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50 years of working for the community

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.

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“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

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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

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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

about 30.

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

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Elementary School and director of the children’s ministry since 1991,

counts the intergenerational programs as one of the church’s greatest

strengths.

“The church has provided our daughter with an extended family,” Yates

said.

He pointed to programs such as mystery friends and the adult speaker’s

Sunday that supports the church’s initiative to encourage adults

mentoring children.

“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.”


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