Reflections by Mr. David Crist

(Delivered on May 14, 2023)

Introduction by Pastor Donald:

How privileged we are as a church to have one of its original members still with us today.  David’s life and the history of this beloved church go hand in hand as you will hear that his mother was pregnant with him when his family journeyed here to begin this church.  I think you will be as fascinated by the origins of this church as I was in hearing David tell about how it began and what courage and fortitude his father and mother and all those who led this church had in envisioning the future we enjoy now.

Reflections by David Crist:

Anniversaries give us the chance to look back and better understand where we came from.  With that in mind reflecting on the founding of San Marino Congregational Church can give us a start on understanding our 75 years as we approach that anniversary at the end of October.

The early days of the church were nothing if not remarkable.  It is a story that stirs a mixture of awe and astonishment and pride.

On August 30,1948, when my father arrived here in the middle of a blistering heat wave having driven alone across the country from Rhode Island, no one could have guessed what would happen here a short 2 months later.  There was no one to greet him.  There was no congregation. The church building that the denomination had funded in hope that a congregation might gather was not yet  finished.  In fact, the contractor had stopped work because the Conference was so far behind in its payments.  The parsonage was empty,  without landscaping everything looked bleak and barren.

Yet on October 31 there was standing room only at the first service.  After people filled the sanctuary and overflowed into adjacent rooms, some people went home and returned “quickly with camp stools and antique chairs” or so the L.A. Times reported.  In his sermon my father declared,

“There is a new creation, unlike anything most of us have known before.  Suddenly a dream is realized, in a brave, cruel, weary world, God has made his mark again.  Humbly, bravely, hopefully, we begin a new venture of faith.”

A meeting was called for November 7 to vote on organizing a new church.  In the congregational way the 70 people who gathered were to covenant together as a church and authorized an Advisory Committee to designate interim officers until the first annual meeting the following May.

The first Communion service took place on November 21st the Sunday before Thanksgiving and 106 people joined the church.  106 members and the church was less than a month old.  By the time the Charter membership closed the following April , the number of members had grown to 190.

What are we to make of this extraordinary start, and what meaning does it hold for us today?

As my brother reviewed the  account, he found himself focusing on relationships and promises.

He goes on to say that he believes God calls us into relationships, a relationship with God and a relationship with each other.  In our liberal Protestant way, we feel these relationships are at the heart of our religion and were at the heart of my fathers thelogy.  We don’t feel that faith is a state of mind, or a set of rules or a sudden rebirth.  After all, we are told by Jesus about the two great commandments, to love your God with all your heart and mind and soul, and to love your neighbor as yourself. These are relationships and expressions of our being, and our lifelong work is to explore and understand and strengthen these relationships.  We don’t always get them right, but we are called to keep working on them.

Over time, these relationships come to define who we are at our core, we don’t know what’s going to happen as these relationships play out, but we attempt to live out the promise.

With that in mind let’s look at some of the promises and expressions of relationship in the story of the church.

What were some of the promises?

*  There was the promise that 70 people made when they covenanted together as a church on November 7.

*  There was the promise that Oneonta Church in South Pasadena made when it sounded out the need for a church in this area.

*  There was the promise made by our denomination when they acquired land and took out a mortgage to build the first building.

*  There was the promise that the first 190 Charter members made when they joined the church in the early months.

*  And to push it back further there was the promise that Christ made to be present when 2 or 3 gather in his name.

Let’s start with what took place 85 years ago now, with my father’s ordination at Central Congregational Church in Providence, Rhode Island.  Responding to God’s call to relationship, he made a promise to serve God and God’s people.

Little did he know that 10 years later he would find himself leading the first service of the San Marino Congregational Church.  But if we are anchored in relationships and wrap them in promises, we can find ourselves in the most surprising places.

So, my father went out on his personal limb and left Rhode Island for California. He knew something about Southern California from his time as chaplain at the Navy prison in San Pedro, but he knew little about San Marino. He was taking a risk.

