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

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, and our gang of eager volunteers, primarily ranchers and engineers, shoveled concrete for the sidewalks. One worker, a tall, straight ex-Army Colonel from South Dakota named Joe Pirsch, worked exceptionally hard, and sometime later, I was enthusiastically commending him for his efforts. Drawing me to one side, he quietly scolded me. "I didn't do this for self-praise. I fought alongside some good men in the last war. This work has been my offering to God, and I am thankful for my friends' memory! Many of them perished, but God spared me!"

The Pentagon

PentagonGod blessed others during St. Columba's project too. The contractor, whose name was Enoch, became one of our backbone church members. Every Sunday, he regularly took his place in the very front pew. After we had completed the tedious negotiations over costs, he told 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 ventured out in true missionary fashion. Later, it established another new congregation a few miles away at Thousand Oaks, St. Patrick's, after another Celtic saint. In the first instance, the vision came about because a few Christian parents wanted a good Sunday School for their children and worked for it!

Funeral Hall Church

CamarilloIn Camarillo's funeral hall, Captain Lewis held a Sunday service amid the caskets. From the problems of Lemon Grove, he was glad to hurry on to his next assignment. Camarillo was 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 gave Ray much satisfaction in later years. Despite the enormous portrait of himself, the congregation specially commissioned and insisted on hanging on their church porch! When he first arrived, however, he had 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 took place in a tiny 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 in my vehicle. We got bolder with Mr. Griffin, the owner. I asked 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, one lady who came to the service and saw 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 gently asked. Her angry 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!"

Somis Thursday Club

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 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 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.

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 choir boys 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 church's life. It seemed to slice all too easily. However, the bank would not send any money for the church superstructure until we could prove water on the site. After the groundbreaking, our first task was to drill a well to establish a plentiful supply of clean potable water. It 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 could go ahead!

"Columba's Church Camarillo"
by Ron Meacock © 2021

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