Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Celebrating the 50 Year History of the Center

Founded in a Sleepy Little Beach Town

In 1968, Rev. Gretchen Bremmerman founded the First Church of Religious Science of San Clemente, which would later become the Center for Spiritual Living Capistrano Valley. The journey from San Clemente to San Juan Capistrano, and back to San Clemente is storied and rich.

Rev. Gretchen was a fixture in Los Angeles’ art and classical music scene. She performed during the 1930s through the 1960s, and was a member and officer of the California Art Club. 

Answering a higher calling, Gretchen became a minister of Religious Science, moved to what was still a sleepy Southern California coastal town and began what you see today – The Center for Spiritual Living Capistrano Valley.

Rev. Gretchen would serve five years as senior minister before retiring. Though small, the congregation of 15 was mighty. In five short years, it had managed to create a Building Fund of $10,000, and was able to pay its next minister $300 a month.

New Ministers and Great Growth

At the time Rev. Leslie Harrold was selected as the church’s new minister in 1973, services were held in a small one-room building. But within six months, the church had grown, and Sunday services moved to the Masonic Temple in downtown San Clemente. Rev. Leslie, along with his wife, Rev. Jackie Harrold expanded the church’s reach, offering classes and spiritual counseling in the Harrold’s home.

Revs. Leslie and Jackie came to their ministry from the corporate world. Rev. Leslie had worked in human resources at the corporate level. Rev. Jackie was an educator and had a background in business administration. Both supplemented their income by working outside of the church, but they also brought with them a depth of experience.

The church began to grow and prosper even more. People from around the area joined the church, people with a passion to grow their spiritual lives, and also with a passion to nurture their community, to volunteer.

By the time 1976 rolled around, the church had grown to 75 members committed to creating and maintaining a self-sustained spiritual center. Rev. Jackie had launched the youth program, and Rev. Leslie had just been ordained as a minister of Religious Science. The church was now so prosperous that it could easily pay Rev. Leslie a full minister’s salary, with Rev. Jackie as the Assistant Minister. Revs. Leslie and Jackie could devote all of their time and energy to the church.

Here’s a little-known story. During its early years, the church had as a guest speaker, a famous actor, in town performing in a local stage production. Mickey Rooney.

Having outgrown its space in the Masonic Temple, and with its $10,000 Building Fund, in 1977, the church purchased its first home. The building, with 1,800 square feet, provided the church with enough space to provide Sunday services, youth church and classes all under one roof—for the first time in its history.

Church members pitched in to remodel the building to suit its needs. When the remodel was complete, the building had space for a minister’s office, bookstore, kitchen, bathrooms, a large room for classes, meetings and even social events. Owning this building was one of the most brilliant moves the church would make, for it doubled in value in just a few years.


The Move to San Juan Capistrano

In 1980, San Clemente was still a rather small city. The church decided to move Sunday services to Marco Forster Middle School in San Juan Capistrano. This central location gave the church greater access to more populated areas, and allowed it to continue to grow. Here, the church attracted even more people. More members were taking classes and participating in annual retreats at the UC Conference Center at Lake Arrowhead.

The church eventually decided to sell its San Clemente building in 1982 and began leasing a 2,000 square foot space San Juan Capistrano’s Plaza del Rio Shopping Center. The space was remodeled to include a kitchen, bathrooms, bookshelves, a minister’s desk area and a large area for church services and classes. At last, one location for everything the church could want.

This new location opened up many opportunities to grow and expand. It was now easily accessible to Lake Forest, Mission Viejo and Laguna Hills. These communities would eventually have their own Religious Science churches, but that’s another beautiful story for another time.

They quickly added another room to its lease, used for Youth Church. The next year, another room was added, for a minister’s office and more Youth Church space.

Another interesting story, next door to the church, sharing a wall, was a Mexican restaurant. The restaurant often had a mariachi band playing during Sunday brunch. Coincidentally, brunch fell in the middle of Sunday service. So, halfway through many services and weekend evening seminars, church goers would be serenaded with mariachi music. One can laugh about it…now.

However, with this expanded space, the church was now able to present and sponsor more special events, classes, fundraisers and social events than ever before.

For the remainder of the 1980s, the church focused on organizing itself in a way that would strengthen its foundation and create a backbone that would sustain it for decades. A Volunteer Program launched, with a Volunteer Coordinator at its head. Various volunteer positions were created, birthing a fully functioning organization.

In 1988, membership had grown to 150. Rev. Leslie was now Doctor Leslie Harrold, having been granted his doctorate by Religious Science International. Dr. Leslie and Rev. Jackie, now Jackie Belzano, separated, but remained close friends. Dr. Leslie took the pulpit at a church in Alberta Canada. Rev. Jackie became the church’s senior minister.

Adventure in Faith Accelerates Growth

In the Spring of 1989, Rev. Jackie invited a church growth consultant to lead a series of workshops for the congregation. The workshops aimed to help members create a vision and purpose for the church. From these workshops, a yearly October pledge program developed – a program that would serve not only to create regular financial commitments to the church, but to foster greater community, personal bonds and a deeper sense of ownership among the church’s members. Adventure in Faith would continue to be the church’s mainstay pledge program for another 25 years.

And at the same time, the Mexican restaurant next door, moved away. The church leased the pad and consolidated its footprint into a contiguous 4,500 square feet of sanctuary, office and Youth Church space. Well, it was 4,500 square feet which was remodeled into a well-functioning sanctuary, office and Youth Church space. Five years later, another 1,000 square foot space was added, for a second Youth room.

Six years after the first Adventure in Faith, that program expanded to include small groups, Discovery groups. Many would continue to meet throughout the year, and helped create and solidify personal spiritual growth and friendships.


Dr. Heather and the Return to San Clemente

The church continued to grow and flourish during the 1990s. By June, 1999, Rev. Jackie, now Dr. Jackie, was ready to retire. The church had more than 300 members, 30 licensed and intern Practitioners, a large Youth Church and In-Flight Teen programs, paid and volunteer office staff and a strong choir and music program.


The church welcomed Rev. Heather Clark as its new senior minister in 1999. During her years as the Church’s spiritual leader, Rev. Heather received her doctorate, guided the church through its parent organization, Religious Science International’s integration with its sister, Religious Science United. Through the organization’s renaming to Centers for Spiritual Living. Dr. Heather guided the church…Center…during one of the country’s greatest financial downturns, while maintaining and growing its financial prosperity.

In one of its greatest demonstrations, the Center, in 2012, purchases its own home. Returning to San Clemente, the Center’s new home is a two-story building with nearly
20,000 square feet of space; half for the Center, and half for office rental income.


Dr. Heather begins her 20th year as the Center for Spiritual Living Capistrano Valley’s senior minister and spiritual leader in 2019. Drs. Leslie Harrold and Jackie Belzano remained close friends. Both Dr. Leslie and Rev. Jackie have transitioned but we know that they will be with us this year, celebrating in spirit.
First service back in San Clemente