History of Arlington Community Church

Founded in 1932 as a Sunday School by Pacific School of Religion student John Gregg for the newly formed village of Kensington, Arlington Community Church knows itself as an important part of the Kensington community. Ten years later, PSR student, Herb Dimmock, led the first worship service (evening vespers) in 1942. Within two years, during 1944, Mr. Dimmock brought together the first charter members and, with them, formulated the first governing Covenant, joined  the Bay Association of Congregational-Christian denomination (a historic forerunner of the United Church of Christ), became incorporated, bought the church bell that is still in our steeple, and organized the Women’s Association; that same year Mr. Dimmock was called and ordained to the position of Senior Minister. The next year, 1945, the current property at Arlington and Rincon was purchased; the original building, which includes the current Social Hall, Kitchen and Fireside Room, and the education rooms under them (where Kensington Nursery School is located) was completed and dedicated in 1948 (corner stone laid in 1947).

With the post-World War II housing boom and Baby Boom, the church felt another burst of growth, and shepherded by Rev. J. Hood Snavely who was called to be Senior Pastor in 1949, two more buildings, a chapel and the “canteen”, were completed and dedicated in 1952 on the western portion of the property. These two buildings were used for vespers, retreats, and youth groups, and now house the Growing Light Montessori School.

Following the short tenure of Rev. George K. Dreher, 1955-57, Rev. Dan Apra was called as the Senior Pastor in 1957, the same year that the Congregational-Christian denomination voted to merge with the Evangelical and Reformed denomination as the United Church of Christ. Each congregation then had the chance to vote to join the UCC, and in 1960, Arlington Community Church joined the newly formed UCC. That same year, the current Sanctuary was built and dedicated, which added a larger space dedicated for worship and much needed classroom space on the ground floor (Arlington Preschool occupied these rooms for many years, and, when they closed in 2011, Growing Light Montessori expanded to include early elementary ages and also expanded into those rooms). Rev. Apra’s 15 years in the pulpit (1957-1972) occurred as the UCC itself was aligning with social justice movements of the 60’s and 70’s, including Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, Viet Nam War draft controversies, and the United Farm Workers led by local activist Cesar Chavez. Members of Arlington Community Church led their own social justice causes as we became a charter member congregation of Greater Richmond Interfaith Program-G.R.I.P. (1966), which works with issues of poverty in nearby Richmond; formed a Food Pantry (1971) that has since become the Richmond Food Pantry; and started a camping program at a privately-owned campground near Cazadero, CA, for young families at ACC as well as disadvantaged youth from north Richmond and adults with physical disabilities from the Center for Independent Living of Berkeley (1971).  Also during these years, as the church for the community, ACC installed carillons in the steeple (1965), and started a Midweek Worship and an Endowment Fund (1969).

In 1972, the Rev. Robert L. Carlson was called as the senior pastor, who oversaw the formation of the Kensington Senior Activity Center, now part of the West Contra Costa School District’s senior education program (1974), and the installation of the Shaw electronic organ (1977). During that time, while the country was embroiled in the conversation of whether or not to allow amnesty for Viet Nam War draft deserters, the congregation was featured on a national news show, [NAME, date], to discuss this issue, which had become personal because a child of the church had fled the draft and was residing in Canada.

The 22-year tenure of Rev. Ken Barnes, which began in 1980, continued the community ministry of Arlington Community Church. Meditation Services, held in the Chapel for many years, began in 1982; the Souper Kitchen ministry, which provided warm lunches and dinners to clients of G.R.I.P., started in 1985; and we adopted G.R.I.P.’s Project Home Again (1990) and became a Homeless Winter Sanctuary (1995), which has grown into the G.R.I.P. Family Housing Program and Souper Center Facility (in Richmond, completed in 2006). Continuing the church’s excellent music program, the church purchased and dedicated a Steinway baby grand piano in 1988, and developed a Handbell Choir in 1993, which are still used in worship and in concerts. A deck was added to the Social Hall (1998) to allow activities to easily flow into the outside space of our church. The church first called a woman Associate Pastor, Rev. Ellen Green, in 1987, followed by Rev. Carol Barriger in 1994. During this period, as the UCC was beginning its ministry with and for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered people, Arlington Community Church was also struggling with these issues, initially not electing a gay man as Associate Pastor in the mid 80’s, and then becoming an Open and Affirming (ONA) Congregation which welcomes LGBT folk into its membership and leadership in 1998.

