Humble Beginnings

St Elizabeth's Church Drawing

South San Francisco was developed on a portion of the land grant "Rancho Buri Buri" in 1890 when the South San Francisco land & Improvement Company were given the job of promoting a new town and the articles of incorporation were filed. The two men who were to carry out the plan were William James Martin and Ebenezer E. Cunningham, both of whom were Episcopalians. By the year 1893, there was already talk of building an Episcopal Church. At first they met in a store - then Pioneer Hall - before establishing their church.

It actually began in 1894 when the Rev. Geo. Wallace, Principal of St. Margaret's School in San Mateo and a priest associated with St. Matthew's Episcopal Church, opened a Sunday school in a vacant building at the comer of Grand and Maple Ave. It was open to people of all faith as there were no other churches in town. When it was apparent that the people in South San Francisco were receptive to the church school, Father Wallace added a regular church service. The first baptism registered in the early journal took place on February 17, 1895, the first confirmation July 28 1895, and the first marriage on November 20, 1895.

On November 9, 1895, the newly established newspaper reported that on November 17, Fr. Wallace wanted to meet with all people interested in establishing an Episcopal Church. A lot at Spruce & Grand and $150 were donated by the South San Francisco Land & Development Company. Do- nations totaling $1600 were collected and the church building was built and completed the following year. It was consecrated on Dec. 12 or 13, 1896, by the Rt. Rev. William Ford Nichols with Fr. Wallace assisting.

The church grew strong, attracting the local leadership and those who saw the Episcopal Church as their spiritual home. Fr. Wallace stayed only three years and was followed by seven other clergy. Some served only a month, others, several years.

A time of vigor came under A.C. Dodd, who first appears as a lay reader and then as officiate at baptisms. The next, and perhaps the final period of vigor came under Leslie Kelly, who, likewise, rose from candidate to priest of this mission. Fr. Kelly was here for a total of four years, only one year as priest. Once he left, the records show that clergy stayed from one month to a year until the records cease in 1922. The Martin family, especially Mrs. Martin, had always been pillars in Grace Mission. When she became a Christian Scientist, as was the fad, and a number of others followed her, the future was sealed. It was also a time when community churches were becoming popular, and money was scarce, because of the depression. Grace Church joined with St. Paul's Methodist Church.

In a dispute over whether the Episcopal Church could have candles on the altar, the Episcopal community was formally abandoned and Bishop Parsons withdrew the priest from Grace Cathedral. Having made an agreement with the Methodist Church (community church) that we would not form a separate Episcopal congregation for 20 years, the Episcopalians in South San Francisco were left to fend for themselves.

Following WWII South San Francisco began another growing phase. Early in 1951, a young seminarian, Mr. Robert Morse and Mr. Stuart Ruth began the groundwork for another Episcopal Church in SSF under the direction of The Rt. Rev. Karl Morgan Block. It was to be a new beginning and no one thought that it would be a simple task. Once again, a small community met in a storefront in the district of Buri Buri and, once again, began to raise funds with fifty families and a church school of ten children. By Epiphany, 1952, there were 100 families and 75 children. The community moved to 300 Alida until a church could be built. Mr. George Williams donated Land, and Architect Fred Whittlesey donated the plans. Bishop Block gave $10,000 from the Corporation Sole (from the sale of Grace Mission) and $6,000 from the China Fund. Pledges were made to a building fund and the people purchased bonds.

On February 8, 1953, Fr. Morse held the groundbreaking ceremonies. Construction began. The new church was dedicated on Sunday, November 1, with Bishop Block officiating. It was dedicated as St. Elizabeth's in honor of Elizabeth, the kinswoman of Mary, who, in her old age, became the mother of John, the Baptist. When the angel had told Mary about Elizabeth, the angel proclaimed, "For with God, nothing shall be impossible". (Luke 1:37) Three years later the congregation had grown to 200 families, and the need for a parish hall arose. The parish hall was completed in 1957. Fr. Morse ended his tenure and Fr. Norman Barbour was called to be Vicar.

The old building was beloved, but too crowded to serve the people, especially the children. During the curacy of Fr. Barbour, a divided community decided to leave their church of only 10 years and begin anew. The church on 0range Avenue was sold and land bought on Country Club. By the time of the move to our present building, the community had scattered and, under the stress, Fr. Barbour fell ill. By his departure in 1967, records show that attendance had fallen to half the original number. St. Elizabeth's was to struggle for the next several decades in spite of the fine work of Fr. Fred Saunders and Fr. Richard Byfield.

Fr. Byfield became ill and had to retire. With his retirement attendance had fallen drastically and the Bishop's Committee voted to close the mission. The Rt. Rev. William Swing, full of new energy, challenged the mission to call another vicar. A two-year timeframe was adopted for the turn around of the mission. Once again, this community rose to the occasion and a new and vigorous flock of over 100 families was raised up by the grace of God.

On October 25, 1981, The Rev. Lynn Bowdish was called to serve the community of St. Elizabeth's. As the Diocese of California's first woman vicar, Lynn began her curacy with the resolve shared by Bishop Swing that "we are not in the business of closing churches." With God's hand firmly supporting the weakened and wary flock, St. Elizabeth's remained open.

Miracles Happen Here

Almost 15 years ago, St. Elizabeth's Episcopal Church was doomed to closure. God chose to have St. Elizabeth's become the community it is today. He challenged a bishop to try and He sent a vicar who would be faithful when faith was needed.

Knowing how unsure she was, in His time, God allowed Lynn to come into the community with the strength and determination that was necessary to tend a flock with such diverse needs. And likewise the people have come. We have grown more than 10-fold from that new beginning in 1981. Miracles began to happen the second Sunday when the congregation doubled. Miracles continue at St. Elizabeth's, falling trees miss the building, the garden grows, the needs are answered, and the ability to serve is less burdensome and more deter- mined. We thank God for St. Elizabeth's in the garden.

Lydia Pozzato coined the phrase, "Miracles Happen Here," at age 15 when she was one of two teenagers in the church. Today, in strength of numbers and in dedication to the future, with our vicar, the Rev. Dr. Lynn Bowdish, a strong Bishop's Committee and dedicated lay leadership of St. Elizabeth's, we come to celebrate l00 years of the Episcopal Church in South San Francisco and to affirm that God pours forth his bountiful energy on us and makes "Miracles Happen Here."