The HISTORY of First Church
When First Church was founded in 1862 in a small building in downtown Redwood City no one could have predicted the radical changes that the next 159 years would bring to this town and to our society in general.
In 1862, we were the only Protestant church in San Mateo County. There were no cars and no paved roads. Most goods were moved by teams of oxen, or by train, or by tall ships (yes, tall ships in downtown Redwood City!). Very few women held jobs. There were no phones or televisions, no computers, no Facebook, no Twitter, or Instagram.
Our first church building was known as “the little church on the island” because it was reached by crossing a bridge to a peninsula almost surrounded by Redwood Creek at the corner of what is now Jefferson and Middlefield.
We worshipped in that first church building for nearly 60 years before building a new, and far larger, building on that same downtown site which we occupied for another 30 years.
In 1893 we realized that some of our parishioners had to travel over five miles by horse-drawn wagons on a dirt road down the hill from the town of Woodside. We purchased property there and sponsored Woodside Village Church through the early 1900’s.
The 1906 earthquake knocked our church building off its foundation and broke all the crockery that had been set out for a church dinner…but we still aided people in San Francisco. We met in the Baptist Church for the next six months while repairs were made.
We continued to prosper in the 1920’s under Rev. Dr. Robert J. Currie and became even more closely integrated with the progress of the community. Redwood City largely owes the idea of the Easter Cross to Rev. Currie. And, in 1925, our member Wilbur H. Doxsee coined our current motto, “Climate Best by Government Test” — for which he won $10.
In 1954, we moved to a new site on the rapidly developing west side of Redwood City at the corner of Euclid and McGarvey (fondly called “The Church of the Rock”) where we thrived for another 50 years.
During that first 145 years, we fulfilled a position of dynamicChristian leadership in our community and continued to place strong emphasis on giving and serving in support of social justice issues such as poverty, discrimination, and the environment.
A few major efforts that supported that mission during those first years included co-founding Casa de Redwood in 1971. Casa is a much-needed low-income senior housing facility in downtown Redwood City is still a thriving community with which we maintain a strong connection. And, in 1979, when Temple Beth Jacob was severely damaged by fire as a result of a hate crime, we shared our church building with them through their recovery.
In 2007, our congregation was faced with a difficult decision. Our membership had been small for several years, and it was becoming increasingly challenging to meet the financial obligations of owning and maintaining such a large property. Two realities become clear: first, we could not afford the property we were currently in without major infusions of capital, and second, our call as a community was to share what resources we had with others in God’s name. After much struggle, the congregation voted to sell the property and use the funds to the betterment of Redwood City and our greater community. So, we moved to leased space and began to revitalize worship and community relationships.
One of the blessings that came out of this difficult decision is the understanding that we are still a church with vibrant worship and a commitment to the Redwood City community. Our relationships with one another and with God, our work in ministry, and our hope for the future is not tied to (or tied down by) a physical building.
When COVID-19 appeared so dramatically in March of 2020, we closed down our leased space and moved most everything to storage. We established a work-from-home model for our staff and learned how to Zoom for weekly Worship, study, and meetings.
We have now found a new home in a large, under-utilized building on the campus of Messiah Lutheran Church in Redwood City and have taken steps to fully renovate that building, hopefully by mid-Summer 2021. There we will be able to resume sharing out of our abundance as we continue our commitment to worship, social justice, education, and fellowship as part of our congregational life. We have been truly blessed to learn more about the great work happening around Redwood City and our area, and we are delighted to offer our support to projects that enrich the lives of so many. We hope to continue to embrace our dream of making a difference in Redwood City and the greater community for many more years.