In the Beginning
In 1879, four years before the incorporation of Riverside as a town and fourteen years before the formation of Riverside County, ten pioneering Presbyterians gathered in the home of Mr. and Mrs. S. C. Evans on Magnolia Avenue. Six members of the group had come from the eastern U.S., planning to settle and make their homes in Riverside. The remaining four came from the nearby community of Colton. This group initiated what eventually became the first Presbyterian Church, in what are now the city and county of Riverside. Originally, this area was part of the Southern California Colony Association in the County of San Bernardino. It has been written that the “real fathers” of the church were S. C. Evans and D. W. McLeod, because of their earlier meetings with Mr. Chester A. Crosby.
Establishing the Church
In preparation for establishing a Presbyterian Church in Riverside, arrangements were made with the Presbytery of Los Angeles to take the necessary steps for organization. As a result, two Los Angeles ministers, the Reverend J. A. Compton and the Reverend John Marquis came as the appointed representatives – a two-day trip for those gentlemen if they traveled only during daylight hours.
On Sunday afternoon, November 9, 1879, the organizing committee met at the Sunnyside Schoolhouse on West Central Avenue and organized the “First Presbyterian Church of Arlington.” The name was chosen because of a plan at the time for a community named Arlington to extend to a focal point at the north edge of Magnolia and Arlington Avenues.
Mr. Crosby left a very interesting description of that first occasion. He stated, “Mr. and Mrs. Evans drove us with their team and top surrey through a two-inch rain storm and a foot of adobe mud to the Sunnyside Schoolhouse where we met the other charter members.”
The Original Church
Two months after they organized, the congregation discussed the need for a church building. They purchased a lot on Magnolia Avenue, 300 X 150 feet, for a total price of $438.25. During the summer of 1880, they called for bids, and the sanctuary contract was awarded. On April 24, 1881, the sanctuary was finished and dedicated. Total cost of the building with furnishings was $4,766.90. The Church was surrounded on three sides by orange groves.
During the period 1879 to 1886, there had been five ministers, each serving one or two years. In January 1886, The Reverend Gage was called from Colorado Springs, Colorado. He and his wife and seven children lived in the Manse. Under his leadership, church membership more than doubled. The Sunday school had grown to 107 with an average attendance of 81. In 1888, fifteen members of the congregation were released to organize Calvary Presbyterian Church of Riverside.
In June of 1900, Reverend Gage was called to serve a church in Long Beach. The congregation was saddened by his departure.
In November of 1900, the Reverend Daniel MacQuarrie was called to fill the pulpit for a period of six to twelve months. However, by the end of four months, the congregation was ready to issue a call to Reverend MacQuarrie to become the pastor of the church. His salary was to be $1,200 a year, payable monthly with a one month vacation each year and use of the Manse. After eight years, his salary was increased to $1,500.
Reverend MacQuarrie’s ministry continued for thirty-seven (37) years. During this time the name of the church was changed officially to “The Magnolia Avenue Presbyterian Church.” When Reverend MacQuarrie retired, he was accorded the title of Pastor Emeritus, and continued to take an interest in the church and its activities until his death in 1954 at the age of 90. Reverend MacQuarrie also served as Stated Clerk of the Riverside Presbytery from its founding in 1902 until 1952.
Following Reverend MacQuarrie’s retirement, God has blessed Magnolia with fifteen ministers who have served Magnolia well, some as Associate and Interim Pastors.
The Reverend George L. Brahams, (1937 to 1941).
The Reverend Isaac P. Ward, (1941 to 1945).
The Reverend Llewelyn Evans, (1946 to 1951).
The Reverend Franklin K. Tomlinson, (1951 to 1953).
The Reverend Dr. David Dilworth, (1953 to 1967). During his pastorship, the church had its greatest growth numerically.
The Reverend George Smith, (1954 to 1956).
The Reverend Willard W. Bartlett, (1955 to 1956).
The Reverend Leonard J. Osbrink, (1956-1967). It was during Rev. Osbrink’s ministry that the present sanctuary was conceived and built.
The Reverend Wilbert M. Tom, (1960 to 1963).
The Reverend Fred Mondin, (1965 to 1968).
The Reverend Robert Byrd, (1968-1992). The congregation remembers him for his compassion and thoughtfulness. Reverend Byrd also felt mission was a vital part of a healthy church and involved Magnolia Presbyterian in community as well as world-wide mission projects.
The Reverend C. Eugene Barnard, (1973 to 1979).
The Reverend Dr. Bradley Copeland, (1979-2014). He worked diligently to make Magnolia a growing, vital church and in 1986, the Session voted to make him a “Co-Pastor.” This allowed him to be selected as our Senior Pastor when Rev. Byrd retired.
The Reverend Diana Wright, (1993 to 2000).
The Reverend Chris Enoch, (2002 to 2006).
The Reverend Andrew Parnell, (2007 to 2011).
The Reverend Claire Schlegel, (2012 to Present). On April 30, 2017, she was installed as Co-Pastor with Rev. Paul Knopf.
The Reverend Timothy Avazian, (2014-2017). Rev. Avazian served as the Interim Senior Pastor.
The Reverend Paul Knopf, (2017 to Present). On April 30, 2017, he was ordained and installed as Co-Pastor with Rev. Claire Schlegel.