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Stone Church History
The Beginning: 1944 - 1947
In April 1944 the National Missions Committee of San Jose Presbytery recommended that the Presbyterian Church in the San Jose area should be expanded by the opening of work in the Willow Glen area. Thus, on the evening of May 5, 1944, the Rev. S. C. Potter, chairman of the National Missions Committee in the San Francisco Presbytery and Dr. and Mrs. Charles F. Ensign, a retired Presbyterian minister and his wife living in Willow Glen, met at the home of the Rev. and Mrs. William C. Spaan, also retired and living in Willow Glen, for a prayer service - and the Willow Glen Church was born.
Dr. Ensign was asked to take charge. He secured the use of the Christian Assembly chapel at 1565 Lincoln Avenue for the first service. On Sunday afternoon, June 4, at 3:00 pm, Dr. Albert H. Saunders, pastor of San Jose First Presbyterian Church, preached the first sermon. Twenty-three persons were present and the offering was $7.50. Services and prayer meetings were continued until August 27.
During the summer the trustees of the San Jose Presbytery investigated property. In October three lots were bought at the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Clark Way for $3,125. By October 19, the building fund totaled $13.
The project, however, did not continue without opposition. A petition signed by sixty-six property owners objecting to the erection of a church was filed in the City Clerk's office. Along with the usual arguments that property values would depreciate, and that parking of cars and singing of hymns would disturb sleep on Sunday mornings and nights, one property owner rebelled at the idea of having to watch funerals being held right across the street. The City Council turned down the petition, and the City Planning Commission found nothing in the zoning ordinance that prohibited the construction of a church at the location.
In October of the next year (1945), the Rev. Thomas H. Simpson, then an industrial chaplain in San Francisco, was appointed to the field at a salary of $250 per month. The Board of National Missions agreed to assist with loans provided there existed no segregation stipulation in the vicinity. This was to be a mission church until a congregation of sufficient size could underwrite self support. Plans were made for a meeting on Monday evening, November 5, to which all interested in learning about the new church were invited. To show the church's willingness to cooperate with the community, Rev. Simpson promised that, as long as he should remain, no funeral services would be held at the church nor would there be a bell to disturb the neighbors.
On March 22, 1946, the first prayer meeting was held at the home of Mrs. Esther Brown. On April 7, the first business meeting took place in the Masonic Hall and on April 14 a worship service was held in the St. Francis Episcopal Chapel, 1139 Minnesota Avenue. On April 21 an Easter service was held in the old Willow Glen Theater.
By June 7, the church site had been dedicated, and on June 9 ground was broken for the first unit, a chapel which was to cost $22,000. The contractor's office, 10 by 20 feet, built on the property, Mr. Simpson immediately dubbed "The Carpenter's Shop." Here among the saws, planes, squares and spirit levels, the first services on the grounds took place September 22. Two weeks later on October 6, World Wide Communion services were held and on October 27 the chapel cornerstone was laid. (See photos: Laying of the cornerstone and Building the chapel, both on this page.)
On March 2, 1947, Stone Church of Willow Glen was officially organized with seventy-five charter members. The chapel, later designated as the Simpson Memorial Chapel, was dedicated May 25, 1947 and the Rev. T. H. Simpson was installed as the first pastor on November 3. It is noted that the original plans called for Stone Church to have a Lincoln Avenue address, but as the chapel fronted on Clark Way, the U. S. Post Office mandated a Clark Way address. Long before the chapel was completed, it was necessary for the congregation to begin services inside its unfinished walls as attendance far exceeded the capacity of the Carpenter Shop. However, all were reluctant to leave this place to which they had become so attached - for here all had felt the power and the presence of Almighty God. At the completion of the chapel the shop was completely refinished and redecorated; it then served as classroom, nursery, choir room and committee room. When it was necessary to remove it from the grounds, a communion service was held on Sunday, June 26, 1955, with only charter members attending.