El Montecito Presbyterian Church is a congregation which seeks to glorify God the Father, Maker of Heaven and Earth, to affirm the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s only divine Son, our Lord, and to acknowledge the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.
The history of El Montecito Presbyterian Church began in 1870, when a few families banded together and conducted Sunday School and church services every two weeks at Montecito Union School.
On November 13, 1887, twenty-five charter members officially organized the First Presbyterian Church of Montecito. Those original founders met, prayed a lot, and contributed their tithes, offerings, time, and talents.
The church grew and the congregation constructed a spacious new building at 1455 East Valley Road at a cost of $2,000. The building, described as a “typical country church,” was dedicated December 30 1888. The church’s bell was purchased in 1893 from a firm in Ohio, which guaranteed the bell’s workmanship for five years.
The old wooden church was replaced in 1932 by a sanctuary that served the congregation for 73 years. The new church was built during the Great Depression at a cost of $50,000. The cornerstone of the new building was a memorial for the Reverend Arthur Grant Evans, who led the church during its early years. A new cross was positioned atop the church tower in 1966.
To accommodate the church’s growing ministries for youth and children, a Christian Education Building was erected in 1957. The Reverend Paul Gammons, who began his 41-year pastorate in 1937, presided at the groundbreaking for the new building.
A project to expand the church’s facilities, including the addition of a Parish Hall, new classrooms and offices, and an extensive remodeling and enlargement of the sanctuary, was initiated in 1990 under Dr. Lyle Hillegas, who served as Pastor from 1978 through 1994.
The project was accomplished in two phases: Phase One more than doubled the number of classrooms and provided the new Parish Hall with seating for 400. It also included new facilities for the junior and senior high youth programs, a new central plaza, an elevator linking the new three-story building, a children’s playground and a modern church kitchen.
The second phase, dubbed the “Nehemiah Project,” was initiated following the calling of Dr. Harold Bussell as the new Senior Pastor in 1996. This phase resulted in the extensive remodeling and expansion of the sanctuary now destined to take its place among the great and distinct worship centers.
Honoring and maintaining the original 1932 ambience, transepts were added to either side creating a Cruciform style. The sanctuary building itself now mirrors the cross. The main body of the church – the nave, constitutes the upright, and the transept forms the great crossbeam. The cruciform reminds us that we must never forget what God has done on our behalf. Much effort was made in blending the new construction with the old.
Completion of the $4.2 million project was the result of the prayers, dedication, and sacrificial giving of the entire church family. Members set out intentionally to create a space where one would be hushed and find reverence. Everything in the sanctuary is intended to produce a tone of transcendent harmony so that the presence of Christ will be discernable in the sanctuary.
After spending several years focused on improving the church’s physical facility, the church Session began a strategic planning process in 2008 to reemphasize the church’s commitment to the Gospel and to the community.
The church offers worship services featuring biblically-based preaching and excellence in music, set in a traditional form. Adult education classes and programs are centered on Biblical understanding and life applications. Professors from Westmont College are an added valuable resource for these classes.
A very active Parish Life program fosters fellowship and growth opportunities that include covenant groups, men’s and women’s fellowships, regular Parish Night food and fellowship evenings, and grief recovery workshops. A reinvigorated pre-school program called the “Early School” and Children’s Ministry programs include opportunities for families to learn and play together. Junior and Senior High School Youth programs are active, meaningful, and growing.
Led by the Session, Deacons, and Trustees, El Montecito members volunteer countless hours to numerous programs that benefit the community and encourage utilization of church facilities for community gatherings. Members are active in a number of area relief agencies, including The Rescue Mission and Transition House, serve the poor in those two local ministries, and have built and continue to actively support two churches in Baja California. Members are firmly committed to worship, service and prayer with an active Prayer Chain, prayer leader training, and several organized prayer times weekly. The congregation has been consistent in their contributions to the church, ensuring financial stability of the many missions and outreach commitments.
To a society that is increasingly losing its moral compass, El Montecito offers a clear proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the structure of the reformed faith.
To a congregation that wants and needs to live their personal faith in such a manner as “to be examples of believers,” El Montecito Presbyterian Church offers biblical teaching, challenging lifestyle applications, and many life changing opportunities to serve.