Church of the Foothills is the oldest Protestant church in Ventura County. We have served Ventura since 1867, occupying a tent from 1867 to 1870. For our first hundred years we consisted of two churches: The First Congregational Church of San Buenaventura and the Saticoy Community Church (Congregational). In 1971 the Saticoy church merged with the Ventura church and together are now called Church of the Foothills.
Bristol Road in Ventura is named for the minister who pastored both the Ventura and Saticoy churches for the first 30 years of their existence. Rev. Sherlock Bristol was a Yale graduate, an abolitionist, a 49’er gold miner, a founder of Boise, Idaho and had served pastorates in Wisconsin before settling as a farmer/pastor in Ventura in 1868. Although there were a succession of pastors at both the Ventura and Saticoy churches who served for two or three years with occasionally long gaps between them, it was Bristol who consistently served between pastors and was the stable guiding influence in establishing these churches.
Bristol pioneered the inclusiveness of our church, which has remained one of its distinguishing characteristics over the past century and a quarter. In the 1870’s Bristol boldly took the stance that the Chinese were as much God’s children as anyone else in Ventura and not only welcomed them as members of the church, but also set up a school to teach them to read and write. This radical action on Bristol’s part can be fully appreciated if we consider that the Chinese, who had been brought in to work on the transcontinental railroad, were discriminated against because they were considered a threat to other workers because they were willing to work so hard for so little pay. Riots broke out against them in San Francisco and Los Angeles and in 1875 the United States Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act that prohibited Chinese from becoming United States citizens. (This act was not repealed until 1943.)
Our church has been in various locations over the years. We federated with the Presbyterians in 1928 to build the Community Church. In 1960 we “un-federated” leaving the building to the Presbyterians (now called Community Presbyterian Church) and starting anew as a small group of Congregationalists meeting at Poinsettia Pavilion and later moving to the site we now occupy on Foothill Road. The Reverend William Hendren was the 20th century counterpart to Rev. Sherlock Bristol in guiding our newly re-formed church for its first 30 years and remained actively involved in the church as Pastor Emeritus until the time of his passing. The Reverends John Martin and Kris Bergstrom used Bristol’s and Hendren’s ministries as examples to follow in the 21st century.
Today our church remains committed to its firm stand that all human beings are God’s children and each person is valued as much by God as is our Lord Jesus Christ. In the revelation of Jesus there is no “Jew or Greek, male or female, master or slave (Gal.3 :28).” We consider such aspects of a person as their race, religion, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, and social status to be cultural distinctions that are secondary to their primary identity as a child of God.
Our denomination, the United Church of Christ, consists of two different strands of the Christian tradition. It was formed in 1958. One strand was the Congregational/Christian Church which originated in England during the early 17th century by some men and women who were so concerned about their religious freedom that they left their native land (England) aboard the Mayflower in 1620 and settled in New England. They are known in American history as the “Pilgrims” and many of those little white churches in New England landscapes are descended from them. These early Congregationalists (as they called themselves) founded Harvard and Yale as colleges to train their ministers.
The other strand of our tradition, the Evangelical Reformed Church, has its roots in German pietism. From this tradition comes the founder of liberal Protestantism, Friedrich Schleiermacher. He was the first Christian theologian to write (in 1800) that Christianity was the best way to God but it was not the only way to God.
Our church still cherishes the religious freedom of the Pilgrims as we vow in our church covenant to “respect one another in our differences of belief.” We are true to Schleiermacher by respecting other religions as pathways to God. We keep our focus as Christians, however, by affirming that the life and teachings of Jesus are the standard by which we judge all other religions, political ideologies or human behavior. We proclaim Jesus as God’s ultimate, but not exclusive, revelation of God’s self to us and of us to ourselves.