Community United Methodist Church
According to the Conference Journal, the Valley Springs Methodist Episcopal Church was organized in 1884 in the Stockton District of the California Conference. In 1885 Valley Springs and West Point were yoked; Mokelumne Hill was also served by this charge.
Soon after the founding, there were appointments in West Point, Campo Seco and Evergreen and Sunday school and church services were held in each community.
By 1889 lots had been secured for both a church and a parsonage. A one room school building was moved from Burson and served as the church.
Construction on the original parsonage began in 1889 and was finished in July 1891 on one of the three lots located on Myrtle Street at Daphne. Later this building was used as a Friendship Center for Sunday school and other group meetings. Many delicious dinners were cooked and served here. Historic Milton church was torn down in the early 20’s and their steeple and bell were moved to the church in Valley Springs.
A new modern parsonage was built just north of this in 1950 during the ministry of Mr. Converse and the first parsonages were rented at various times when there were non-resident student ministers, or when the church was yoked with a larger church and served by a non-resident minister.
Perry Hall, an educational unit and fellowship hall was constructed by Dutch Schwoerer during the pastorate of Harriett Louise Perry, 1957-1961, and named in her honor.
The old school building was used until 1967 when a small but beautiful sanctuary was erected on the same lot as the old church. Ed Manherz was the minister at that time. Some years later a beautiful stained glass window was installed. The idea was started by Guilda Duke, and the first two panels were dedicated in memory of her sister, Marnie Woodworth, who had always wanted the church to have a stained glass window. Other panels were completed in 1981 in memory of other members of the church. In 1984 as a protection against an accident or possible vandalism, a heavy plexi-glass covering was installed. The large painting hanging in Perry Hall was painted and donated by Marnie Woodworth.
The report of the Rev. S. Belknap in 1887 said: “This work is 36 miles in extent and requires much labor to be at every place on time and to visit all the members at their homes.” In 1887, of course, the only means of travel was by carriage and sometimes on foot. J.T. Pliler, long-time resident of Valley Springs, recalls that when he came here in 1903, the Rev. Mr. Switherbank held the charge at Mokelumne Hill and here, walking up and back every Sunday.
In the report of March, 1890, the Rev. J. S. Burchard wrote: “All pastoral work had been done that could be reasonably expected. No winter since ’61 and ’62 has been so bad for rain, snow and bad roads.”
By 1891 there was only one Sunday school in the county at Valley Springs, but church services were held in the circuit of Brushville, Jenny Lind, Burson, Wallace and Valley Springs.
There were years of great hardship with many handicaps to overcome, the church records show; and attendance small, but throughout each minister’s report ran a thread of “great faith and courage” with “hope for a better day.”
From 1950 to 1979 Emily Swinborne worked in the Sunday school, assisted by Betty Maul. It was quite a struggle at times, with periods of growth and then a slump. Now, in 1984 after a period of no Sunday School, it is starting again with Joyce Kreis, Cindy Leeman, Margaret Roberts, Dennis & Melva Stonecygher as teachers. They are enthusiastic about serving the children of Valley Springs.
With the coming of the College of the Pacific to Stockton, it was thr practice to send out student ministers for the Sunday services, here and at San Andreas. This added a new interest, and the students looked forward to coming, too, for it meant spending a day with the Plilers and sharing one of Mrs. Pliler’s wonderful Sunday dinners.
For several years during the 1930’s it is recorded that morning services were suspended during the summer months and the congregation assembled in the evenings in a grove of oak trees on the property of J.T. Pliler for worship services which were preceded by Sunday School. This area was set up with a platform, electric lights, housing for the piano, chairs, and tables for Sunday school.
During that time also, Easter sunrise services were held on top of Table Mountain, one and one half miles northeast of Valley Springs, where a large cross had been erected. People came from as far as Stockton and Lodi, and attendance was between one hundred twenty-five and one hundred fifty. Following the service, a breakfast was served on the mountainside. This Easter service had continued throughout the years. Of course, rain would cancel the service because no one was able to get to the cross if it was too muddy. In 1984 Rev. Ross invited several other Valley Springs ministers to participate, so the custom goes on.