Following Rev. Barnes’ lengthy pastorate, Rev. Shirlee Bromley led an interim period, and the church called Rev. Felicity Wright as Senior Pastor in 2004, who served until 2009, when Rev. Al Williams shepherded an interim period. During these years, the Sanctuary was carpeted, lighter-colored pews were purchased to allow flexibility in seating arrangements, the Social Hall floor was refinished, the church ledger and database were computerized, and the Spirit and the Arts (a weekly children’s program exploring faith formation using performing arts)  and Peace Child (a week-long intensive children’s program using arts to explore themes of Peace held in the summers 2006-10 ) were started. In 2010, the congregation called the first openly gay man as Senior Minister, Rev. Tony Clark.

Since 1932, Arlington Community Church has served the community as a place in which Boy Scouts, Girls Scouts, 12-Step groups, nursery schools, community performing groups, and other community groups, as well as the active congregation, can meet, learn, perform, and grow. Through the years, institutions such as the monthly Kensington newspaper, The Outlook, and the Kensington Community Center (also known as the “Youth Hut”) that were initiated by ACC have spun off into their own entities.Today we continue to serve the community with our connections to G.R.I.P. and the Contra Costa-Solano Food Bank, and our work as a Jubilee congregation to reduce debt of 3rd world countries. We remain a member of the Bay Association and the Northern California-Nevada Conference of the UCC, and through the years many of our members have served in leadership capacities for these organizations. Our building remains a center for community use, and we are imagining ways to improve the building and continue our dedication to accessibility for all as we remain a center for the community.  We eagerly await what God has in store for us next!


The Story of Our Stained Glass Windows

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The artist of our windows is John Wallis, of the Wallis-Wiley Studio in Pasadena. He has done most of the stained glass windows in Protestant churches in the area, including Northbrae and Orinda churches, and the Chapel of the Great Commission at the Pacific School of Religion.

The committee that arranged for the window design desired to have a delicate touch of stained glass for beauty without making the windows the dominant feature of the Sanctuary. They are based off of the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:36-40) and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) spoken by Jesus in the book of Matthew. The windows were prepared for beauty of color, design and symbolism. All of the symbols that are used are traditional in the Christian Church. The treatment of these symbols is to some extent abstract, and they are carefully integrated into the overall design.

The window on the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), or lectern side, of the church portrays the first part of the Great Commandment, which is the commandment to love God. This portion of Jesus’ words come almost verbatim from the “Shema,” found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9. The “Shema” (meaning “Hear!”) is regularly considered to be the heart of the Hebrew Scriptures; the command off of which every command is based. It has continuted, from antiquity until today, to be a central part of Jewish identity and prayer. Jesus manifests his Jewish identity when he quotes the Shema as the greatest commandment. In our stained glass, this commandment is symbolized in a beautiful way. God is represented by the symbol of the Trinity (three circles attached to one), and loving God is expressed by a rose, a traditional symbol of love. The ways in which a person loves God are with all one’s heart, which is itself a symbol; with all one’s soul, represented by a bird; with all one’s mind, represented by a nine-pointed star, symbolic of the fruits of the Spirit; and with all one’s strength, represented by an oak leaf. While the “Shema” commands Israel to love God with all their heart, soul, and strength, in the book of Matthew, Jesus replaces “strength” with “mind”. The stained glass combines these two Scriptural excerpts in a wonderful way that displays the integration of the New Testament writings with those of the Hebrew Scriptures. At ACC, we choose to see the New Testament as a part of the whole of Scripture. We therefore do not consider the New Testament as having superceded the Hebrew Scriptures. Instead, we see the entire Bible as a product of an historical people group, and a representation of humanity’s striving to know and describe the Divine.

The window on the New Testament (or pulpit) side depicts the second part of the Great Commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself. Love of one’s neighbor is expressed by a rose and several earthen vessels, which are traditional symbols of humanity. One is white, one red, one yellow, one black and one brown to indicate the various races of humankind. The ways in which love of one’s neighbor may be expressed are many and varied, but they are represented in the glass as a water lily (a traditional symbol of charity) to express good works, a censor of smoke rising to Heaven to express prayer, a lighted lamp to express knowledge and understanding, and an olive branch to express a continual striving for peace and brotherhood.

In the North clerestory windows at the back of the sanctuary, the windows represent aspects of the Great Commission, which is to go into the world and make disciples. This can only be done with the help of the Christian sacraments, the strengthening power of the Holy Spirit, and with the aid of the Word of God. The sacraments are baptism, represented by a scallop shell, and communion, represented by wheat and grapes. A dove and flames are symbolic of the Holy Spirit, and four streams of water carrying through the two windows represent the spread of the Word of God.

We hope that next time you are in the santuary, you can view these windows and appreciate the rich meaning and beautiful artistry that are evident in them!