Columba's Church Camarillo
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Columba's Church Camarillo
Page 11

An Offering to God

Building FrameWork on the new St Columba's Church in Camarillo was now a joyful hive of activity for us all. The contractor built the frame. Our gang of eager volunteers who were mostly ranchers and engineers shoveled concrete for the sidewalks, painted, lifted and hauled. One worker, a tall straight ex-Army Colonel from South Dakota, named Joe Pirsch, had worked especially hard and sometime later I was enthusiastically commending him for his efforts. Drawing me to one side, he quietly scolded me in defense. "Why," he protested, "I didn't do this for self-praise. I fought alongside some good men in the last war. This work has simply been my offering to God. I am thankful for the memory of my friends! Many of them perished, but I was spared!"

Dealing with the Pentagon

PentagonOthers were blessed during the St. Columba's project too. The contractor, whose name was Enoch, became one of our backbone members at the church. Every Sunday, he took his place as regular as clockwork in the very front pew. After the tedious negotiations over costs were completed, he told me with a wry grin, "You surely made it hard for me. That fourteen men building committee you appointed were like the Pentagon to deal with! Questions about this item or questions about that sum of money!" St. Columba's ventured out in true missionary fashion. Later, it established another new congregation a few miles away at Thousand Oaks, called St. Patrick's after another Celtic saint. All this came about in the first instance because a few Christian parents wanted a good Sunday School for their children and were prepared to work for it!

Funeral Hall Church

CamarilloCaptain Ray Lewis holds a Sunday service amid the caskets in the funeral hall in Camarillo. From the problems of Lemon Grove, I was glad to hurry on to my next assignment in Camarillo, a luscious green valley surrounded by rugged mountains. The area had taken its name from the family who had been given the original land grant after the State of Mexico had been incorporated into the Union. God's blessing on the Funeral Hall Church in Camarillo gave me much satisfaction in later years. This was despite the enormous portrait of myself the congregation had specially commissioned and insisted on hanging in their church porch! When I first arrived, however, we had no Church building at all. A small group of parents who were keen to have a Sunday School for their children met in someone's home.

Empty Beer Bottles

Camarillo LogoOur very first gathering in Camarillo took place in a little rented building beside the railway tracks. These premises, however, were far from ideal. When we arrived for our Sunday School, empty beer bottles littered the hall from the previous night's merrymaking. The stink of sour beer and cigarette smoke met our nostrils as we opened the door. Simultaneously, the parents' service met in the only other place available in town, the Funeral Hall. We were undeterred by the thought of a corpse "on view" there any other day. Our men carted in a portable communion table early every Sunday morning and set up for our service. As the weeks passed, we arrived by car sooner and sooner, bringing a pulpit and even kneelers with us in my car. We got more brazen with Mr. Griffin, the owner. I would ask him Saturday mornings "Is the coast clear?" "Sure," he would reply with a laugh, "you can bring round your church now!"

Camarillo Funeral Hall

Funeral ParlourWe initially held our Sunday service in the Camarillo funeral hall and then in the Women's Thursday Club in Somis California. Few members of the congregation refused to attend our morning service because it was in the Camarillo Funeral Hall. On the other hand, there was one lady who came to the service and seeing no coffin at the front rose to leave. A concerned usher gently stopped her at the door. "Aren't you able to stay for the service this morning, Madam?" he quietly asked. Her indignant reply, as she turned away, rocked him on his heels."I only like funerals!" she scowled. Despite this one quaint objector, our little funeral hall service grew apace, and the Bishop named us St. Columba's, after the great missionary saint. So many new people brought behavioral problems. An older member admonished a newly confirmed one. "If you're an Episcopalian, act like one!" After two full years of steady growth, our service was beginning to need larger premises. Mr. Griffin informed us that he was about to carpet the funeral hall and we had to move elsewhere, at least for a short time. We searched in vain for an alternative. Then, we heard that the "Women's Thursday Club" in the nearby town of Somis could help. Strange as it may seem, this move to their purpose-built hall increased the size of our congregation. Seeing our happy crowd going in to worship Sunday by Sunday, the people of Somis were themselves encouraged to come along and become members too. We had held our services in a beer parlor, the Camarillo funeral hall chapel of rest and now the Women's Thursday Club of another town. In less than a year, we were soon to begin work on our very own permanent church building.

Camarillo Ground Breaking

Orange GroveOur quest at the Camarillo groundbreaking was to find clear and clean water to provide for our new church. It was raining heavily as the limousines arrived for the Camarillo groundbreaking ceremony. Framed by orange and grapefruit groves, our four acres seemed like God's plot, despite the driving rain. The boys in the choir in red cassocks and white surplices grimly hung onto their soggy prayer books in the downpour. The coloring oozed from the red covers between their fingers. As the polished ceremonial spade cut into the sodden earth to mark the groundbreaking, we all sensed the thrill of a new era in the life of the church. It seemed to slice all too easily, however the bank would not send out any money for the superstructure of the church until we could prove there was water on the site. Our first task after the groundbreaking was the drilling of a well to prove a plentiful supply of clean potable water. This was our foremost urgent priority. Day after day, the compressed air machine hissed and hammered relentlessly at the hard rock. Each anxious week passed without any news of a find. Then, at last, a tell-tale dark brown slither of sand appeared on the tempered steel drilling bit and as we watched, Camarillo clear water bubbled and gushed refreshingly forth. We were able to go ahead!

"Columba's Church Camarillo"
by Ron Meacock © 2019

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