But it was equally true that the Southern California Council of Churches and the Board of Home Missions was also taking a risk.  Conference Minister Nelson Dreier interviewed my father in June 1948 at the National Conference in Oberlin, Ohio. Presumably he read a file that stated my father had graduated from Yale Divinity School and had served as Assistant Minister at Central Church in Providence.  Also, that he joined the Navy as a Chaplin during World War II and had served in the Pacific and that he returned to Central Church in Providence as their Associate Minister.  Presumably there were letters of recommendation.   But what did he really know?

After all, they had called another minister 3 years earlier, who resigned after several months without a single service being held, so that had not worked out.

But my father accepted the challenge and set to work.  What attributes did he bring? We can make some inferences.

*  He was young and vigorous.  He was 34 years old; a few weeks shy of his 35th  birthday.

*  He had certainly done well in seminary.  When the Rev. Dr. Arthur Bradford turned to Yale for a new assistant minister in 1938, he didn’t approach them only as the senior minister of a large church, but as a trustee of Yale.  So, I suspect my father had shown enough promise for the faculty to be confident in recommending him.

* He was ready for a change. He had served for several years at Central Congregational Church both before and after the war and had filled in for the senior Minister during extended illnesses. He wanted something fresh.

*  He was accustomed to leadership. After all, he had been an officer in the Navy rising to the rank of Lieutenant Commander.

* He had a measure of compassion, and he didn’t define his neighbor narrowly. Some of this developed during his time as Chaplain in the Navy Brig, where we know from letters he wrote, that he had real sympathy for the sailors who had made  mistakes, for the ones who couldn’t read or write well, and for men whose desires for other men were considered crimes.

* He had confidence, but he wasn’t the sort of man who leads with his ego.

My father always said that attitude is more important than aptitude, for him the glass was always half full.  I don’t think he saw an empty church with no members and a large debt to the denomination.  I suspect he focused instead on the fact that there were soon people showing interest, and that there was a building almost completed that they could meet in. In September he rang doorbells up and down these local streets and contacted interested people and by October 21 some people were willing to meet informally and appoint the three-person advisory committee.

There were many good people willing to help.  In naming a few let me mention my mother first.  She was only 28 when she followed my father across the country by train with my 2-year-old brother Bob and several months pregnant  with me.  Her key relationships were always with her husband and her children and in part to make those relationships work she made sure that every Saturday evening for 12 years that the parsonage was ready to receive the next morning babies in the bedrooms and toddlers in the living room.

There was Stan and Ede Dicken who had read a newspaper report of a new minister, saw a car with Rhode Island license plates and stopped and introduced themselves and Stan Dicken became a member of that 3 person advisory committee.

There was John Morrisroe, who brought his extraordinary business skills to the frustrating task of gaining City Planning Commission approval, through three variance plans for the building of this sanctuary.

There was Dick Biles, Pat Bell’s father who was chairman of the building committee when this sanctuary was dedicated on October 9, 1960 and later became the first Moderator of the church.

There was Lillian Obrien who was the first preschool director and, as we know, would be followed by the wonderful leadership of Connie and Janet years later.

So, we look back at the story of the church, marvel at the early energy and success.  But what really strikes me and what really speaks to us is the record of a people entering into relationships and following through on promises.  It is no accident that the church started with a covenant that read “for the glory of God, for the service of our fellowmen, for the mutual assistance in our Christian life.” As a church now, we continue to renew that covenant and to live out its promise.


We are continuing to reflect upon our history as a church in this 75th Anniversary Year through the sharing of memories centered around our five full-time ministers. We will also be making mention of the Interim Ministers who bridged the gaps between these full- time ministers.

Rev. Andy Craig was the first Interim Minister of our church,  serving from November 1, 1977 through January 31, 1978, between my father, Rev. Bertrand Crist’s ministry (August 30, 1948 through October 31, 1977), and the start of Jim Manley’s Ministry.  Rev. Craig was the go-to clergy for interim ministry at that time.  He resided at Pilgrim Place in Claremont, a retirement community for ministers and was very dependable in the interim role.

