A Brief History of the San Luis Obispo United Methodist Church
by the Rev. Stewart Kreiss
Methodism established a presence in San Luis Obispo County shortly after the conclusion of the Civil War, and it is generally believed that the San Luis Obispo Methodist Church was the first Protestant Church organized along the Central Coast. Mrs. Margaret Foreman nurtured Sunday School classes in an adobe building across the street from the Old Mission. A most energetic individual, she hosted a supper to raise money for songbooks. The endeavor proved to be so successful that her husband, one of the United States surveyors engaged in the official survey of the County, proposed that some of the money be set aside for a church building. She enthusiastically agreed and then challenged him to pledge an amount to the church. Mr. Forman promised $500. Together they approached a Judge William Beebee, who likewise committed $500.
About this time the Reverend Alden B. Spooner arrived on scene. Born in Maine in 1824, and lacking formal education, he enlisted in the Navy at the age of 14, assigned to the frigate “Constitution.” Eventually, he settled in Ohio and began studies for the ministry and ordination in the Methodist Church. Moving to California, he and his wife, Roxanna served congregations in Crescent City, Portland, Oregon, and Rohnerville before coming 7 to San Luis Obispo County, believing the local climate might be beneficial for the health of one of his daughters. Though he and his family resided in Morro Bay, he was appointed pastor by the California Conference to the newly established San Luis congregation on September 22, 1867 and continued in this capacity until 1869. Members raised $596.73 for pastoral support the first year.
On December 8, 1867, first members, Henry and Sarah Woodard were recorded on the church rolls, and by autumn of 1868 the membership had grown to 66 members and 35 probationers. Rev. Spooner also offered pastoral care for residents in Cayucos, Olmsted Settlement, and San Simeon. Sadly, on the night of February 5, 1877, during an Arctic storm, the sometimes harbor pilot attempted to locate the steamship Mary Taylor so as to guide her into treacherous Morro Bay, but his small boat capsized. He was washed out to sea, and his body was never recovered.
Beginning with the Rev. A. P. Hendon in December, 1869, the first of five church sanctuaries was built near the present intersection of Higuera and March Streets. The interior of this church was divided by a center aisle – the men worshipping on one side and the women on the other. Lighting was provided by a large chandelier holding candles.
Rev. B. W. Rusk succeeded Pastor Bland in 1871. It was during his pastorate that a new site was purchased on what is now Garden Street between Marsh and Higuera Streets. The old sanctuary was demolished and the lumber used to build a new, more appealing sanctuary. A stately steeple was added which held the original bell purchased by the ladies of the church. The church was dedicated on June 21, 1874 during the pastorate of Rev. D. H. Haskins. An offering of $1,020 was received, which permitted the congregation to retire all indebtedness on the new church.
When the Rev. H. S. Munger was appointed in 1908, his first self-appointed task was to identify a new location for the church. Largely through his determined efforts the site of the old Overland stage depot was purchased, and a new church facility was built on the southwest corner of Morro and Pacific Streets at a cost of $10,800.00. The site is now occupied by the US Post Office parking garage.
In 1952, by virtue of continued growth of the church and a population boom in San Luis Obispo, members debated the issue of whether to expand the Morro and Pacific Streets property or to move to a new location. In 1953, a decision was reached to relocate to a four- acre tract on Fredericks Street at a purchase price of $30,000.00. Groundbreaking for construction of a fourth sanctuary in the church’s history (a community landmark overlooking the 101 Freeway and city) took place on July 16, 1961, and initial services were held on Easter Sunday, April 22, 1962. It was home to the worshipping community until it was totally destroyed by an arsonist in a pre-dawn fire on Easter Sunday, 2001.