Noe Valley Voice July-August 1998

New Life for 130-Year-Old Church on Cesar Chavez

By Steve Steinberg

A historic Noe Valley church has come back from the brink with the help of a caring pastor and a new paint job.

Three years ago, the First Church of God, located at 3728 Cesar Chavez St. between Dolores and Guerrero, was down to a congregation of about a dozen members. The group had been without a pastor for three years. The church was also considered a neighborhood eyesore, painted in glaring orange and pink and left in a state of disrepair.

All that has changed. Current pastor Mike Moberg has vowed to "reestablish the church as part of the community." To that end, Moberg has spent the past three years renovating the long-neglected building.

He started with the interior, progressing in stages to the church's exterior and roof. This month he hopes to apply a fresh coat of beige paint. "Everyone's excited about the work that's been done," he says proudly.

A contractor before he became a minister, Moberg has done much of the work on the church himself and can appreciate the building's vintage.

According to church records, part of the present structure dates back to "before 1869." Assistant pastor Brian Stoltey says that a section of the church complex was originally a storefront that later housed the German Methodist Church, the second incorporated church in California.

That storefront church was moved from its original site at Duncan and Dolores streets to its present location in the late 1860s. Around 1902, the chapel and parsonage were added. A pipe organ was installed in 1905.

In 1928, the German Methodist Church sold the building to the First Church of God for $12,500. There has been a Church of God congregation there ever since. (The First Church of God is an independent denomination, founded in the 1880s. Its national headquarters is in Indiana.)

Moberg admits that when he took over as pastor in 1995, morale among the few remaining parishioners was low. "Everyone was just kind of hanging on," he says.

But the group's dedication inspired him to act. "I saw a small group of people who were willing to do the work and renew. They had a sense that God wanted to turn things around."

The Noe Valley assignment is Moberg's first pastorship. Originally from Nebraska, Moberg, 48, worked in prison ministry before coming to San Francisco. Moberg lives in the church's parsonage with his wife and two sons. He also has a married daughter.

Since he and assistant pastor Stoltey began their ministry, word of the church's new spirit has spread. People from all over the country have sent donations to help pay for the facelift, notes Stoltey.

The church membership has also climbed. It is now around 45.

The First Church of God also shares its facility with the Good Samaritan Episcopal Church, which lost its church building in the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. And to foster a closer relationship with the neighborhood, the church plans to start a SAFE program on the block, and lend out its building to a day-care center. Moberg and Stoltey would also like to see the church become a community center and host various neighborhood events.

Says Moberg, "I want to be a good steward for the church and see that it is a viable community church long after I'm gone."

For more information about the First Church of God, including times of worship services, call Pastor Mike Moberg at 647-1330.