We will take the next four or so weeks to either share a quick memory of Rev. Jim Manley in church or you are encouraged to write a brief memory for an upcoming issue of About our Folx.  Rev. Manley served the church from February 1, 1978 through June 19, 1988.  As most of us know, Rev. Manley was and is a very gifted song writer and we still sing his songs in church today, including “Spirit, Spirit of Gentleness” which we just sang as part of our service of worship for Pentecost Sunday on May 28 .

Rev. Manley and his wife Judy, like Andy Craig and then my parents moved to Pilgrim Place after their retirement and continue to reside there now.

-David Crist

Rev. Jim Manley
The Rev. Jim Manley came to our church in February of 1978. My daughter Megan was born in March of 1978 and one of Rev. Manley’s first ceremonies was the baptism of Megan where he sang a beautiful baptism song that he had written (I wish I could remember what song that was).  Even though Jim’s own children were older, Jim really embraced the young group of children that was emerging in the church, including Scott and Liz Cameron’s children, Diane and David, and Rev. Marcia and John Hoffman’s children, Vince and Francine, among others.  As this group of children became old enough to sit on the steps in front of the altar for children’s stories, they became a highlight of the service and these were proud moments for us parents.  During those years, Jim worked his sermon theme around the character of Chicken Little in these stories.  He later got this same group of youngsters up to Pilgrim Pines where  a real love of camp was established that continued for many of them right up through their high school years and, in some cases, beyond even that.

We have been so blessed as a church to receive several large gifts that have allowed us to establish an endowment that has been a Godsend for our church.  During Rev. Jim Manley’s ministry, we received a gift of $900,000 from the Norma Brown estate that allowed the church and Rev. Manley to be focused on his wonderful worship skills and the growing of the church.  I can’t remember the exact year in which we received the gift, but some of our most financially skilled members established endowment guidelines that allowed us to set up the endowment and follow those guidelines religiously for years to come.

And there is a story behind this gift.  During my father’s (Rev. Bert Crist) ministry, Norma would call the house constantly and just appreciated any opportunity to talk.  Because of the frequency of the calls, as teenage boys, my brothers and I would often take those calls as my father was many times not at the house being he was so very busy with many church meetings.  When Norma passed away, she left $300,000 to the church but her will was written in such a way that this bequest would only become available when her caretaker passed away.  We had lawyers participating in the life of the church at that time who tried to help the church obtain the bequest,  but they were unable to get a court to agree that we would provide for the caretaker in return for access to the gift.  The caretaker was of hearty stock and lived years beyond the time of the gift, so my father’s ministry never benefitted from it.  The gift had grown to $900,000 by the time it was received during Rev. Manley’s ministry.  A true blessing for the church.

– David Crist

The Rev. Jim Manley finished his much-appreciated ministry with the church in June of 1988 followed by the capable interim ministry of the Rev. Bee Neufeld.  A search committee was established to select and make a recommendation for the next full-time minister but found itself struggling to find the right candidate.  As months passed, they eventually settled on their recommendation to call the Rev. Steven Boyd.  Rev. Boyd’s family was a big asset in his hiring and included wife Roberta, who had a dynamic personality and his two very talented children, Stephanie and Jared.  Stephanie and Jared were the same age as many of the children in the congregation, including my daughter Megan, as well as Vince and Francine Hoffman and Diane and David Cameron among a number of others.

Rev. Boyd established his ministry with us, but many church members found themselves not responding to his worship style and meetings soon became filled with tension and conflict.  Church leadership reached out to our UCC conference office seeking guidance but received none.

Eventually in late 1994, senior leadership (some who had been with the church from the beginning) met and asked Scott Cameron and me to meet with Rev. Boyd and indicate that the church desired a change in leadership while providing some conditions that would help the Boyd’s make a transition. That meeting with Rev. Boyd was a difficult but honest conversation and, to a certain extent, Rev. Boyd seemed accepting.  The church wanted Jared to finish his senior year at San Marino High School, so the family was granted the freedom to stay in the parsonage until Jared’s graduation.

