Columba's Church Camarillo
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11. Columba's Church Camarillo

An Offering to God

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

Dealing with the Pentagon

PentagonOthers are blessed during the St. Columba's project too. The contractor, whose name is Enoch, becomes one of our backbone members at the church. Every Sunday, he regularly takes his place in the very front pew. After we had completed the tedious negotiations over costs, he tells me with a wry grin, "You surely made it hard for me. That fourteen men building committee you appointed was like dealing with the Pentagon! There were always questions about this item or about that sum of money!" St. Columba's ventures out in true missionary fashion. Later, it establishes another new congregation a few miles away at Thousand Oaks, called St. Patrick's after another Celtic saint. All this comes about in the first instance because a few Christian parents want a good Sunday School for their children and are prepared to work for it!

Funeral Hall Church

CamarilloIn the funeral hall in Camarillo, Captain Ray Lewis holds a Sunday service amid the caskets. From the problems of Lemon Grove, he is glad to hurry on to his next assignment. Camarillo is a luscious green valley surrounded by rugged mountains. The Camarillo area had taken its name from the family with the original land grant after Mexico incorporated into the Union. God's blessing on the Funeral Hall Church in Camarillo gives Captain Ray much satisfaction in later years. Despite the enormous portrait of himself, the congregation specially commissioned and insisted on hanging in their church porch! When he first arrives, however, he has no Church building at all. A small group of parents keen to have a Sunday School for their children met in someone's home.

Empty Beer Bottles

Camarillo LogoOur very first gathering in Camarillo takes place in a little rented building beside the railway tracks. These premises, however, are far from ideal. When we arrive for our Sunday School, empty beer bottles litter the hall from the previous night's merrymaking. The stink of sour beer and cigarette smoke meets our nostrils as we open the door. Simultaneously, the parents' service meets in the only other place available in town, the Funeral Hall. We are undeterred by the thought of a corpse "on view" there any other day. Our men cart in a portable communion table early every Sunday morning and set up for our service. As the weeks pass, we arrive by car sooner and sooner, bringing a pulpit and even kneelers in my vehicle. We get more brazen with Mr. Griffin, the owner. I 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 hold our Sunday service in the Camarillo funeral hall and then in the Women's Thursday Club in Somis California. Few members of the congregation refuse to attend our morning service because it is in the Camarillo Funeral Hall. On the other hand, one lady comes to the service and sees no coffin at the front rose to leave. A concerned usher gently stops her at the door. "Aren't you able to stay for the service this morning, Madam?" he quietly asks. Her angry reply, as she turns away, rocks him on his heels."I only like funerals!" she scowled. Despite this one quaint objector, our little funeral hall service grows apace, and the Bishop names us St. Columba's, after the great missionary saint. So many new people bring behavioral problems. An older member admonishes a newly confirmed one. "If you're an Episcopalian, act like one!" After two full years of steady growth, our service is beginning to need larger premises. Mr. Griffin informs us that he is about to carpet the funeral hall, and we have to move elsewhere, at least for a short time. We search in vain for an alternative. Then, we hear that the "Women's Thursday Club" in the nearby 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 are themselves encouraged to come along and become members too. We 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 are soon to begin work on our very own permanent church building.

Camarillo Ground Breaking

Orange GroveOur quest at the Camarillo groundbreaking is to find clear and clean water to provide for our new church. It is raining heavily as the limousines arrive 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 oozes from the red covers between their fingers. As the polished ceremonial spade cuts into the sodden earth to mark the groundbreaking, we all sense the thrill of a new era in the life of the church. It seems to slice all too easily. However, the bank would not send any money for the church superstructure until we can prove there is water on the site. Our first task after the groundbreaking is to drill a well to establish a plentiful supply of clean potable water, which is 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 appears on the tempered steel drilling bit, and as we watch, Camarillo transparent water bubbles and gushes refreshingly forth. We can go ahead!

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

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