Highlights of Novato SDA Church History

The beginning of a Seventh-day Adventist church in Novato dates from late 1961. Members then residing in north Marin were attending churches in Fairfax, Petaluma, and San Francisco. At the invitation of Mr. and Mrs. James Moore, Dr. and Mrs. Merton Shelton, and others, first met as a group at Hill Road Junior High School to explore the feasibility of forming a Novato congregation. Resident Pastor John Toppenberg led the group as they began meeting at the Assembly of God church on South Novato Boulevard. Very shortly, a site on Novato Boulevard was purchased and a building fund established. The Novato organizational meeting was held March 17, 1962, with President Carl Becker of the Northern California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists organizing the church with a membership of sixty.

Pastor Paul Alderson made use of his experience in other places to strengthen the growing church from late 1964 through 1967. The decision was made to sell the first site and to purchase a four acre plot on Simmons Lane and San Marin Drive. Zoning and other restrictions consumed several years. Finally, the point was reached where ground could be broken in June, 1969. The Ancillary Unit was built that year and occupied in December, 1969. Pastor Mauritz Peterson served and worked at the project through 1971, using his business and financial experience and much personal effort to increase the membership and complete the first phase of the church plant. The classroom unit accommodated all activities for five years. For some ten years Dr. Ralph Weseman gave his support as Building and Finance Chairman.

An elementary school was established in 1966 using classrooms made available at the Presbyterian church. The upper grade and junior high students were transported in a church-owned bus to Napa Junior Academy for several years. In 1974 Novato church became one of the constituent churches of Redwood Junior Academy in Santa Rosa. The bus was sold to RJA, but was still used to transport students from Novato to Santa Rosa. By 1979 families had matured. The students had gone on to higher schools and there was little demand for the bus service. Novato church continued to operate a local school for grades one through six. Six flowing plum trees were planted on the north and west lawns - one for each grade - on Arbor Day, 1971. Grades seven and eight were offered several years later with Michael Clark as teacher.

Groundbreaking for the sanctuary and completion of the building plans took place August, 1974. Dr. William Heisler was chairman of the Building Committee and Dr. John Elloway of the Finance Committee. There followed a busy year that was climaxed by the opening services and dedication of the memorial window on August 2, 1975. Pastor Preston Smith was the able leader during this part of the program, shepherding and coordinating the work, and was the first to speak from the new pulpit in the completed sanctuary.

Both phases of the erection of the church brought out many volunteer workers donating thousands of hours of skilled and unskilled labor under the direction of the building supervisors. Jim Hansen of Oregon constructed the Ancillary Unit. Jim Ross of Angwin, California, was the resident supervisor for the Church Unit.

The promotion of healthful living in all its aspects is one of the main messages of the Seventh-day Adventist church. From its beginning here, this church has held Stop Smoking Clinics, Nutrition Schools and Stress Seminars, all in the interests of better health. The first Stop Smoking Clinics were led by Elder Paul Alderson in the dining room of Novato General Hospital, which opened about the same time as this church was organized in Novato. Other facilities in schools and bank community rooms were later used for gatherings of people interested in the quality of life. Since 1970 the fellowship hall has frequently been in use for this purpose. Doctors, dentists and other health personnel among the membership have given freely of their time and knowledge to the various clinics.

At the opening in 1975 the church facilities were considered complete. The organ and pews were in place, but financial obligations had not been met. There has continued a liberality and consistency by members in paying off pledges and in making new ones as needs arose. New members as they have come in have been involved in the financial picture along with the charter members, some of whom are still in attendance.

Dr. Wesley Amundsen spent part of 1976 as pastor in Novato before he was called to teach in the Far Eastern College in Singapore. The leadership here was then taken by Pastor Don Lane, who carried out plans for evangelism and fuller use of the church facilities. He continued outreach plans, county-wide contacts and successful Vacation Bible Schools. At his invitation in 1978, part of the evangelism group from the Voice of Prophecy television program presented lectures and Bible studies in the church.

In 1979 Pastor William Harbour came to carry the church work into the new decade. He piloted young and old, the fragile and sturdy, safely and on course toward the heavenly harbor. His years of service in Novato were devoted to the spiritual uplift of the membership.

For the following three years, Dr. Charles Edwards was the resident pastor. Inasmuch as his particular training and advanced education was in the field of health and nutrition, he gave particular attention to this work. He expanded the number of seminars, reaching hundreds in north Marin and other parts of the county. His ministry also included basic Bible study and the prophetic messages of the Bible which apply to present times. His classes in the study of Revelation and Daniel were fruitful.

December of 1984 a big step was taken when funds came in to cover the balance of the last note held by the Pacific Union Revolving Fund. Plans then were made for a debt-free dedication to take place.

June 22, 1985, the congregation, the officers of the church, and the representatives of the Northern California Conference united on the tenth anniversary of the opening ceremonies to complete the dedication of the facilities erected here.