Roberta was not as accepting of the decision and a handful of conference representatives weren’t either, so the ensuing months were difficult for everyone.  However, it should be said that Rev. Boyd went on to find a real niche and success in Military Chaplaincy and is currently very active in our conference as well as the national setting of the UCC.

With every set back there has been a silver lining for the church and into this void stepped church member and ordained minister Rev. Susan Garett who provided a compassionate and healing ministry over the next eight months, followed by a very skilled Rev. John Wolfersberger, a former conference minister, who continued to lead us over the next couple of years.

Next, the Rev. Marcia Hoffman

-David Crist

We welcomed back one of our own when Rev. Marcia Hoffman was selected as our minister, serving the church from February, 1997 to October, 2004.  Rev. Marcia was widely accepted by the congregation and provided a very successful ministry of seven years with us.

Here are some thoughts that I have, and I would hope there are others from the congregation who would like to contribute their memories of Rev. Marcia’s ministry, either in written form or sharing during the announcements over the next three weeks.  Rev. Marcia’s singular accomplishment in my mind was the patience and communication she had with the congregation in moving us toward becoming an Open and Affirming (ONA) designated church.  She took the time to speak individually with so many of us and helped us toward an understanding of the importance of becoming designated as an ONA church.

Other thoughts.

*  She reestablished a strong working relationship with the conference office.

*  She was very skilled at working with our senior members and her pastoral care was deeply appreciated.

*  She brought along her CPA husband,  John Hoffman, and an investment committee was established during her ministry which included Liz Cameron and others who had some real expertise in the stock market.  As you may remember, this kind of expertise was really needed during the early 2000’s when the U.S. economy took a downturn.

*  The miracle from heaven occurred when, during Rev. Marcia’s ministry, we received an endowment gift of one million dollars from the Seaman estate in 2003.  The irony here was that nobody knew who Mrs. Seaman was but we sure appreciated the gift.

-David Crist

The Ministry of Reverend Art Cribbs (April 1, 2007-July 31, 2011)

And the Beginning of Reverend Donald Shenk’s Ministry (August 1, 2011-present)

Rev. Art CribbsThe search committee made a bold hire of Rev. Arthur Cribbs in the spring of 2007, with the intent to see if it was possible to grow and diversify the congregation within a conservative city like San Marino with a minister who had numerous contacts throughout the Los Angeles County area beyond.  Art brought with him his delightful wife, Kana and three of his exceptional children, Mika, Camille and Arthur Jr.

Here are three immediate reactions that I have:

  • I am still in awe of Rev. Cribbs ability to deliver a powerful sermon without a written text.
  • Without question, the church experienced its best and most important mission outreach during Rev. Cribb’s ministry.  The church took on the task of providing meals on Tuesday nights once a month at the Pasadena Bad Weather Shelter run by Friends in Deed.  The church had the right people at the right age and availability to make this project possible.  We had people that could really cook, a wonderful group of people who could assemble meals, others that were comfortable serving at a check in table, as well as those healthy enough to set up cots and a group of wonderful teenagers in the Cribbs and Maldonado families who could get up on the stage at the shelter and sort bags of personal items from the night before alphabetically and then distribute them.  For a number of years, we were a very dependable church for the Bad Weather Shelter.
  • The dramatic downturn in the economy impacted our church finances significantly during Rev. Cribbs tenure. It became a real impediment in his ability to implement the vision he had for this church and he made the decision to leave and become the CEO of a foundation in Los Angeles.

In what may have been the lowest moment in my time with the church we met with the conference minister about where we would go as a church.  We all knew that Donald Shenk had become a major fixture in the church as the full-time Office and Building Manager and the Director of our “StillSpeaking Theater.”  But we knew that we couldn’t possibly keep Donald and hire a new full-time minister.  To the rescue came Carol Barrett and Susan Jakubowski who encouraged Donald to consider becoming a “Licensed Minister” under conference guidelines. Donald, I think not only surprised himself as well as us with an incredible ability to preach and interpret the scriptures.

With the sale of the parsonage in 2014, the church gained a financial security it had never known and it has allowed us to stay focused on meaningful worship.

-David Crist