Back in the 1880s, a small group of well-bred British families moved into the San Luis Rey Valley with dreams of living off the land in a place far removed from harsh English winters.
They brought with them riding gear, cricket bats, tennis rackets and tea-time finery--but almost no knowledge about how to survive as farmers.
They didn’t last very long in that rural setting, but the tiny Episcopal church and the cemetery they built there endure to this day.
And today, about 40 to 50 of the settlers’ descendants will return to the All Saints Church to commemorate the structure’s 100th anniversary.
What brings people, some from as far away as Canada and the United Arab Emirates, back to a church that has no heat or electricity and faces a substantial fire risk anytime candles are lighted inside?
“It’s hard to put into words,” said Carolyn Groschup, treasurer of a group that has worked to maintain the building and grounds for 45 years. “There’s just a special feeling out there. It’s just to perpetuate the place. The descendants don’t want to forget their ancestors.”
For some, those ancestors are very unforgettable.
The settlers, a very prim and proper group, regarded the valley near Oceanside as “a land of milk and honey,” said Edith Swaim, whose grandfather helped build the church.
“They loved their sports and their horses and their other English things,” Swaim said. “It was a real adventure for them.”
But the pioneer life style was full of unexpected surprises for the group, said Lionel Van Deerlin, a former U.S. Congressman whose grandfather was also among the first settlers.
“My grandfather was no more fitted for farming than I am,” said Van Deerlin, who is scheduled to perform a Scripture reading at today’s service. “It defies imagination what got into them. They had no idea what they were getting into.”
After holding church services in their homes and in an Oceanside paint store, the settlers began to pine for a church like those found in their homeland, Swaim said.
One of the settlers, Alfred Morgan, wrote to his old church in Ealing, England, requesting money to build the church, Groschup said.
That church, known as St. Savior’s Church, responded by sending the settlers 20 guineas--an amount equal to roughly $500, Groschup said. It wasn’t until 1947, after St. Savior’s was hit during a World War II bombing raid, that the All Saints parishioners repaid their debt to the English church, Groschup said.
Swaim’s grandfather, Francis Reynolds, and others worked hard to complete the church, which is on a hillside next to the Mission San Luis Rey, in time for its first service on Christmas Day, 1890, Swaim said.
The finished product was not fancy.
The Gothic-style building was constructed entirely of redwood with stained cathedral glass for the windows. Seating capacity was, and is, only about 40.
Van Deerlin remembered how small the church seemed when he escorted his daughter up the aisle at her wedding 10 years ago.
“As I recall, it took about three steps and we were up there,” Van Deerlin said.
For about 20 years, families from the countryside attended All Saints Church regularly, then most of them abandoned the building and moved into Oceanside.
Then in 1945, a group of the settlers’ relatives formed the All Saints Cemetery Assn. to preserve the property. That association, which has about 200 members, still organizes services twice each year--on Memorial Day and on the Saturday closest to All Saints Day, Groschup said.
Today’s ceremony will have special meaning for retired Rev. William Aaron Driver and the Rt. Rev. Robert Wolterstorff, retired bishop of the San Diego Diocese, both of whom will participate in the service. Both men plan to have their final resting places in All Saints Cemetery.
“My wife and I are going to be buried there when the time comes,” Wolterstorff said. “It’s the only Episcopal church as such in the diocese of San Diego.”
Although All Saints is small, many memories reside there, Driver said. And that makes it a place that’s likely to survive for many years to come, Driver said.
“Some people don’t want their loved ones’ ashes put out to sea or thrown from an airplane--they want them in a place,” Driver said. “That’s a universal human trait, don’t you think?”