First Presbyterian Church

of Hemet
                           A History of First Presbyterian Church of Hemet 
  
     The First Presbyterian Church of Hemet began in December 1908 when 27 persons met together for worship in the Assembly Hall of old Hemet High School. A year later the property where the church building now stands was purchased. The first pastor was installed in September of 1909. From its early beginnings, the men and women of the congregation have willingly stepped forward to provide leadership and financial support for mission and ministry to grow a new church. And the church did grow to the point where buildings to accommodate children and youth were needed. In 1911 new ground was broken to build a Sunday School building. In 1944 a building was moved onto the property to be used as a Youth Center. A chapel, formerly the Christian Science Church, was placed on the property after the old Sunday School building was torn down. This allowed First Presbyterian Church to occupy the first block of frontage on Kimball Avenue from Buena Vista to Franklin Avenue. By the time of the 50th Anniversary of the church, 1959, the congregation had grown considerably in membership. The old Youth Center was demolished and the old chapel building was sold to Ramona Players and moved off the property to a new location near the Ramona Bowl, where it continues to be in use for theater productions. The current Fellowship Hall, Fireside Room and the two-story Christian Education and Church Office building were then constructed. Worship Services were held in Fellowship Hall so that the old “Brown Church”, as it was called, could be demolished, paving the way for a beautiful new, modern sanctuary to be built. It was painted white and soon became known as “The White Church”.  The final dedication was celebrated in 1974. 
  
     Between the years from 1909 to 2013 fifteen installed pastors have served this faithful congregation. They have come from diverse educational backgrounds and many states. God has richly blessed the congregation with ordained men and women who have led God’s people with strong faith and devoted convictions. Recent pastors have included Dr. Donald W. Liden, 1963-1988, Dr. Donald Owens, 1991-2003, and Dr. Larry Thorson, 2005-2013. These three pastors experienced many changes in congregational life and they left memorable legacies with the church congregation. There are current church members who have provided outstanding leadership for First Presbyterian Church and have worked alongside each of these cherished pastors. They tell wonderful stories about church life under these three pastoral ministries. 
The membership of the congregation had grown to about 1400 during Dr. Liden’s tenure. Building was begun for a new Family Life Center, across the street from the existing church buildings. This building was dedicated in 1984. Members of Riverside Presbytery were present for the glorious celebration. From the very beginning, …programs for children, young adults and families were very important. A new organ was purchased for the sanctuary. It was necessary to increase staff to accommodate the needs of the congregation. Presbyterian Women’s Circles and Mariner groups actively supported the congregation’s mission and ministry providing leadership and financial assistance whenever and wherever it was needed.   
  
     When Dr. Liden retired, Dr. Owens accepted the call to become pastor at the church. In the next twelve years many changes occurred, which influenced the size of church membership. Members were getting older. Some were homebound and unable to participate in church activities. Some moved away to be nearer their families; some died. Hemet historically has drawn many retirees to the community; the size of the congregation for Sunday Worship fluxuated seasonally. It would increase when the “Snowbirds” flew in to town during winter months and decrease when they flew away during the warmer months of the year. This pattern continues today. Membership enrollment decreased considerably for one reason or another. Dr. Owens made great effort to stabilize the decline in membership and to begin a pattern of growth. Though the decline slowed during that time, it never reversed.  Dr. Owens was instrumental in assisting in the redesign of the church sanctuary and in encouraging the congregation to make greater use of the Family Life Center for church and community activities. A Growth Through Music Program was begun by choir members to encourage youth to sing with the Chancel Choir. A Gymnastics Program was started and an After-School Tutoring Program was offered.  Multiple community groups were invited to use different spaces of the church facilities for meetings, for worship, for recreation and various events. Presbyterian Women began to hold rummage sales twice a year to benefit the community. A Feeding Program for the city’s homeless persons was initiated. In 2003, Dr. Owens left the church to accept a new call in the Synod of Southern Kansas. With his departure Dr. Thorson was later installed as the 15th pastor at First Presbyterian Church in 2005. For eight years he worked tirelessly to rebuild the church’s ministry among young families and with youth. He encouraged mission trips and work parties to interest hands-on participation in local church, presbytery and community life. His pastoral ministry came to a close in 2013 when he was called to serve a congregation in Northern CA. 
  
