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The Villages Sign


The first residents began to move into the Villages on Oct. 9, 1967. Cribari was the only Village and just some of those units were done, plus Cribari Auditorium. San Felipe was a two lane dirt road and the entire area was surrounded by beautiful hills and orchards. There were no shopping centers, no nearby churches, no Yerba Buena Road. It was truly out in the country.

In 1968, five couples decided they wanted a church service within the Villages. So the Bredas, the Craigs, the Hoerlers, the Williams, and the Rev. and Mrs. E. V. Steele began to hold Sunday church service in their homes. That number grew, and needing larger quarters, they consulted with the Community Manager (now General Manager) and were told to submit twenty signatures requesting Cribari Auditorium. That was done in a week. On Sunday, Sept. 22, 1968 a service was held there with Rev. Steele preaching. Forty-eight people attended with eight denominations represented (Baptists, Methodists, Mormons, Presbyterians, Religious Scientists, Congregationalists, Unitaritans and Lutherans) and the offering was $35.15.

The year 1970 was one of organizing, or to quote the founders, “starting out on a worn shoestring.” Fortunately, Joseph and Isabell Gilland had moved to the Villages in 1969. It was through his knowledge and skill that the Chapel's Articles of Incorporation were written and certified by the state of California, and the I.R.S. recognized the Chapel as a non-profit religious corporation. On Nov. 3, 1971 sixty-one Villagers became members of the new multidenominational organization known as The Villages Community Chapel. There were a total of 90 members by the end of 1971.

There was still more work to be done. The Lay Committee (now the Lay Board) had been elected in Nov. 1970. Joe Gilland volunteered more help and he became Chapel Administrator and his wife, Isabell, volunteered to be his secretary. They served in these positions for ten years, retiring in 1981.

There have been ten ministers since the beginning of the church in 1971.  They were:

  • James Woodruf (6 years)
  • Carl Stocking (4 years)
  • Kenneth Stafford (1 year)
  • John Carroll (6 years)
  • Edward Stephens (3 years)
  • Maynard Niebor (2 years)
  • Dwight Kintner (5 years)
  • David Beavers (2 years)
  • Peter Unruh (11 years)
  • Bill Hayden (current, began serving July 2015)

From 1971 until 1983 the minister served one Sunday a month with guest ministers filling the other Sundays. Dr. Carroll started serving 2 Sundays a month then began preaching all but one Sunday each month. From the beginning the work of the Chapel bas been done through the Lay Board and its committees. For the first ten years there were only 4 committees: nomination, pastoral relations, worship and membership-education. By 1983 there were 265 members. As the church grew more committees were added.

The meeting place has been the Cribari Auditorium, but the 1989 earthquake changed that for a while. Because of damage to the auditorium, the Chapel moved to a large tent which the Villages put up in the patio area.

Music has always been an important part of our service. The first choir was organized in 1971 and had ten members. The first organ was a loaner brought out and returned to a music store every Sunday. In 1971 donations to an organ fund came to $1800 which was enough to buy a small organ. These donations came from both members of the Chapel and other Village residents. In 1977 and again in 1982, the Frazer’s purchased organs for the Chapel. We got the current organ in 2006 from Mt. Hermon.

Because we're a very sociable group, Irma Williams started serving coffee after services in 1972. She used her own coffee urn, making it in the kitchen just off the auditorium. However, it is said that the great aroma distracted some of the congregation from the sermon so the coffee service was moved to the conference room.

The Chapel has always been financed by voluntary gifts. There has never been a church canvass or pledge drive as stipulated by our founders. From the beginning, the Chapel has endeavored to give a large percentage of the annual offering to specific missions, which continues to this day.

During these 30 years, many people have contributed to the growth of the Chapel. Many individuals have given wonderful gifts to the Chapel and the Memorial Fund.

This is a very brief history of our Villages Community Chapel, an important and vital part of the Villages. For over 45 years, it has met the purpose for which it was started: "To provide a service where Christians may worship God through Jesus Christ while following their own Christian interpretation and maintaining their own denominational identity."



(1) History of the Chapel, Nov. 2007, Jerry Foster

(2) Chapel’s 30th Anniversary History, 2000, Mary Atkins