In the summer of 1975, a group of 147 individuals came together to form a new church. The common thread that wove us together was our commitment to being in covenant with the United Church of Christ. Most of the individuals had been members of the First Congregational Church of Redlands and had decided to leave when that congregation voted to remain separate from the UCC.
Several small organizational meetings were held in different homes. The first formal meeting and worship service was held at the Morey Mansion on June 26, 1975 , with the Rev. Bruce Van Blair agreeing to serve as pastor of the new church and Rev. Richard Blakley as Associate Minister. Bruce had close ties to the minister of the First United Methodist Church of Redlands, who generously invited us to meet that summer in their facility. By early fall, a more formal agreement was reached with the United Methodists that allowed us to worship in the sanctuary on Sunday mornings and use some of their education rooms and office space. By the first Annual Meeting on January 18, 1976, about 150 people had signed personal covenants and were listed as Charter Members.
A Home of Our Own
In 1977, the church offices were moved to a heritage house — affectionately known as “The Church House” — located on the property we had purchased on the corner of Bellevue Avenue and Olive Street in Redlands. In the fall of 1983, the congregation temporarily relocated its worship services to the Chapel at the First Baptist Church, where there was ample room to house the new organ. Upon completion of the first building phase, all activities moved to Redlands UCC’s present site at 168 Bellevue Avenue.
Rev. Bruce Van Blair (1975-1980) was the founding pastor of Redlands UCC, and his intense leadership was very important during our formative years. He stepped down after completing the agreed-upon five-year term of service but returned to preach at the dedication of the present sanctuary in September 2001.
Rev. Bernard Crist served as Interim from January-February 1981. Afterward church members, particularly Dr. Jim Hester, provided worship and ministerial support until Rev. Rich Blakley was called and began serving as Senior Pastor in August of 1982.
Rev. Richard Blakley (1982-1988) was sponsored for ordination as a UCC minister by Redlands UCC. He had served as our Associate Minister from 1975 to 1979, then accepted a call to a church in Michigan. He returned as our senior minister in 1982. During this period of service, the congregation completed construction on the first phase of our current building. Richard resigned in 1988 and returned as an active member of the congregation and served as Pastor Emeritus.
Rev. Henry Rust (Interim) (1988-1990) was called out of retirement to serve as a much-needed interim. Henry was very active with the church’s youth programs during his two-year tenure.
Rev. Robert Nuhn (1990-1993) was called from Colorado, where he had started a new church. He also had a strong interest in the youth education program and was instrumental in the hiring of Kemery Baldwin to assist with that work.
Rev. Kemery Baldwin (Associate) (1993-1997) was also sponsored for ordination by the Redlands UCC. She served both as Director of Christian Education and as Associate Minister during her tenure here.
Rev. Audrey Turner (Interim) (1993-1994) was called after serving as co-pastor of a new church with the Disciples of Christ in Moreno Valley. Audrey helped orchestrate a very smooth transition between senior ministers.
Rev. James Vuocolo (1994-2000) was called from Wyoming, and came with great energy. He continued to support a strong education program and was very active in music ministry. During his ministry, the church went through the formal UCC process to become an Open and Affirming church. The RUCC Vision statement was adopted on Oct. 11,1998.
Rev. Elizabeth Nicks (Associate) (1997-2002) was another ordination success story under the sponsorship of Redlands UCC. She served as both Director of Christian Education and as Associate Minister, and it was under her care that the new building was completed.
Rev. Sharon Graff (2002-2013) A native southern Californian, Sharon brought a progressive spirituality, a sense of humor, and a desire for the church to “make a difference” within the community. Under Sharon’s leadership the congregation took bold stands in the fight against Prop. 8 and helped the church to become recognized as a peace and justice leader in the Inland Empire.
Rev. Jeanne Favreau-Sorvillo (Associate) (2006-2007) was first a Student in Care and was then hired by RUCC to administer the Step by Step program which the church was developing. She was ordained by RUCC on Sept. 30, 2006 and hired as an Associate Pastor to handle the Step by Step Program and the duties of an Associate Pastor.
Rev. David Clark (Interim, 2013-2014) came to RUCC from Iowa at a crucial time to help the congregation discern how to take the next steps on it’s journey. In November of 2014 he was called as the settled pastor of Bayshore Community Congregational Church in Long Beach.
Rev. Dr. Stanley D. Smith (Stan) (2014 – 2015) started as Interim Senior Pastor in December of 2014 to continue the interim period until the congregation called Rev. Dr. Jill Kirchner-Rose as our current settled pastor.