As a student at Oxford in 18th century England, John Wesley and his brother Charles formed a religious student group called the Holy Club. As other students observed their disciplined and patterned way of approaching spiritual growth, they became called “Methodists.” This name of derision later became the common name for Wesley’s burgeoning revival movement in the Church of England.
After a stint of missionary work in Georgia, a turning point in Wesley’s life occurred as he felt his heart “strangely warmed” and discovered the inner peace that comes by faith in God’s mercy and grace, not through personal efforts alone. This spiritual awareness shaped Wesley’s approach to the faith thereafter, a solid mix of evangelical fervor and social reforms.
Wesley did not wish to start a new church, but he did try to find ways to reform the Church of England. However, his approach brought about unfavorable reactions in Anglican churches, so he began preaching on street corners and open fields, wherever people would gather to hear his message of salvation for all people and God’s grace equal to every need. Wesley’s ideas had great appeal to many English people, especially the poor and oppressed.
The success of Wesley’s revival movement in England brought the need for Wesley to train, appoint and supervise lay preachers, and later to equip and ordain clergy in America as the movement further developed into a separate denomination following the Revolution. During the 1800s the denomination spread across the continent with Circuit Rider clergy and active lay people spreading the Gospel. From that small group beginning in England through the denomination’s founding in 1784 in America to today, we are now among 50 million members worldwide.
In Ventura, our congregation of Methodists began with a Bible study group in 1867. Our first church, located on Oak Street, was built in 1874. As the congregation grew, we built a new structure at Oak and Meta Streets in 1891, and then again due to growth, in 1928 we built our third church facility at our present location on Santa Clara Street. In 1961, we undertook a major remodel that expanded the facility to include our Education Building and Walker Chapel and have remodeled three subsequent times, most recently in 2006, updating our sanctuary, Trotter Hall and courtyards. Our campus serves as a mission base for our service to God and our community.
The beautiful architecture of our sanctuary is enhanced by its stained glass windows, especially the Rose Window in the balcony and the Christ Window in the chancel. Our pipe organ is considered the best between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. Our delightful landscaping adds an air of meditation and refreshment to our courtyard and grounds and presents a great setting for our labyrinth, columbarium, peace pole and biblical garden. Our playgrounds and gym are full of the joy of children and youth at play, and our classrooms resonate with words of wisdom growing disciples.
Thanks to the faith and service of prior generations, First Church stands on a firm foundation as we now shape a new chapter of our unfolding story.