us on the road to our current Joint Venture. In the fall of 1969 we moved with the ECA into our current building.
In the late 60’s and early 70’s we experienced a difficult time with our congregation - people were divided either for or against our founding pastor. A congregational meeting was held and the vote was 60% for and 40% against the pastor. He stayed on hoping to bring us together but the pledges were disappearing and attendance was dropping. He finally made the decision to leave in mid 1971 and those in the congregation who stayed on found a new affirmation for our being a church in Almaden - we started with "We’ve got too good a thing going here to let it die." and progressed to "We will be our own ministers" and then came to the knowledge that "WE are the Church". These qualities have remained strong in the years since even when we again were divided in the 1980’s. The caring community endured and lay leadership and participation continued.
Faces and friends move, into and then away from the church - membership is a constant adventure and a constant wrenching apart, one would think this would dilute the spirit of the church. Yet newcomers inevitably comment about the warmth and feeling of community they sense, almost immediately. Those who move away find it hard to locate a replacement, frequently commenting "We’ve found a new church, but not like AVUCC"
In June 1977 the council was looking into the possibility of having women help usher". Under the leadership of Rev. Jack Takayanagi we became an even more involved Outreach congregation. Habitat for Humanity was introduced to AVUCC folks and Habitat West was formed in our church and several of our church couples became part of that board. This was the beginning of Habitat on the west coast. Heifer took on new dimensions when our Sunday School kids raised enough money to send a heifer to Korea. Rev. Jack had been invited to travel to South Korea. The congregation decided that this would be a perfect opportunity for him and Mary to visit Japan, where both their parents had been born. Money was raised for that trip and a stop in Hawaii on the way home. While they were gone, members painted the exterior of their home and worked on the yard and sprinklers. I remember Jack calling me at the office upon his return and said he couldn't find his house. He was so pleased with the paint job and we all had a great time plotting and planning to make it happen.
Our church sponsored a Vietnamese-Chinese refugee family - mother, her sister, two sons and daughter. We collected household goods, supplemented the English lessons and helped them acclimate to a new culture and offered them odd jobs. For several years they were an important part of the church community. They are now citizens, prosperous and owning homes in Hayward and San Jose.
The Almaden Valley Youth Counseling Service got its start in our JV Churches when several members of our congregations became a part of the first board. They were given space to use in our facility and we also provided funds. They are now a totally self supporting, and very important part of this community. Following Rev. Jack’s ministry we had a brief time with Rev. Michael Jackson whose ministry among us was torn by great dissent among our members. After Rev. Jackson left, we were in an interim state again until Rev. Win Gould became our pastor in 1987.
We have had some very traumatic times but overshadowing all these are the wonderful memories of all the great fellowship, life long friendships and the sense that AVUCC continues to be an important part of the community in the Almaden Valley. Our building continues to be available for use by many outside organizations.