Samson Wong/Daily Journal
Lee Mullery, a longtime attendee and fellow historian of the Congregational Church of San Mateo, with a copy of The Pine Tree, the church’s newsletter.
The first thing that comes to mind when walking through the halls of the Congregational Church of San Mateo is simple but sincere — family.
Whether it’s the smooth cushioned pews scattered along the echoed sanctuary or the array of beautiful stained glass along the walls, CCSM conveys a feeling of home throughout the building. Each glass tells a story in itself that exemplifies the rich history that is CCSM.
This month, the Congregational Church of San Mateo celebrated its 150th anniversary of existence. For those of us who can’t count that far, its opening was at the time of the Civil War when Abraham Lincoln was president in 1864.
On this day, the church at the corner of San Mateo Drive and Tilton Avenue is relatively quiet, but any given Sunday provides a unique experience. Senior Minister Penny Nixon explained the church’s desire to stay connected with its community.
“In response to needs of the time, the best thing for the public is a spiritual place for our different neighborhoods. We honor tradition, but we also want to be able to address specific issues of the community.”
CCSM has experienced many events throughout its history. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake collapsed the steeple, but left most of the church undamaged. Many members of the church have also talked of the Japanese-American taken into a family home here to prevent their internment during World War II. A small window on the side of the sanctuary is placed in their honor.
Other sections of the church went through remodeling last year as well. Added was a beautiful memorial garden layered with flowers along its path. A labyrinth walkway and a wall of remembrance provide a unique and reflective experience.
The church prides itself in its ability to be open to the wide range of people with whom they interact.
“I want people to know that whoever you are and wherever you are, you are welcome here,” said Nixon. “When I preach, I try to talk about something that is relevant, reclusive and inspires people to go out and speak justice and equality to the world, which will help work on their own personal transformation.”
People at CCSM have their different reasons for attending service. For Austin Mader-Clark, the CCSM historian and moderator, the social justice work is what drew her to become a more permanent member.
“The things that drew me most to this church in the first place was the amount of outreach there is,” said Mader-Clark. “People are always making sandwiches for homeless people. We have a group of blanketeers that make quilts and donate them to orphans. It provides a vibrant and welcoming environment.”
CCSM has also implemented an after-school homework central that tutors at-risk kids in the community. They also have offered a music school for children that involves singing and musical instruments.
In addition to helping the community, CCSM emphasizes the need for the church to stand strong in the face of adversity.
“CCSM stood as a Christian voice against Prop. 8, which was challenging because there was so much talk about the Christian community supporting Prop. 8,” said Mader-Clark. “We view ourselves as a different kind of Christian than what’s usually portrayed in the media. While we pride ourselves as being an open church, that means being open to controversy as well.”
While there are differences among its people just like any other large congregation, one thing is for certain. CCSM is a happy place and will likely remain a happy place for years to come.
“Here at CCSM, we are redefining church and recapturing the essence of the teachings of Jesus,” said Nixon. “We’re doing our best to change the perception of church.”