Hollister Methodist Church on Monterey Street. Photo: Robert Eliason

Standing in the center of its sanctuary, it’s easy to become engulfed by the music resonating within the walls of the Hollister United Methodist Church. 

It’s a sound like no other in San Benito County; one that parishioners hear every Sunday at the church—and it all comes from its pipe organ. 

“It was installed in 1947 by a company out of San Francisco,” said the church’s Leadership Chairman George Lewis. 

The organ—the only one in the county—is still in its original form, thus needing constant care from its continued use. 

“We have it serviced annually by the company that installed it,” Lewis said. “Right now it is in good working condition. If we wanted to rebuild it, it would cost around $100,000. So our goal is to try to maintain it.”

As is the church’s goal with additional fixtures of the 110-year-old building’s structure—located on the corner of Fifth and Monterey streets.

With the HUMC celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, Lewis said now seemed like the best time to begin a capital campaign “to keep it beautiful and structural” and to ensure the historic preservation of the church. 

Local residents will find the history behind the church is just as spectacular as the red brick and mortar its built with. 

Years before its current sanctuary was erected, two Methodist churches were actually established in Hollister in early 1869: Methodist Church North and Methodist Church South (the national church split in 1844 due to slavery issues). 

Methodist Church North held its first church service on Jan. 19, 1869—which is the date HUMC marks its anniversary with.

“That first service was actually held in Colonel W. W. Hollister’s home,” said HUMC’s historian Sharry Jones. 

Colonel Hollister would host both churches often, explained Jones, alternating services until the two sanctuaries were constructed. By 1872, the construction of both churches was complete, with Methodist Church North located at the corner of Fifth and Monterey streets, and Methodist Church South at its current location.

In 1909, the original building at Monterey and Fifth streets was moved southward on the lot, and the current sanctuary and Sunday school rooms were built in 1910. After it moved, the original sanctuary was first converted to a gymnasium (“Coach Andy Hardin actually had classes there,” Jones said), and then ultimately became the current church social hall. 

In 1937, the Hollister churches merged and began using the building on Monterey and Seventh streets for their services. 

Thereafter, “the national church became one in 1939,” Jones explained. And the Methodist Church North sanctuary was sold in 1942. It later became the parking lot of Black-Cooper-Sander Funeral Home.

Over the years, changes and additions to the church’s structure have helped it transform into what it is today. And the current congregation hopes to keep it that way. In honor of the church’s 150th anniversary, the church’s goal is to raise $150,000 for renovation and maintenance. 

Lewis said there are four things listed on their capital campaign: maintenance of the pipe organ, regrouting of the brick exterior, refurbishing of the stained glass windows and reparation of the roof. 

Donations have already started coming in.  

“We actually applied to the Community Foundation and received a matching grant in June,” Lewis said. “I also went before City Council two weeks ago and made a presentation. I got donations right at the meeting.” 

The church also hopes to receive support from the San Benito County Chamber of Commerce and Hollister residents. 

“We’re trying to get the word out,” he said. “We’re doing mailings to people—people who were involved with the church or whose families were involved in the church—and of course our church members who have received this or will receive this.” 

The church’s 72-year-old pipe organ, donated by the Hawkins family in 1947, is still in good working condition. However, some pipes have been replaced over the years, and with more than 100 pipes and the hefty cost to replace the organ, Lewis expects more replacements are to come. 

“The air to every pipe is controlled by flap valve, which is leather,” he said. “Now you realize those valves are now 75 years old or older. At some point we’re going to lose more of those.”

Lewis said the blower on the pipe organ will also need to be replaced in the next five years.

“And that’s about $3,000 to replace,” he projected.

One feature of the church, which passersby can admire at night, is the stained glass windows. 

“All of the panes are hand-painted,” Lewis said.

But without the inside lighting to reveal the detailed panes, the 110-year-old windows can’t be seen during daylight hours due to the darkened protective seal on the windows. 

“We will do any necessary repair work on the glass and then put some type protective glass back up,” Lewis said. “It’ll be clear, so you can see right through it.” 

Lewis said the roofs of the sanctuary and social hall also need repair, and the bricks on the exterior walls (“It’s a wooden structure with a brick facade,” Lewis said) need regrouting. 

Many of the bricks with mortar have died, and some are loose,” he said.  

One issue with the bricks, which was already dealt with 30 years ago, couldn’t be fixed.

“In 1943, ivy was planted on the outside of the church from cuttings from the College of the Pacific,” Jones said. “In 1989, it was removed because we found out that it was damaging the mortar between the bricks.”

Ivy or no ivy, the church has a kind of elegance rarely seen in nearby cities.

“Sharry found that this is an eastern design of churches of that time, and somebody decided that they wanted to do this really classy,” Lewis said. “It’s very unique in California.” 

And he’s hoping donors will see that, as well.

The Hollister United Methodist Church is located at 521 Monterey St. For information on the capital campaign, call George Lewis at (831) 628-3305.

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