     During each transitional period First Presbyterian Church has been led by Interim Ministry Pastors who have provided spiritual nourishment and skilled leadership for the congregation. At the present time, Dr. Sylvia Karcher is the Interim Minister. She formerly served this congregation, in the 1990s, as Associate Minister of Children, Youth and Family Ministries, working with Dr. Owens, who was then Head of Staff. Dr. Karcher was warmly welcomed back by members of the congregation, to provide her expertise and pastoral skills for ministry in this current transition period.

            
   
                                                                       Pastoral History
                                                   First Presbyterian Church of Hemet (FPC) 
  
1909 – 1911 
Reverend James W. Mount was installed as the first pastor. He witnessed the ground-breaking for a new church building in 1910. 
  
1912 
John Rayen Welch attended Western Theological Seminary and Auburn Theological Seminary 
  
1913 
Albert E. Weston 
  
1914 - 1916 
Robert B. McCain attended McCormick Theological Seminary 
  
1917 – 1920 
Drummond McCunn attended Wesleyan Theological College 
  
1921 – 1922 
Harry Hillard 
  
1922 – 1930 
Elias Jones attended Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Chicago. He began his pastorate at the church after graduation and ordination in 1922. 
  
1930 – 1939 
Rev. Ray. A. Weld attended Moody Bible Institute and McCormick Theological Seminary. Fifteen years later he began his pastorate at First Presbyterian Church. He and his wife lived in a home next to the church property. In 1939 the Welds moved from the community. The church purchased their home for use as the church manse. 
  
1940 – 1942 
Earl B. Robertson attended Presbyterian Theological  
Seminary in Chicago and Omaha Seminary. 
  
1942 – 1947 
Woodrow J. Wilson attended San Francisco Theological Seminary.   
  
1948 – 1953 
Leonard R. Patton attended Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Omaha, Nebraska.   
  
1954 – 1963 
Richard G. Elzinga  attended Western Theological Seminary prior to beginning his pastoral ministry at the church. During his tenure, in 1961, the congregation received a loan to complete the cost of building several new structures to provide more worship and meeting space, Sunday School rooms and a church office.   A few years later a new worship center (sanctuary) was added on to those buildings.  
  
1963 – 1988 
Dr. Donald Liden received his theological training at North Park in Chicago. He was ordained on June 20, 1953. He arrived in Hemet in 1963 to begin ministry at the church. Dr. Liden was an excellent preacher and Bible Study leader.  Church membership grew rapidly and more staff was needed to provide for congregational care. The Reverend Roger Hillis was hired as Associate Pastor to assist Dr. Liden. Reverend Charlie Pridmore was then employed to work with Christian Education and Family Ministry. Dr. Liden retired in 1988. When Rev. Hillis retired Dr. Gerald Lyman was hired as Associate Pastor to address the needs of Older Adults. He began the Stephen Ministry Program and led special study programs, such as World Religions and PW Bible Studies.

1991 – 2003
Dr. Donald Owens received his theological training at Central Baptist Seminary and St. Paul School of Theology.  He was the next installed pastor and Head of Staff.  He provided pastoral leadership for twelve years, during a time when many changes in membership and leadership occurred. Dr. Sylvia Karcher became Associate Pastor in charge of Family Ministries and Christian Education. Dr. Owens enjoyed being engaged in community activities.  He involved the congregation in local mission efforts, such as building homes for Habitat for Humanity, providing food at Valley Restart for Hemet’s Homeless Families, assisting at the Community Pantry and supporting the SOS project (Save Our Station) to restore the historic Hemet train depot. He encouraged church leaders to become involved in presbytery leadership responsibilities.  Dr. Owens sought to stabilize membership and to prepare lay leadership for church ministry and community outreach. When Dr. Karcher received a call to become pastor at Redlands Community Church in 1997, FPC hired the Rev. Scott Stolte to assist Dr. Owens in the areas of Family Ministries and Christian Education.   In 1995 Dr. Lyman retired. In 2003 Dr. Owens accepted a new call with the Synod of Southern Kansas, and he and his wife moved from the Hemet area.

2005 – 2014 Dr. Larry Thorson attended Fuller Seminary, Union Theological Seminary, and Columbia Seminary and was ordained in 1983. He became the fifteenth minister to provide pastoral leadership at First Presbyterian Church. For eight years Dr. Thorson worked tirelessly to rebuild the church’s ministry to young families and youth. He ended his ministry at FPC in March 2014 when he left for Northern California to begin pastoral responsibilities with a new congregation. 
 
2014 – Present In September 2014, Dr. Sylvia Karcher returned as Interim Pastor assisting the congregation as it entered a period of self-evaluation and preparation for a new minister.