The story of The Santa Anita Church began with a dream; a dream first recognized by Ethel Barnhart during her studies at the Institute of Religious Science in Los Angeles. The dream was fostered by her work as director of children and youth, and later, associate minister of the Alhambra Church of Religious Science. Pursuing her dream with the wisdom she had gained, she rented the Michillinda Women’s Club and gave her first service there on November 2, 1947.
From the very beginning the work had the mark of success upon it. People were drawn to it as word of its effective ministry spread. On May 1, 1948, a charter to The Santa Anita Church of Religious Science was granted by the Los Angeles headquarters, and Ethel Barnhart was recognized as founder and minister of the new church.
A vacant corner at 778 S. Rosemead Blvd., Pasadena was for sale and the small congregation bought it. A church member bought a building for $1500 that was moved, piece by piece, to the new property. With the rafters still exposed and the building still under construction, the first service was held there on Thanksgiving evening, 1949. A wonderful spirit of joy filled the space as the candle-lit service caused people to stop their cars in the busy street to get a closer look at the strange sight — people standing in a roofless church, heads bowed in prayer and thanksgiving. Many passing spectators came in to join the grateful band of people and such a crowd gathered that there was not room enough to hold them all!
On Easter Sunday, 1950, the first complete service was held in the new church — the first of many inspiring services to be held there over the next nine years. The congregation continued to grow until it was necessary to rent space from the Women’s Club for the Sunday School and youth work. It soon became inevitable that larger quarters must be found.
Plans for future growth were beginning to formulate and Dr. Barnhart set forth two rules: 1. No one could be personally solicited for money. Everyone was to look to the One Source for the building funds, and there would come through individuals as they were moved to give. (This rule has become a tradition at the church) 2. The church must have at least five acres of ground. Children played a major role in Ethel’s dream, and a larger property would be required for a children’s day school.
Armed with these guidelines, the dedicated people went to work. A giant thermometer was placed in the lobby of the old church, and the congregation became active in putting on rummage sales, dinners, carnivals, car washes, etc. Approximately $150,000 was raised in a little over a year by the membership, which numbered less than 300.
The Board attempted to buy five different sites before the present one was put into escrow. Board members combed the entire region open to them, street by street. One site was put into escrow, then abandoned when it was learned that the freeway would cut off part of it. Another site was given up when it was found that a flood-control ditch would cut it in two. The city refused to let the church buy a third site because it was wanted for a junior high school. The owner refused the Board another site because his children wanted him to hold it for future speculation.
Whenever the door was closed on one site, another door would open, but eventually a dead end was reached. After over a year of searching and negotiation, every possibility seemed to have been exhausted. At the next Board meeting, Ethel Barnhart prayed, and the gist of her prayer was as follows: “Well, Father, we have done everything we know to do. We have pursued every lead to the end, and now we have come to the end of our human resources. We now place this matter entirely in Your hands. If it is right for us to have a new church, then somehow the way will open. In faith and trust, we ask only that Your will be done, whatever it is.” That was the turning point.
The manager of El Rancho Properties came to Dr. Barnhart suggesting that she had searched long enough. At his urging, Ethel and the Board went to look at the property at 226 W. Colorado Blvd., Arcadia. The 3 acres of beautiful tree-studded land was nestled at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains in a lovely residential area of Arcadia.
After much prayer and in response to overwhelming conviction on the part of Dr. Barnhart and others that this was the next step for the new church, the property was purchased. Some time later it was possible to purchase an additional 1.5 acres, which added to the flexibility of the master plan. With land to build on, the vision of the sanctuary, held in Dr. Barnhart’s mind for more than 10 years, could finally be realized.
Mr. Reginald Inwood, an architect specializing in church design, was engaged by Dr. Barnhart to design the sanctuary. Upon reviewing Dr. Barnhart’s vision of the Tower of Light, Inwood told her he did not believe it could be built. True to her teachings and beliefs, Dr. Barnhart simply replied, “I know you can build it, I can see it.” Her conviction was so strong that he agreed to try, and the dream took one more step toward becoming reality.
On November 19, 1958, the City of Arcadia granted the building permit, and on November 23, the ground breaking services were held on the site. Dr. Ernest Holmes, Dr. Barnhart, Adela Rogers St. John, and Mr. Jack Wells took part in the impressive ceremony. Work was started on December 7 of that year.
At the heart of Dr. Barnhart’s vision was the belief that New Thought would provide our world with new leaders. She believed so strongly in the importance of teaching children the meaning and purpose of Life Itself — To give the child an understanding of his relationship to that meaning and purpose — To help the child realize that there is a Higher Self within him, and to equip the child to express this Higher Self in everyday living — that she insisted priority be given to completing the children’s day school before the church.
The Santa Anita Church Day School (known today as The Barnhart School) was finished for occupancy by September 14, 1959 in time to start the early classwork. To date, The Barnhart School continues to have the distinction of being the only full time day school connected with a New Thought church.
The first service in the sanctuary was held on Thanksgiving Day, November 22, 1959. The dedication service was held on January 11, 1960, with Dr. Ernest Holmes speaking and Dr. Barnhart officiating.
Following her own inner leading, and feeling that such a move was for the good of the church, Dr. Barnhart, with the confidence and approval of her board and the membership of the church, withdrew from the Religious Science denomination, and the church became an independent, non-denominational church known as The Santa Anita Church. The church continued to grow in numbers and in the scope of its ministry.
In 1965 the beautiful Fellowship Hall and Inspiration Chapel were constructed adding greatly to the effectiveness of the total ministry.
On July 3, 1967, Dr. Barnhart passed on and Reverend Margaret M. Stevens was called by the Board to be the interim pastor. At the annual meeting the following February 16, 1968, she was elected to be the new permanent minister of the church.
In May 1972, the Frontier Motel, just to the west of the church, was purchased by a group of church members in the name of a limited partnership called Santa Anita Investors, Ltd. The investors then leased the property to the church to operate and use as it pleased until such time as the church paid off its own mortgages and could take on additional financial obligations. Currently known as The Village, the church acquired the motel in the late 70’s, bringing the total lot size to just over 6 acres thus fulfilling Dr. Barnhart’s 2nd rule set forth some 20 years previous – The church must have at least five acres of ground.
Learn more about Our Founder, Ethel Barnhart by clicking here.