Our History - The first church in Three Rivers
The roots of our church lie in the life and work of Mrs. Christine Alles, lovingly known as “Grandma Alles.” Born in Germany in 1842, she and her husband Conrad and children came to the South Fork in 1887. In the nineties, she began a Sunday School in her home, the seed from which our church grew. She died in 1938 at the age of 96 and is memorialized in our sanctuary by the lighted picture of “Christ in Gethsemane,” a gift of the Alles family.
In 1927, the Rev. E. M. Keeler, Sunday School Missionary of the Presbyterian Board of National Missions, made his first contact with this community. He encouraged the Sunday School work, which experienced remarkable growth in the thirties under the leadership of Mrs. W. G. (Bunny) Attwell, leading to a keen desire for the organization of a church.
The Presbytery of San Joaquin responded to a petition from certain residents of the community. There were 39 signatures including three Trustees.
A committee, which included Dr. W.G. Attwell, worked on this, and culminated on November 5, 1939, when a hundred people met in the school and the church was organized with 45 communicant members.
Community pitches in to build its first church
Construction of new buildings usually requires a committee. To this end, the Building Committee for the Presbyterian Church was formed in 1939 as follows:
Dolph Beam, chairman; Walter Attwell, finance; Thomas Evans and Simon Petersen, construction; Fred Walker and James G. Smith, landscaping; and Harold Fowler, architect.
The beautiful knoll for its site was given by Dan and Margaret Alles and their son-in-law and daughter, Dolph and Beulah Beam.
The Three Rivers Presbyterian Church is so much a part of the community because of what members of the community have put into it in the way of labor and gifts. The altar, pulpit, and lectern of native redwood were made by Maurice S. Macy with some assistance from Hugh Parks.
Gerald Ray and Howard Kunkle made the redwood cross for the altar. Philip Alles sawed every board that went into the church at Atwell's Mill (Mineral King area), preparing Walter T. Well's donation of lumber who also gave all the hardware.
The Building Committee secured permission from the National Park Service to cut logs on park land and haul them in. In addition to the lumber, Walt Wells agreed to provide part of the hauling and donated $750 to help pay for the millwork.
The stained glass window above the altar was given in honor of Rev. E.M. Keeler by Dr. and Mrs. A.B. Keeler. Due to the amount of labor and materials donated, the cash cost was only $5,000, with half of that being covered by an interest-free loan from the National Board of Missions. The church's Dorcas Circle repaid this loan in 10 years by organizing fundraising dinners and bazaars.
On November 5, 1939, 45 were received into membership at a service conducted by six neighboring ministers. At this service, Nadine Post, infant great-granddaughter of Christina Alles, was baptized.
The women of the church served the first dinner in the church's "social hall," which at the time was a big hole in the ground with a bonfire around which the diners gathered.
The new church building, which was dedicated on November 2, 1941.
The church building originally had a bell tower on the roof with a cross on top. The bell has since disappeared, and no one seems to know what happened to it.
Stained glass adornments
Stained glass windows were added later. Two additional stained glass windows, one on each side of the original center window, were made by Thelma Alles Crain (1912-2009). The colorful windows each contain a trio of local wildflowers: poppy, satin bell, and popcornflower.
These stained glass windows are a blessing to the congregation and the sanctuary. They have been lovingly cared for with periodic removal and cleaning by a church team.
Three stained glass windows in the peaked roof area were donated ca. 1987 by Jean Darsey (1921-2007), in memory of her husband, Cayce, and son Kevin. The elongated flowers fit beautifully into the size and shape of the openings.
In 1992, a large project was undertaken when a work crew of church members installed two additional stained glass windows at each end of the building and two more at the front door. The two end windows were donated by Isabelle Elmer in memory of her husband, Harold. On the left side is "Tree of Life"; on the right is "Living Water."
The two stained glass windows on each side of the front door were donated by Shirley Lilly. The left side is in memory of her husband, Dr. Terry E. Lilly, Jr. The right side is installed and is now in memory of Shirley Lilly.
