Our History

Union Church in Cupertino celebrates 125 years…

The sea captains and orchard workers who once traveled miles by horse, wagon and foot over dirt roads to attend services at Union Church of Cupertino each Sunday may no longer be around, but after nearly 13 decades, the church continues to draw people from miles away. The church, among the oldest in the area and the first Protestant church in Santa Clara Valley, has deep roots in the community, offering financial assistance and food and shelter to those well beyond its walls.

This year marks the 125th anniversary of the church, which is now an interdenominational organization. “Union Church has supported this community through times of immense changes,” said the Rev. Mark Brady. “The church has gone through agricultural hardships, world wars, the Great Depression and great cultural change.”

Brady credits the church’s interdenominational nature and strong community outreach with its long life. He said the church makes it easy for members to bring friends from other faiths and cultures. Church members also provide food to Second Harvest Food Bank, participate in the rotating shelter program Faith in Action and provide support to numerous nonprofits, including the San Jose Family Shelter, Bay and Valley Habitat and Christian Veterinary Mission.On mostly any given day, the church bustles with volunteers sorting food donations, boxing clothes or preparing to deliver cash donations to local nonprofits.” I find it a very open and welcoming church,” said Jean Farran, who has attended services since 1952. “It starts my week out right. If I don’t come, my whole week is different, and I just don’t feel the same.” Longtime member Barbara Murray says she feels the same way.Murray was in junior high when she began attending the church’s Sunday school program and youth choir in 1963. She found the school to be a welcoming place during her rough teenage years.”A lot of my peers became part of the young adult world, and I felt left behind,” she said. “The adults at Union Church were very welcoming of this teenager. I found a place where I felt like I belonged and was validated.”Murray performed odd jobs at the church and never forgot what it did for her growing up. She left for the Midwest to go to graduate school but returned to Union Church 32 years ago and began teaching Sunday school.

“This church is like a home to me. I feel like my second set of parents are here,” she said. Phil Zimmerman, who has been attending the church since 1979, when his father was the pastor for more than a decade, said he has no plans to leave. “People come here and feel like they get a piece of their home life,” he said.

Early beginnings For a long period, Union Church was one of the few options in the area. “If you weren’t Catholic, you came here,” said Joann Minnick, a member since 1976.

The church had its informal beginnings as an at-home Bible study group at the home of the McClellands, one of Cupertino’s pioneer families who owned a ranch near today’s McClelland Road.

The first church was built in 1884 at the corner of what is now Stevens Creek and De Anza boulevards.

The church moved to its location at 20900 Stevens Creek Blvd. in a land swap deal in the late 1950s. The old site is now the Crossroads Shopping Center, home to Starbucks and Pizza My Heart.

The church has not always flourished. At its height in the 1950s and`60s, the church had a congregation of about 700 to 800 members, according to Brady. As the region grew, so did other religious options, and members were pulled toward other churches.

“We weren’t successful all the time. We went through a stage where we wondered if we were still going to be in existence,” said Dottie Brown, a longtime member and keeper of the church’s history room.

Brady estimates the church has more than 250 members today.

Many members think the church’s location along Stevens Creek has helped it recruit members. Even in Cupertino’s lighter traffic days, the church was a landmark on a main thoroughfare. The church had a strong presence in the community in its heyday, as it was a community hub for educators, city government and business leaders, according to Mary Lou Lyon, a former Homestead High School teacher and local historian. Familiar names of early pioneers like Jollyman, Stelling, McClellan, Glendenning, Meyerholtz and Calvert are strewn through the church’s history. Adapting to change Rev. Brady says the essence of church has remained pretty much the same since its first members got together, but there have been some adjustments over years as the area’s demographics have changed.

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Focusing on youth is one of those changes. Members said he has put a renewed focus on youth after previous ministries had pushed them to the side. Brady now has a “children’s moment” during his Sunday sermons. “There is such a good mixture now of old and young families. For a while, all you would see was a lot of silver hair,” said Dick Kurkowski, chairman of the church’s board of directors who has attended the church for about 20 years. Eileen Paredes, the church’s youth director, has the task of building up the church’s youth base. She sees that youngsters get a strong balance of religion, charity and community awareness while also bridging the gap between youth and church seniors. The church is also four months away from completing a music hall to share with the predominantly Chinese and locally based Crystal Children’s Choir.

Rev. Brady said Union Church will always be relevant if it remains a welcoming place for those looking for a second family.

“There can be a great sense of disconnect when there is change all around and people sometimes don’t even know their neighbors,” Rev. Brady said. “The great gift of Union Church from its early days to today is a message that we are all in this together. People can be from any part of the country or any part of the world and come together and be a single community.”

(thank you to Matt Wilson of the Cupertino Courier, December 2009)

History Snapshot (from A Tale of Three Churches published by the Union Church of Cupertino in 1976)

Union Church was established in 1884 by a congregation seeking worship programs best meeting their needs. The following timeline details events from the first services to the move to the 1970’s:

1860’s: First Protestant religious services were held in various homes on Sunday afternoons.

1870’s: Sunday afternoon meetings were held in the newly built San Antonio School. A melodeon was bought to enhance the services.

1880’s: Meetings were moved to the Collins School. The first church building was dedicated on March 30, 1884. The church was chartered as an independent Cupertino Union Parish.

1890’s: Ladies Aid and Christian Endeavor were organized and an addition to the church was built.

1900’s: In June 1900, the Union Church of Cupertino was formally incorporated with 43 charter members. A parsonage was built.

1910’s: Money was raised by subscription and a debt-free church was built at a cost of $6600.

1920’s: Alex Montgomery contributed $5,700 to build a church annex in memory of his wife.

1930’s: The church weathered the depression and its members sustained the church and helped the needy in the community.

1940’s: Membership increased, a nursery was instituted and an organ was purchased.

1950’s: The church was relocated. The new church and Ivan Hall were built. Calvert and Jollyman Halls were moved from the previous site. The first Sunday bulletins were printed, church membership reached 545 and the Sunday school served 300 children.

1960’s: Montgomery Hall was built. A church secretary was hired and annual reports were presented in printed form.

1970’s: All Choir Festivals became part of the yearly program, a new organ was purchased and eight memorial stained-glass windows were dedicated.