The History of the First United Methodist Church of San Rafael
The first verifiable Methodist preaching in Marin County was in 1851. Back then, services were held in the old adobe County Court House, a building owned by Timateo Murphy which was used for many sorts of public gatherings, secular and sacred, and seat of the government which existed at that time. Because a permanent Methodist Class was organized in 1859, this date is used as the founding of the church. A minister was assigned to the Marin Circuit, and he preached at San Rafael and many other places in the county, including San Quentin Prison and Village.
In 1871, a small church was built across from the Roman Catholic mission chapel at Fifth and A Streets, and 3 years later a parsonage was built on Fourth Street between D and E. Feeling isolated as other denominations built churches in the Fourth and E Street area of downtown San Rafael, in 1881 the Methodist church was put on rollers and moved next door to the parsonage. In 1893 the church was remodeled with an entry tower and they hung the large bell, now in the garden, in the tower.
Population growth during World War II led to the decision to sell their buildings and move out of the downtown area. The current lot was purchased and the church sold in June 1946, but post-war shortages prevented them from starting to build. They met in hired halls, and purchased a parsonage on Fifth and K Street in August of 1946.
Groundbreaking for the current church building was in August, 1948. It was built with a combination of paid contractor and volunteer labor, and due to financial problems the building period extended into 1950. Easter morning, 1950, was the first service in the new building, with a temporary roof, folding chairs and only one stained glass window, the rose window over the chancel. Work continued, and pews were finally purchased and installed in 1953. A few years later, the temporary roof was replaced with mission-style tile as planned in the original design. The 100th anniversary of the church was celebrated with great fanfare in October 1959 with a visit from the Bishop, and many other activities.
In that same year (1959), the church bought a house across Greenfield Avenue to use for Sunday school space. The house was soon torn down and Wesley Hall, dedicated in 1963, was built on the property. Late in 1961, before the building was completed, Aldersgate UMC in Terra Linda opened and absorbed many of the families with young children, thereby removing most of the need for a separate Sunday school building. Upon consideration, they decided to rent space in Wesley Hall to community non-profit organizations, and the first tenant came in 1971.
The remaining set of stained glass windows was commissioned, installed and consecrated in 1978, along with consecration of the Wesley Building following the payoff of its debt. The brick rampway at the entrance of the church was completed in 1982. Although major and minor maintenance projects have been completed since 1982, no fundamental changes were made until the Head Start program leased a portion of Wesley Hall. At that time, the Wesley Hall parking lot was mostly eliminated and remade as a park/playground for Head Start and the neighborhood. Called Friendship Park and dedicated in 2003, the space was developed with involvement from neighborhood families, church families, building users, and cooperation from the City of San Rafael.