The Story of Community Presbyterian Church



San Juan Capistrano sits just a few miles from the California coast, straddling San Juan and Trabuco creeks, which stream down from the Santa Ana mountain range to the northeast. The community was settled in the mid-1770s by Catholic priests, led by Father Junipero Serra. Renowned for its “return of the swallows” to the world-famous Mission San Juan Capistrano, the “village” has become a central focus of South Orange County.

In the early 1900s, the coastal area, blessed with temperate weather year ’round, was very rural, populated by small farms and orchards established by farmers transplanted from the Midwest. For their spiritual needs, many of the area’s residents traveled to nearby Laguna Beach.

On September 10, 1916, a small group—headed by Lucille McGaughey, Blanche Dolph, and Margaret Day Cook—organized the first Sunday School, which was to become the nucleus of what today is Community Presbyterian Church of San Juan Capistrano. Original ChurchThis dedicated group of Protestant Sunday School teachers and their non-Catholic children met in Woodman Hall, which served as the social hall for the San Juan Capistrano village. They were served by the Reverend Paul Stevens during this interim period, and it would be nearly three years later, on April 22, 1919, that our church was formally organized with 48 members. The Rev. A. H. Burkholder was the church’s first minister.  The church sanctuary was the first permanent structure completed in 1922. In 1928, the church used World War I savings bonds to add two rooms and a kitchen to the existing sanctuary. And, again, in 1945, the church used $4,000 in war bonds to finance installation of pews.

Between 1948 and 1951, the church continued to grow, adding another building, classrooms and fellowship hall, and enlarging the kitchen. The church, with its expanded facilities, soon became the “San Juan” community hub—with many local groups (Rotary, Women’s Club and even the San Juan Elementary School), using the church site. CPC became a strong influence in the development of the spiritual, social, and civic life of the San Juan village. This church building still stands at 31612 El Camino Real. Calvary Chapel San Juan Capistrano is the current owner.

orig Design

In the 1960s, population growth brought change to the village of San Juan Capistrano. A study taken by The Department of Survey and Planning of the Presbytery of Los Angeles revealed that a new church building would be essential to meet the projected growth in the area.

In 1965, Community Presbyterian Church received a gift from the C. Russell Cook family, who donated three acres of farm-ranch land on del Obispo Street in San Juan Capistrano for construction of a new sanctuary, preschool, fellowship hall, pastor’s study, and offices. Three years later, on March 31, 1968, the modern Spanish-style church was dedicated. William C. Loper, DD, served as minister between1960 and 1970.

Robert SchwenkIn 1971, Rev. Robert L. Schwenck arrived and served the church for thirty-one years until his retirement at the end of 2001.  During those years, Bob had become a cherished pastor who was much loved by all in the church.   Therefore, the congregation decided, upon his retirement to name him our Pastor Emeritus, a title which he holds to this day.  Bob and his wife, Bernice, continue to be well-respected and contributing members of our church congregation.

In August 2004, Pastor Morgan Murray became pastor and served until the fall of 2008.

Rev. Dianna Pohlman Bell became the interim pastor on the first Sunday of Advent of 2008. On February 1, 2010, Rev. Michael Vaughn began his ministry and retired from service on December 31, 2017.

Small fellowship study groups have been organized for support among adult members, meeting on a regular basis. Senior High youth have gone on many summer trips of service to such places as Alaska, Northern California, Arizona, Mexico, Kansas, and Massachusetts.

From its very beginning, the basic roots of CPC were founded on Sunday School—the Christian education of our youth. This fundamental platform on which our church resides has continued through every phase and continues to this day. Adult education, youth ministry, children’s ministry, kindergarten and preschool programs are all active at Community Presbyterian Church. Debbie Reeder is our current Director of Children’s Ministries and Terri Treemarcki-Beck is our Preschool and Kindergarten Director.

Our greatest strengths are the close personal relationships of members, our Christian education programs, and creative worship. Our efforts to minister to the needs of our members and the community were begun in the early years of the last century and have continued into the twenty-first century. After more than ninety years of Christian service, we’re looking toward the future while building on the past.

Our vision at Community Presbyterian Church, San Juan Capistrano is to nurture, teach, and serve. We would love to have you join us and become part of our history.