Presbyterian Denomination in Benicia
The Presbyterian denomination in Benicia dates back to April 15, 1849, when Reverend Sylvester Woodbridge, Jr., had secured enough members to organize the First Presbyterian church in California. Unfortunately, that church was dissolved in 1872 due to controversy over its adherence to the Union during the Civil War.
See the article A Little Bit of History: Benicia’s Pioneer Preacher that appeared in the Benicia Herald, March 24, 2021.
Presbytery of the Redwoods
It was not until 1979 that the Presbytery of the Redwoods (formerly named “Benicia Presbytery”) explored the feasibility of forming a new Presbyterian church in Benicia. Rev. Emmett S. McDowell was called as the church’s organizing pastor. On September 7, 1980, the new church held its first worship service. About 100 worshippers met in City Park, near the historical marker of the first Protestant church in California (a practice which we continue occasionally during the fall). During the first five years, the church met at the Benicia High School library and auditorium. Then we moved to what had been a Baptist church, often referred to as the ‘bee church’ (based on the flying tenants who shared the space), located on the northwest corner of Military and East 2nd Streets.
Heritage Church in Benicia Gets Its Start
The congregation adopted the name Heritage Presbyterian Church at Benicia on April 10, 1981, and on World Communion Sunday that year, the church was officially organized with 80 charter members. Some of those charter members are still active in the life of the church.
In April 1983, the Presbytery of the Redwoods purchased the undeveloped lot on the northeast corner of East Second and East Military. The church commissioned an architect to design a permanent home for HPC. The current structure includes only the first phase of the proposed design. If the membership ever grows to the point where a larger sanctuary is needed, the design allows for expansion, creating basically a mirror image of the existing structure.
Pastor Sue Fleenor
The first service was held in the new sanctuary on World Communion Sunday in 1986, and that afternoon Rev. Sue Fleenor was installed as the congregation’s second pastor. On November 23, 1986, the sanctuary was dedicated to God and the work of Christ.
The church flourished during the late 1980s and early 1990s. We moved into financial independence within the first year of moving to the new building. By summer 1988, our youth had outgrown the Sunday school room provisions in the building, and we purchased a 60-foot mobile home to house our Sunday school classrooms. In fall 1989, we began offering two Sunday morning worship services.
Pastor Don Biddy
Pastor Sue left in April 1991, and Interim Pastor Ron Dowell filled the pulpit while we began the search for a new pastor. Worship attendance and membership began to decline. Reverend Don Biddy succeeded Rev. Dowell, and began his ministry with us on November 11, 1992. It was a difficult time. Many of our members chose to worship elsewhere and only return for an occasional visit or special occasion. After months of struggle, Rev. Biddy left in April 1994. With the help of the Presbytery, the church survived.
Pastor Beverly White
In November 1994, Reverend Beverly White arrived as our designated pastor. Hers was not an easy task. We needed healing and rebuilding. All-church retreats at Westminster Woods were initiated. We learned to rebuild our relationships and to trust one another. We started annual mission trips. On February 8, 1998, Pastor Beverly White was installed as our called pastor.
Pastor Beverly opened our eyes. While she did not live in town, she immersed herself in the community. She mentored at the local continuation high school, became a leader of Rotary, and coordinated meetings with other ministers in town. Between these activities and her work with the Presbytery of the Redwoods, she encouraged and challenged our congregation to do more.
Under Pastor Beverly’s leadership, we grew as a congregation. After selling a portion of our property, the church was able to build Heritage Hall, replacing the deteriorating mobile home which had housed our Sunday school classrooms. We were also able to pay off the first mortgage on our sanctuary. Funds were raised to install stained glass windows in the sanctuary. Other projects financed more mundane enhancements, such as repairing the leaky roof, installing the drop-down projection screen in the sanctuary, improving the sound in the sanctuary, adding acoustic panels in Heritage Hall to absorb sound, and painting the exterior of the church.
Pastor Beverly retired after delivering our Easter service in 2014, and Reverend Natalie Moon-Wainwright served as our interim pastor. She was an answer to prayer during our search for a new pastor.
Pastor Yung Me Morris
Yung Me Suh Morris was called by the congregation to be our new pastor in May 2016, and she was ordained and installed with great joy on June 12, 2016. During that time we expanded our community outreach. We hosted programs open to the public which discussed various issues of the day. We developed relationships with members of other denominations. Yung Me’s time with us was short-lived when her husband’s job required that the family relocate to another city.
Pastor Henry Sun
When Yung Me left, the session voted to employ Rev. Henry Sun as our temporary pastor beginning September 2019. Everyone was challenged in 2020 by the pandemic of the Covid-19 virus. Henry has worked with members of the congregation and together they continue to provide worship every Sunday morning via electronic communication.
Heritage Today and the Community
Ongoing activities over recent years include providing space and support for the community garden, and serving as a distribution center for produce. We actively encourage community organizations to use our facilities at a low cost. Alcoholics Anonymous uses our facility about four nights each week. Other groups using our facilities include Families in Transition, the Carquinez Village Project, Sustainable Solano (formerly known as Benicia Community Garden), and quilting groups. Periodically, the city of Benicia will use our facilities for water conservation and/or gardening session.
We want the people of Benicia to be reminded of God, the blessings He bestows on us, and the importance of putting our faith in God into action.