Our Church History
Founded in 1911, Mission Hills United Church of Christ is a congregation of the United Church of Christ whose heritage dates back to the Pilgrims who made their way to this country seeking religious freedom and the ability to self-govern within each congregation. Religious freedom, questioning faith, spiritual inquiry, continuing progressive interpretation of the scriptures, and inclusive fellowship are all hallmarks of our congregation. We welcome all people to join us for worship and fellowship.
The area known as Mission Hills was bought by a sea captain named Henry J. Johnston in a parcel of six acres shortly after the Civil War for $.25 an acre. In 1887 his daughter built the first house at 2036 Orizaba St. George Marston later developed the land and named it Mission Hills at the turn of the century. At the time it was a fairly inaccessible area of orange groves, olive trees and small farms.
George Marston and Judge Sloan, who were members of First Congregational Church (our parent church) at 6th and A Streets, decided that the new development (which at that time was the end of the trolley tracks) should have a new Sunday school. The Sunday school movement in those days was as vital as regular worship in many places throughout the US. Marston and Sloan met with Earl Barr and Rev. Rigdon of the Central Christian Church. These four gentlemen held Sunday school classes in the afternoon at the Rev. Rigdon’s home on Ibis Street. Mr. Marston purchased land nearby at the corner of Fort Stockton and now Jackdaw Streets at a price of $2,000.00. Here they built a redwood chapel, a joint venture of the Congregational and Christian (Disciples of Christ) churches. Interestingly, years later the Congregational (now United Church of Christ) and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) have a formal union. Our congregation, as is often the case, was way ahead of its time.
Mr. Marston prevailed upon the Rev. John Doane, a Congregational minister from Greely, Colorado, who was vacationing with his wife and daughter in La Jolla, to form a church. The church was organized as Mission Hills Congregational Church in 1911 with 67 charter members. One of the hallmarks of the original congregation was a result of the Rev. Doane’s musical talent. He organized a boy’s and young men’s choir that became widely known. Excellence in music, both vocal and instrumental, continue to be an important aspect of public worship here to this day.
Following the death of Rev. Doane, the church hired the Rev. Henry Roberts from Tucson. Rev. Roberts was an excellent pastor and the congregation grew rapidly under his leadership. As the lot north of the present church was for sale, it was purchased and an L-shaped addition was constructed. This was used until the present church building was built to replace the original chapel in 1920. During the construction of the new sanctuary, the congregation worshiped in the auditorium of the Francis Parker School. In 1950 the chapel and the education annex were added. In the early 1970s the small house on the north end of the lot was converted to the church preschool, Mission Hills Community Preschool. The church also during that time sponsored the building of the Green Manor residential tower for seniors on Ibis Street.
When the present sanctuary was completed, Mrs. John Doane and her sister, Ms. Mary Cowles, donated a pipe organ. This organ was selected by Mrs. Doane’s son, John, who was an organist of St. John the Divine in New York City. When the organ was completed, Mr. Doane dedicated it by giving a recital on it.
In May 1987, Mission Hills – First Congregational Church approved a three-year plan for the renovation of the present facility. Underwritten by contributions from church members and a limited matching grant from the church’s endowment reserves, expenditures totaled one-half million dollars when completed. Prior to that a generous contribution from the estate of Gail Butterfield provided the funds needed to complete the renovation of the sanctuary ahead of schedule.
In gratitude, the sanctuary clay panel art work designed by artist Gerald Thiebolt was dedicated to the glory of God and in loving memory of Jack and Gail Butterfield, longtime faithful members of the congregation, on Sunday, June 24, 1990.
The congregation voted to identify itself by its denominational affiliation name on June 14, 1994. From that day to the present the church has been known as Mission Hills United Church of Christ.
The church declared itself to be an Open and Affirming Congregation on June 18, 2006 thereby continuing its long-standing commitment to be a congregation that welcomes all people. We celebrated Mission Hills UCC’s Centennial on October 22, 2011.
The Parent Church
Our parent church, First Congregational Church, was organized October 10, 1886, and occupied a large brick building built by George Marston in downtown San Diego (6th and A Sts.). In 1962, the building was declared unsafe and in 1971 was sold.
Following a brief association with Plymouth Congregational Church and the consideration of building a new church, the members of First Congregational Church voted to merge with MHCC and use their resources to build the First Congregational Memorial Tower, a senior retirement building on Park Blvd., to give endowments to Pilgrim Pines Camp in Yucaipa, CA, and to fund the Pilgrim Fund, an endowment of the newly merged congregation.
There have been seven ministers who served the Mission Hills congregation following the death of Rev. Doane. Their pictures and the dates of their respective ministries are in a cabinet in the church narthex. The Rev. Joseph Sandven, who was called in 1968, presided over the union of Mission Hills Congregational Church with Chaplain E. Vaughan Lyons, Jr. of First Congregational Church. The union was celebrated on October 13, 1974.
Rev. Sandven resigned October 1, 1978 to accept a position in Auburn, CA. Chaplain Lyons became the pastor and subsequently retired in 1985. The Rev. Edward W. Schadt served as the pastor until 2003.
The Rev. Scott Landis was called to Mission Hills UCC on November 28, 2004.