Mary A. Castillo
This Sunday, the United Methodist Church of Laguna Beach will
commemorate 50 years of “Bringing Love to Life,” not only to the
community, but also to the world.
“To me the celebration is a reflection of the past year and a
continuation of what we celebrate every day,” said Aerin Bender-Stone,
director of the church’s Family and Youth Ministry since 1999.
As she looks back over the church’s history, Senior Pastor Ginny
Wheeler, who first joined the congregation as associate pastor in 1999,
points to the sense of freedom as a key component to its success.
“Whoever walks into the door is welcome,” she said. “Whether you’re
male, female, gay, straight, young or old, we welcome all who want to be
in service to God.”
From the very beginning in 1952, when the Rev. Charles Clark led
service in the main gallery of the Laguna Beach Art Gallery, the church
has been noted for its active missionary work -- so much so that in the
time of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, the church nearly
lost its land donation from the Esslinger family after it had been
accused of “leftist leanings.”
When the church was completed in November 1953, Sunday attendance was
Today, the church has about 500 members with an equal population of
adults, children and seniors.
Kevin Yates, former Parent Teacher Assn. president at Top of the World
Elementary School and director of the children’s ministry since 1991,
counts the intergenerational programs as one of the church’s greatest
“The church has provided our daughter with an extended family,” Yates
He pointed to programs such as mystery friends and the adult speaker’s
Sunday that supports the church’s initiative to encourage adults
“We want our kids to be connected to a wider community and as we look
into the future we will continue to expand those opportunities,” he said.
During its history, the church has been instrumental in fostering
service organizations such as CSP Youth Shelter, Brandy’s Friends,
Friendship Shelter and Meals on Wheels.
The church also supports a council on older adults ministry that
started in 1998 and a youth and family program that began in 1997.
When asked her vision for the next fifty years, Wheeler took a moment.
“I’d like this to be a community of grace that defines for the culture
what it means to be a child of God,” she said. “And to lead society down
a path to peace and wholeness with the rest of the world.”