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Christ Episcopal Church looks back on a century of community giving

Photo By: Courtesy of Christ Episcopal Church
Photo Courtesy Of Christ Episcopal Church

Christ Episcopal Church member and teacher Caroline Price explores the outdoors with preschoolers at the church’s Ventana School, which encourages hands-on, investigative learning.

If you linger too long outside the church doors, the solid peal of the 1913 bell will nearly knock you off your feet. It signals the start of the main service Sundays at Christ Episcopal Church as it has for 100 years – minus a brief period in storage.

Except for the bell, little about the 1960s-era buildings on the hilly rise at 1040 Border Road suggests Christ Episcopal’s prominence as the first church built Los Altos.

“Not only are we the first church, but from the beginning our parishioners have been deeply involved and committed to the community,” said Lauren Arnold, a church member who has researched the topic.

It is a history that she has come to regard as dovetailing that of the town.

Early history

A small group of local residents began holding services in a building on Main Street in 1913.

Within a year, the congregation purchased two lots on Orange Avenue and built Los Altos’ first church. Rose Shoup, wife of Paul Shoup, one of Los Altos’ most prominent early figures, was an active member. She loaned her piano, brought by wagon, for the ceremony celebrating the laying of the cornerstone.

The original buildings, styled like an English country church, would later be sold (they now belong to Foothills Congregational Church), but not until the church had spent nearly 50 years near the village along the Peninsula Railway’s “Blossom Line.”

As the town grew, the church welcomed its first full-time priest in 1941. During World War II, the congregation became immersed in meeting local needs and reaching out to the larger world, sending care packages to war-torn Europe.

As orchards gave way to suburban housing in the 1950s, the church outgrew its original location and members raised funds to purchase 7 acres on Border Road. Services were held in the parish hall until the sanctuary was dedicated in 1968. They hung the original bell in the new location.

“At the same time members were building the new church, they were also involved in founding El Camino Hospital,” Arnold said. “People very much involved with the church were also involved in leadership in the area.”

Church members became leaders in the Community Services Agency and in the founding of Music for Minors and the Los Altos Hills Pathways System. They fostered a spirit of volunteerism that remains a part of Los Altos today.

Far from being isolated on the hill, the church saw itself as part of a world that extended far beyond – to a sister parish in Chile and an orphanage in Peru.

A sense of renewal

Called as rector in 2001, the Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young and his family brought a sense of youthful renewal.

In 2005, the church realized its long-held dream of sponsoring a school when it opened Ventana School, a progressive preschool now expanding to sixth grade. The church recently began a ministry to Fisher House and the Polytrauma Rehabilitation Unit at the Palo Alto Veterans Administration Hospital.

To celebrate 100 years, the church has scheduled a gala April 13 featuring special music, a sit-down dinner and a look back through the years.

One hundred years after the church’s first worship service, Young characterized it as a moment to think of those who came before.

“We depend so much on those founders who created an extraordinary community,” he said. “It is our joy to carry forward this vision into a new century.”

For more information, visit www.ccla.us.

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