From its beginning with original members and founders of the church which include F.S. Johnson, Mrs. Una Johnson, Mrs. Mary E. O’Neal, John Sloan, Miss Ettie Lillie, Orange Lillie and Mrs. Lucy M. Lillie, Valley Springs has remained a small church with a fluctuating attendance of less than twelve to fifty or sixty persons. The J.T. and L. Pliler families have been credited with keeping it alive through many “down” times.
Modern Circuit Riders
Through the years Valley Springs has intermittently been a single charge or has been yoked with several different area charges, including West Point, Farmington and Ione. The ministers serving the charge have also volunteered and answered invitations to conduct services in most of the small area communities at one time or another, especially in the earlier days.
In June 1947, after the war years, Rev. William Converse was assigned to the pastorate. At that time he had only five active members, Mr. & Mrs. A.M. DeYoung, Mr. & Mrs. J.T. Pliler and Mrs. Ellen Bertie. Rev. Converse arranged a visitation campaign with the help of ministers from Lafayette, Walnut Creek and Stockton. One minister and one layman visited homes in the area and in three nights, found 65 persons who wished to support the church. Interest continued to grow and membership reached close to 100 in 1947! There was a full group of services including preparatory classes, Young people’s meetings, church services, and Sunday school with three teachers: Mrs. Norman Fraser, Mrs. Nelle Nunez and Mrs. Robert Buck.
From 1973 to 1979 it was yoked with Linden with the minister and his wife, Mel & Char Barnes living in Linden. Even though they were twenty miles away, Mel was never too busy to come when called. He spent much of his time in Valley Springs. Char would often come and sing. She brought her message in song. Since their retirement, Char and Mel tour the country with “Gospel Music Concerts”, bringing their music to Valley Springs when they are near the area. Sunday school was held on Thursday afternoons and often as many as 90 attended. Mel had a real desire to spread the gospel to all ages and was a great inspiration to all who knew him. During his service, Reverend Barnes secured the help of the Covenant Church in Oakland for Vacation Bible School, and teams from this church have continued to come each year since to put on an interesting and active week for the children. During this week the team lives with a Valley Springs church family, and are often invited to other homes for dinner.
Reverend Soward followed Mel Barnes for a short time, living in Linden. He and Mrs. Soward had some health problems so were unable to spend extra time in Valley Springs. It was then that we decided to try to get a retired minister for a full time pastor to live in Valley Springs.
Around 1943, when the church needed revitalization, 5 or 6 women, including Emily Swinborne, Bessie Parrish, Nellie Messing and Doris DeYoung met and decided to form the Women’s Society of Christian Service. They studied the bible, did service projects, and made money for the church. Sometimes they met twice a month – once to study, and another time socially. They would put on dinners for the Farm Bureau, Garden Club, Historical Society, etc. Over the years they have made school lunches, had annual bazaars, and made lap robes for the Mark Twain Convalescent home in San Andreas. Their particular project became the parsonage. They helped build, equip and later made improvements and repairs. At times they would pay the utilities and taxes. Lately they financed new cabinets, dishes in the kitchen and helped finance renovation of the bathroom designed and carried out by Francis Foucher.
Retired Ministers back for more service
Bill Corlett, an already retired minister, came in 1979. Bill and Rowena were our first husband and wife team to live in Valley Springs for many years. Bill was a minister of the street as well as in the pulpit. He walked daily around town and shook hands with everyone, always with a little story to tell. Rowena was a very gracious lady, and was loved by all who knew her. Bill suffered a heart attack while serving. His memorial Service will be remembered by all who attended. It was “love and humor” rather than sadness. Rowena stood tall, straight and serene and was an inspiration to all.
Vernon Mayhall, a past minister of the Assembly of God Church served for two years in addition to his job as bus driver in the Calaveras schools and his interest in youth activities.
Past, Present and Future
Continuous services have been held in Valley Springs Church since the year of its founding and church records have been faithfully kept.
It is the only United Methodist Church in Calaveras County and draws from several neighboring towns and communities. Rancho Calaveras, a developing foothill community of several hundred people just a few miles from town, is a potential source for real and lasting growth.
The spirit of optimism, hope and faith is high. Forward is our goal
This was written by Rowena Corlett and June Gardner for the 100th birthday celebration in 1984
Taken from church records, information collected and articles in the Stockton Record Saturday, Dec. 4, 1948.