History of the First Spiritualist Church
IIn 1846, Modern Spiritualism had its beginnings in the United States in New York. Spiritualism had started in Europe before the coming to the United States. The Theosophical Society, founded by Madam Elena Petrovna Blavatsky in 1875, furthered the spread of Spiritualism.
The history of Spiritualism in San Diego began in the Point Loma area in 1881. It was in that year that a group of wives of Portuguese fishermen began holding regular prayer meetings and meditation groups in their homes. There was a medium among the wives, and the women developed the ability to communicate psychically.
The group continues to grow and formally organized in 1885. According to records, it was formed for religious social and benevolent purposes. The organization was called "The First Spiritual Society." Monumental Hall, located above Marston's, on Sixth Avenue in San Diego, was the first formal meeting place.
In 1886, the incorporation papers were filed with the city clerk.
The object, as it was announced, was "not for pecuniary advantage or
gain, but for advancement of truth, right and freedom of conscience
and progress." Its organizers were prominent Spiritualists in San
In the same year, the meeting place was changed to Lafayette Hall on Fifth Avenue in downtown San Diego. By this time, there was also a children's lyceum. The women's auxiliary was called "The Busy Bee.”
In October of 1898, Mrs. Leo Prior of Salem Oregon, and the late professor (Pastor?) of the Spiritualist Church in Atlanta Georgia, became the Pastor. The following year, 1899, Mrs. Abby Sheets of Grand Lodge Michigan became the pastor of the church. That year the fifty-first anniversary of Spiritualism was celebrated.
Mrs. Hildred followed Mrs. Sheets as pastor. She was pastor for eighteen years. In 1902, Captain Henry F. Fellows, in his will, bequeathed two thousand dollars to the First Spiritual Society. He had been a long-time member of the society. After much litigation, the Spiritual Society received the money. The money was applied toward the purchase of a piece of property north of the B Street School at 1240 Seventh Avenue in San Diego.
On March 29, 1903, the cornerstone of the new Spiritualist Temple was laid during an impressive ceremony. When completed, the Spiritualist Temple had two stories. The first story held an assembly hall with a recreation room on either side. There were also a library, kitchen and reception room on the first floor. This floor was opened to the public in September 1903. 1 The second floor auditorium was dedicated in March of 1904. The opening coincided with the fifty-seventh year of Spiritualism in the United States. The entire building cost about six thousand dollars.
The money to build the temple was raised in the variety of ways.
Some came as gifts, some from bazaars held by the Busy Bees.
Concerts were also held as fund raisers.
The Spiritual Society continued to meet in the Seventh Street Temple until 1950. At the same time, the Seventh Street Property was sold and a Christian Science Reading Room located on Forty-Second Street in San Diego was purchased. Pastor Emily Davis had not really planned on moving the church at this time, but opportunity surprisingly presented itself. The full price of the property was paid in cash so there were no debts when the church was moved. The First Spiritualist Church has been there since that time.
Pastor Davis stated that during the World War II the building had
been a nylon (or a parachute factory) factory before becoming a
Christian Science Reading Room. She chose this site for two main
reasons. One was that it was out of the main stream of business and
the other was because of the high amount of psychic energy located
there. (It is a psychic pressure point.) Today it is no longer out
of the main stream of traffic, but the energy remains consistently
In 1930, The First Spiritual Society changed their name to the First Spiritualist Church. This was also the year the First Spiritualist Church celebrated its sixty-fifth anniversary.
The Spiritualist Church belonged to several different Spiritualist Societies since its inception. The National Spiritualist Association which later became the National Spiritualist Association of Churches was one of the earliest associations to which the First Spiritualist Church belonged. The church was also a member of the California Branch, C.S.S.A. The Church left this organization in 1934.
Pastor Emily Davis was on the Supreme Council of the Federation of Spiritualist Churches to which the Church belonged during her Pastorship. She attended annual meetings of the Society.
During church services, people trained to give psychic messages served on the platform. Until 1944, there was a strict dress code for the platform workers (Message Bearers as they were called then). Women were required to wear long dresses and men wore suits and ties.
During the Pastorship of Reverend Emily Davis', 1950-1975, classes were not allowed to be held in the church building. Both she and Reverend Roberta Johnson, Pastor from 1976-1980, held classes at their homes as well as in the recreation hall in Landis Park located a short distance from the church.
At this time, also, in order to attend classes, one had to be appointed to do so. The classes were not open as they are now. When Reverend Roberta Johnson became the Pastor, some classes were partially opened, but most still remained closed to the general congregation. At present, classes and workshops are open to all. Classes are now held in Johnson Hall which was built in 1977. Johnson Hall is on the church property and was built for the most part, by the members of the church. When completed, the building was dedicated to Pastor Roberta Johnson. The library was dedicated to Pastor Emily Davis.
After Pastor Roberta's death, Reverend Barbara Klein became the Pastor late in 1980. When she resigned in 1989, Reverend James Smith was elected by the Board to be Pastor. Work commitments caused him to resign in October of 1992. Reverend Billie Baker became an acting Pastor until the board elected Reverend Pearl Filgo in January of 1993. After Reverend Pearl Filgo resigned in 1993, Reverend Janelva Young was the Pastor from 1995 to 2001. Reverend Debra Feldman was Pastor from January 2001 to December 2004. Reverend Doris Horvath was the Pastor from December 2004 to December of 2009. In December of 2009 Reverend Doris was unable to continue as Pastor after a fall. Reverend Rosie Oberlies was acting Pastor until January 2010. Reverend Doris resigned in January of 2010 because of her health and Reverend Rosie was appointed Pastor of the First Spiritualist Church. Reverend Rosie was Pastor until January 10th, 2016. The newly elected Pastor of First Spiritualist Church is now Reverend Lorina Pyle.
The purpose of Spiritualism is to promote the continuity of life.
As early as 1899, when Mrs. Eldred taught courses in the occult
sciences, the classes have reflected this purpose.
Some of the other classes that have been taught at the church are: Herbology, Spiritual Law, Astral Projection, Trance, Alpha Thinking, Tarot, and Astrology. Recently classes have included, The Celestine Prophecy, The Mayan Calendar, Ascension, Reiki Healing, Theta Healing, Hypnosis, Aura Healing, and Universal Spiritual Law.
To promote friendship and love, the First Spiritualist Church holds Psychic fairs, and spaghetti fundraisers and potluck lunches. Parties to celebrate various holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter are traditional. We have Christmas Candlelight Service, Healing Celebrations on the last Sunday of the year, Easter and the Church Birthday.
The First Spiritualist Church holds a Spiritual service on Sunday morning. Healing services precede the Spiritual service. We have Communion Service at Christmas and Easter Services. All attending Ministers (including Licentiate Ministers) are invited to participate by wearing their Minister robes.
The First Spiritualist Church of San Diego has had a long and colorful history. It has played a major role in the history of Spiritualism in San Diego for more than one hundred years. It has progressed with the times, seeing many changes in San Diego as well as within its own parameters.