The past 100 years have seen Turlock grow from a small agricultural community to a city with almost 70,000 residents. Those same 100 years have seen Turlock churches evolve from small outposts that farmers traveled to from miles away by horse and buggy, to large campuses with modern video and audio equipment. One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is the dedication that Turlock residents show to their places of worship and spiritual development.
The First Presbyterian Church of Turlock will celebrate 100 years of history and worship this September. The church was founded in 1909 as the Pioneer Presbyterian Church. Ivan Lowe was born and baptized at that church in 1916 and remains a member of the First Presbyterian Church to this day. The 92-year-old retired deacon and elder said that the Pioneer church building was out in the country because it was hard for congregants to travel the five or six miles into town. Lowe said that when the horse and buggy went out of style the Pioneer Church disbanded and moved into town.
“We pulled out and never looked back,” Lowe joked.
In 1911, the church moved to the corner of Crane and Palm in Turlock and was renamed the First Presbyterian Church of Turlock. In 1950, the building was heavily remodeled. And in 1976, the church moved to its current location on Berkeley Avenue. The church campus started with just a pool, and grew to include three main buildings.
David Zollinger, elder and clerk of sessions for the church, said that it is somewhat unique for a church to stay united for so long these days. He said that although members disagree at times, they stay united in Christ and under the Presbyterian theology.
“We’re willing to accept change at this time to reach the goals we would like to achieve,” Zollinger said.
Change seems to be the word of the day at the First Presbyterian Church of Turlock. With the addition of their new pastor, Craig Wright, comes new programs within the church. Wright said that he wants to continue the great traditions of the church, but he also wants to be relevant as a church in the 21st century. He said that it is significant that he came to the church at the centennial.
“It’s a wonderful time to look back on the things of the past and then look forward to the next 100 years,” Wright said.
The First Presbyterian Church is involved in several ongoing ministry projects. Dorris Fiorini, a member of the church missions committee, said that the church is involved in local and international mission projects. Locally, First Presbyterian is involved in Daily Bread, a project that feeds the less fortunate of Turlock. Members of the church have teamed up with other local congregations to make and deliver sandwiches around town. The First Presbyterian Church has been a part of this ongoing project since 1992.
Fiorini said that she and several other members of the church have also traveled to Turkey on mission projects. She remembers the horrible conditions of the public orphanage where she volunteered for a week in Turkey.
Since the 1960s, the First Presbyterian Church has been making an impact on the lives of senior citizens in the Turlock area. Each month, members of the church go to Elness Convalescent Hospital and throw a party for all residents who have had birthdays that month. The birthday parties are one of the longest running public outreach projects that the church is involved in.
Over the next 100 years the First Presbyterian Church of Turlock hopes to expand and improve its facilities. There are plans to extend the social meeting hall on the campus. The church also has plans to expand its public outreach and worship programs, especially among teenagers and college students.
Elder Tom Hoy said the goal is to build the junior high program. He said that junior high is a critical time in a young person’s religious education, and also a time when members start to drift away from the church. College is another critical time when students need a home away from home, Hoy believes.
The First Presbyterian Church currently offers free meals to college students on the last Tuesday of every night. Hoy said that there is no religious education aspect to the program, and that students are welcome to come and enjoy each other’s company. According to Hoy, the church hopes to expand its college ministry by contacting Presbyterian churches throughout the state of California that have members who might be coming to California State University, Stanislaus. The goal is to invite college students into the church before they move to Turlock.
On Sept. 12 and 13 the church will be holding their formal centennial celebration with a dance and a chicken barbecue. With all of the changes taking place within the First Presbyterian Church of Turlock, congregants are taking the opportunity to pause and reflect over the past 100 years, and also to look to the future.
To contact Andrea Goodwin, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 634-9141 ext. 2003.