The Story of College Avenue
The year was 1948. Time for a dream to come true for a dozen people who longed for a liberal church in the heart of the Central Valley. They bought a three-acre vineyard on College Avenue in Modesto, called a minister named Elmo Wolf, and founded College Avenue Congregational Church. As the church grew in those first years, the vineyard gave way to a sanctuary, a church school building, and a Fellowship Hall. And with our growth in youth ministry in recent years, we’ve added a youth building that includes a café staffed by our young people.
What did our founders mean by liberal? They meant committed to the Gospel-inspired mission of peacemaking, improving the lives of the poor, ending segregation, and working for the rights of people with too few rights. Commitments like these have always defined the Congregationalist tradition, which included people like abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Over the years, our church stayed true to its commitments to justice and service: advocating for the rights of farm workers, participating in the Civil Rights movement, serving the poor in Modesto, lending a hand to developing villages in Mexico, and, speaking out against genocide in Darfur. Perhaps the church’s most courageous commitment to Gospel-inspired justice in the conservative Valley is our commitment to being Open and Affirming—welcoming people who are Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, and Transgender into the full life of our church.
With commitments like these, it was natural for us to join with many other Congregationalist churches in becoming part of the United Church of Christ when our progressive denomination formed in 1957. Inspired by the movement for Christian unity, the UCC brought together four church traditions: Christian, Congregationalist, Evangelical, and Reformed. We are part of the Northern California-Nevada Conference of the UCC, which includes 130 congregations.
We have been a congregation of doers, but that doesn’t mean we work around the clock. We have always taken plenty of time for worship, and over the years our sanctuary has included gifted choirs, musicians, artists, and dramatists. A Moller pipe organ was installed in the 1970s, and it continues to help us worship, along with a piano, drums, and other instruments. A contemplative musical “Taize” service has also been a monthly tradition in our sanctuary for over 20 years. The service derives its name from a non-denominational faith community in Taize, France, which annually attracts thousands of people from around the world to its services of candlelight and simple chants.
Fun and fellowship events have also been a big part of our life as a church. They’ve included monthly potlucks, new member Gather-and-Grow picnics, an annual Homecoming Event and Mardi Gras party, Advent Dinners, Christmas caroling, dances, dramatic productions, and more recently an annual Sync and Drag Fundraiser with an inter-generational cast of performers who lip-sync to the music of popular bands.
We’ve lived our story for over 60 years now. Two of our founding members are still inspiring our life as a church, and each year many new members bring new energy. Maybe you are being called to be part of our story, too. Visit us and see!