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Notes from Glen Ellen: Celebrating 125 years of our community church

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All communities have a heart. In Glen Ellen it may be Dunbar School, the fire house, the market or the saloon at the town’s core. For many, the historic Glen Ellen Community Church is the soul of our community.

Hidden on the far side of the O’Donnell Lane bridge, the charming Congregational Church has been notable in the community since it was first organized on the current site by Lizzie Clark in 1894. Land for the church was donated by Mr. and Mrs. C. C. O’Donnell, and the cornerstone was laid for the present sanctuary on April 2, 1895. William M. Massie, the first pastor, gave its first sermon two months later on June 9, 1895.

The little church itself is made of wood painted white with a beautiful Queen Anne steeple reaching heavenward. The graceful spire is 50 feet high, and fitted with a large bell. Its chimes are heard every Sunday morning across the Valley around 10 a.m., summoning the faithful to church. The arched windows of the place of worship are fitted with shimmering stained glass. It escaped the flames of the 2017 wildfires, although its neighboring O’Donnell Lane suffered badly.

Mayflower Hall was added behind in 1901, with proceeds raised by the Ladies Aid of Glen Ellen. As the Congregational Church itself originated with the Pilgrims that arrived in Plymouth on the Mayflower, the early congregation named its new hall after that vessel. Mayflower Hall has been a vital home-base for festivals, political gatherings, town socials and study. Dunbar School even held its classes there for a while.

A cherished tradition of the church is the living Nativity scene held every Christmas holiday, when braying donkeys, sheep, goats and even camels join in the reenactment of the Nativity. Furthermore, as long-time parishioner Sandy Zimmerman points out, “This church is an extension of my family, some of my deepest friendships are in the church. What I love is the unity we feel even though we all come from different perspectives.”

Since its inception with Pastor Massie in 1894, the little church has hosted 39 pastors over the years, with the most recent Pastor Lance Pruett leading the flock now.

It has been 125 years since this enchanting church was established. In August, the Glen Ellen Historical Society and the Glen Ellen Community Church are combining forces to celebrate its anniversary. It is a community celebration open to all in the Valley, and features historical exhibits, music, presentations on its history, hot dogs, drinks, snow cones, even a bouncy house. Come celebrate the longevity of this delightful little white-steepled church on Saturday, Aug. 17, from 1 to 4 p.m., 5311 O’Donnell Lane, just behind the narrow O’Donnell Lane brick bridge behind the Post Office.

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