The founding of our church began with an organizational meeting held in July 1957 to establish a Methodist Church in the Ojai Valley. The first worship service was held in the Ojai Arts Center and 42 Charter members joined the church on Palm Sunday 1958. Choosing the theme “Let It Begin With Me”, between 1959 and 1961 church members successfully raised sufficient funds to buy property and construct and furnish a new sanctuary building on it. A 3.3 acre parcel of land along Maricopa Highway was purchased and a ground breaking ceremony for the combination Sanctuary and Fellowship Hall building occurred in June of 1959. Shortly thereafter the Parsonage was purchased on nearby Vallerio Avenue. The church with its beautiful sanctuary windows looking out towards the mountains behind Ojai was completed in April of 1960 and the first services were held there on Easter Sunday. The church grew rapidly and by October 1963 ground was broken for the Sunday School building.
Throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s, the church continued to grow and took on a strong leadership role in many ecumenical, social and civic issues, including offering the use of the church grounds and facilities for various causes supporting the health and welfare of the Ojai Valley. Besides annual speakers series on a variety of topics, the church helped Vietnamese orphans who were refugees from the war in Vietnam in 1968, held a “sit-in” protest on the church lawn with students from Nordhoff High School to honor seven men from Ojai who had been killed in the Vietnam War in 1969 and by 1971 had located a commodity food distribution program once a week on church property for low income people in our area, the first of its kind in the Ojai Valley. Previously, the only locations for food distribution were in Santa Paula and Ventura. These types of events combined with the regular church calendar of activities including crafts fairs, rummage sales, BBQ’s, camping trips, youth group meetings and special holiday events guaranteed that Ojai United Methodist Church was a very busy place every week of the year.
Then, on December 2, 1971, tragedy struck when a fire destroyed the Church Sanctuary, including a special memorial Bible and church organ given at the church’s founding. The cause was determined to be arson when a match was lit to a pile of cardboard boxes at one side of the church. With great faith and resiliency, the church members once again worked hard to raise the money necessary to rebuild the sanctuary. The greater Ojai community also supported their fundraising efforts, including purchasing loaves of bread for $1 each at a local grocery store. The funds and rebuilding efforts were completed in record time and the rebuilt church Sanctuary was completed and consecrated in October 1972. The now charred wooden cross that had been in the old Sanctuary was rescued and is displayed on the wall outside of the church offices and is still used in Easter services.
Despite that setback, Ojai United Methodist Church continued to thrive and meet the needs of its parishioners and the local community. In April 1974, a ground breaking took place for the new Fellowship Hall. Several years later it was dedicated as Peterson Fellowship Hall in honor of Geri and Jerry Peterson both of whom over the years had volunteered many hours of their time for a wide variety of church events and activities
In the mid-1980’s the nuclear arms race was in full swing threatening world destruction. Members of the church joined the Beyond War national movement to resist escalation of weapons. The Peace Pole was a religious complement with the world’s languages in prayer -” may peace prevail upon the earth.”
The Peace Pole was dedicated in the OUMC sanctuary wherein church members lifted the prayer for peace each time we entered the church. Peace Poles have been dedicated worldwide with the power of prayer contributing to nuclear arms treaties. World peace and inner peace remain fundamental to our contemporary faith. The Peace Pole was relocated to the Rose Garden, just off the patio next to Peterson Hall, where it can be seen by the many people who enter through the patio going into the Sanctuary, the Church Offices, or Peterson Hall.
In 1983 Noah’s Ark Preschool and Childcare center opened its doors and was so successful that a second education building was constructed and dedicated in 1990 to meet the growing demand for quality childcare. Also in 1990 our church was instrumental in chartering and developing the Ojai Valley Family Shelter to assist homeless families and individuals and which we still support as one of our ministries.
As just the latest step in our congregation’s commitment to social justice issues, in December of 2016 the church voted to become a member of the Reconciling Ministries Network which was founded in 1984. In February 2017 we officially joined the over 700 reconciling ministry churches across the United States. The organization is dedicated to the inclusion of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities in both the policy and practices of the United Methodist Church. The Network states that their purpose is to “equip and mobilize United Methodists to resist evil, injustice and oppression as we seek justice for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.” This commitment is stated again in our church’s mission and vision statement which says:
“Reflecting God’s Love: Joyfully living out the love of Jesus Christ by worshipping together, serving God, caring for one another, and celebrating the diversity of God’s beloved children as a faith community who welcomes persons without regard to age, race, culture, color, sexual orientation, gender identity, family configuration, religious background, economic status, and developmental or physical ability.”
In 2018 Ojai United Methodist Church is pleased to be celebrating its 60th anniversary and is looking forward to many more years of service to our congregation and the greater Ojai community.