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History of Hillsdale United Methodist

We have been offering hope and making a difference since 1949.


Hillsdale Methodist Church was started in 1949 in the new and expanding Hillsdale area of San Mateo. Seven couples from Burlingame Methodist Church helped form the church, and the first service was held on August 21, 1949. The Charter Sunday, marking the official opening of the church, was on October 2, 1949.

Church construction highlighted the 1950s featuring the opening of the current Wesley Hall (1950), the wing of classrooms, and the sanctuary (1956). During the 1960's the focus was on expanding church programs in response to a large and growing congregation. The Methodist Youth Fellowship flourished as inspirational meetings, projects, activities, and summer camps took place. The church first sponsored a family to be resettled in the United States (a Dutch-Indonesian Family in 1961). Also, the last building, the Peterson Room, was completed (1964).

Major societal changes occurred during the late 1960s and into the 1970s with the Vietnam War, racial problems, and environmental concerns. At Hillsdale, membership and attendance began to decrease. In 1971, the first Tongan service conducted in the United States occurred at Hillsdale that led to a thriving Tongan ministry. A major renovation of Wesley Hall was completed in 1977.

During the 1980's attendance was still down, but the strengths of the church were leveraged to achieve even more community outreach and attract new people. However, it was a natural calamity by which most may recall this decade: during heavy rains in January, 1983, the sanctuary was flooded which required major repairs including new carpeting.

While no single theme dominated the last decade of the 20th century, there were several exciting developments. In 1993 some 80 transferred members were received from Belmont's Carlmont UMC that was closing. An outstanding Adult Education Program was reestablished during the mid-1990s. Community outreach continued with as participation began in 1992 with the Second Harvest Food Bank, and a mentoring program (the Tutor Learning Center) was started with the Laurel School in 1993. In 1994 then Pastor Dick Ernst held a very unique pet blessing service. In 1996 the church became an official Stephen Ministry provider with the first members trained and received. The music program expanded rapidly in 1996 with four special concerts held at the church.

The church marked its 50th anniversary in 1999 culminating with a major celebration the first weekend in October. "Bridging the Millennium" became the catch phrase that year. That was indeed taken to heart - a new governing structure called the Church Vision Council was adopted for the church to be even more responsive to community and member needs. Then, in the year 2000, the members decided to actively participate in the Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN) and just last month the church first hosted several homeless families for a week. Also, in the year 2000, the church endowment fund is started, providing members with a great opportunity for members to donate portions of their estates to the church.


In March 2001, Hillsdale hosts its first ever IHN families. In July of that same year, Pastor

Nadine DeWitt participates in a pulpit exchange for the summer. Pastor Jean Flether and her family, come all the way from Wales, England to live in San Mateo. Jean pastors at the church for the summer. At the September 16 service, Pastor Nadine gives a very important, heartfelt sermon, following the tragic events of the past Tuesday, September 11. In October, the church hosts Troop 27 celebrating their 50th anniversary – a linkage with the church going back to the troop’s inception.

The following year, 2002, sees the adult education program gravitate to several series and events centered around the study of Islam, an interesting interfaith approach made in the wake of the post 9/11 period. In addition, famous gospel singer, Dave Crandall, performs at the church on October 19. Finally, several members of the church make an UMVIM sponsored mission trip to Tonga, setting the way for future mission trips to be made by Hillsdale members.

In early 2003, Pastor Nadine DeWitt announces her retirement and is honored with a tremendous luncheon on June 29. New Pastor Steve Thompson delivers his first sermon at the Sunday, July 6th Early Service. In 2004, Sa’ia Fasisila joins the staff and will share in pastorship duties with Pastor Steve. Pastor Steve continues a trend he started his first year, namely setting out to visit with every church family as possible, in their home. He also starts a trend that will last for years, namely opening up the parsonage for barbecues.

Hillsdale from the 20th century to the 21st

The following year, church pastor and consultant, John Dodson, gets integrated into the Hillsdale UMC life. John helps contribute ideas as Hillsdale UMC forms its new vision team. In line with the new Vision Team, a series of small growth groups get started that meet regularly and discuss important spiritual themes and topics. Workdays are concentrated on completely redoing and modernizing the classrooms in Wesley Hall.

Then in 2006, the earlier Vision team and Small growth groups lead to the development of having Prayer Brothers and Sisters as members pledge to meet with others in a small group to lead and share in spiritual support.. John Dodson gives his final recommendations as Hillsdale goes forward with its new spiritual vision. Finally, members say goodbye to Sa’ia as he assumes a full pastor position at Shoreview UMC in San Mateo.

Mission themes dominate the church in 2007. The tragedy of Darfur is the focal point of the Lent season as funds are raised to contribute to alleviating the suffering in that area. In November some 25 Hillsdale members travel to New Orleans to contribute to the rebuilding effort there from the terrible Katrina tragedy of just two years ago. In addition, the Tutor Learning Center celebrates its 15th anniversary and an important audio-visual committee gets started at Hillsdale UMC. One of their first projects will be the utilization of a laptop and projector to run Power Point slide shows and, in essence, showcase service highlights on a big screen in front of the sanctuary.

In 2008, Pastor Steve and Karen Peterson get married. Steve and Karen have known each other from the time Steve pastored at First UMC in Redwood City. In addition, the Forcellini Scholarship (in honor of Vera Forcellini) is started at Hillsdale. So now the church can boast of both this new one as well as the long established MacNash Scholarship.

We celebrated Hillsdale UMC’s 60th anniversary on October 4, 2009, featuring the Hillsdale Children’s School and Troop 27 Boy Scouts (and their long established linkages with the church) as well as our Girl Scouts and after-school Tutoring Learning Center.

The Hillsdale area has changed tremendously since the church was founded more than sixty years ago, but as it was then, Hillsdale UMC continues today, and will continue into the future, to play an integral part in the life of the community.

Larry Staley


Hillsdale United Methodist Church


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