The design is a stylized rainbow with doves arching over the door. These windows were dedicated on Sunday, November 4, 1992, during an outdoor gathering of the congregation following the worship service.
Out with the old, in with the new
The little church on the knoll began to experience growing pains. In addition to a burgeoning membership roll, the many large, successfully functioning organized groups were growing too and running out of space at the church to host their events and gatherings.
In addition, the kitchen in Mission Hall (the sanctuary basement) was inadequate as was the Hall itself. In spite of restoration, renovation, and many upgrades over the previous half-century it became time to make the decision whether the church would stay as-is or increase in size to meet the needs of its members and community.
After much discussion and ideas being considered, the church board felt the need to take a giant leap forward to secure the future of the church. The plan was to raze the old manse, or parsonage, and replace it with a new, state-of-the-art multipurpose building.
The ground-breaking ceremony was held in August 1987. The entire church body attended this joyous outdoor event.
It addition to Pastor Keith Mitchell, wielding shovels sprayed with gold paint that day were Velma Robinson, Jean Darsey, Fern Moser, Renee Harrison, Beulah Beam and others.
There was a huge amount of work ahead for those who were committed to seeing the church improvements through to completion. A new dream was about to begin, and there was a small amount of trepidation but a larger amount of faith as to its successful outcome.
The Juanita Pusateri Memorial Steeple - Dedicated July 11, 1976
See pictures in the sidebar gallery
1988: Church dedicates new building
Shortly after the groundbreaking ceremony of the new multipurpose building complete demolition of the Presbyterian church's manse was begun. This modest wood home adjacent to the sanctuary had served many pastors of the church over the years.
After debris was removed, the site was readied for serious building plans to be implemented. Soon, all the equipment of construction began to appear on the site and in six months' time, the long-awaited Day of Dedication was realized.
This celebration began in the sanctuary as part of the 10:30 a.m. worship service on Sunday, January 10, 1988. Sharing in the worship were former pastor interns: Reverends Phil Moran, Chris Saldine, and Jeff Sievert.
Representing the larger Presbyterian Church was Rev. Robert S. Graham, synod executive and head of the Sierra Mission Area Office in Sacramento.
At an appropriate time, the choir led the congregation and guests to the great hall of the new building. Presenting of the key and opening of the door took place, and the dedication service ended there.
Following a gala reception, all in attendance were invited to explore the new church-school rooms, the conference room, and church office.
April 1989 – Heart Wall to be dedicated
Long-awaited, long planned for, the “Heart Wall” will be dedicated this coming Sunday, April 2, 1989, at the morning worship service. The Heart Wall will be located at the entrance to the Fellowship Hall. Designed and crafted by Elizabeth Heinzen, the stained glass heart will be set in oak framing (by Ray Heinzen). At its base will be a glass enclosed repository for the Memorial Book which will contain the names of all those who have made possible the new building and the refurbishing of the Sanctuary.
This Heart Wall, developed by the Capital Development Committee, has been carried out under the leadership of Bill Clark. It will both enhance the entrance to the Fellowship Hall as well as honor and recognize the many members and friends whose work and generous giving have made possible such advances in the development of this church.
(From the Good News Newsletter – April 1989, Vol. 12, No. 4 Issue)
Information about the Community Presbyterian Church's history was made possible by Jim Wells and Shirley Lilly. Jim Wells gifted the church important early historic documents found among his late grandfather's, Walter T. Wells, effects. It is from the yellowing and faded printed correspondences that the articles Shirley Lilly wrote and submitted to the Kaweah Commonwealth to commemorate the church's 75th Anniversary in 2014 were compiled and the church's history preserved.
"Sharing, Celebrating & Living Christ's Love"
Founded in 1939, we are a small, friendly church in the community of Three Rivers, CA, (population approx. 2000) nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada near the entrance to Sequoia National Park.
We are a member church of the Presbytery of San Joaquin, the Synod of the Pacific, and of the Presbyterian Church (USA).