Other Articles about Throop Church
Throop Unitarian Universalist Church (or just "Throop UU Church") has a long and interesting history which is at the same time both heroic, scandalous, and depressing. Founded in 1886 as the First Universalist Parish of Pasadena (California), the church has survived (but just barely) to the present time. Previous names include "Throop Memorial Church", "Pasadena Universalist Church", and "First Universalist Church of Pasadena". It's current webpage is at http://www.throopuupasadena.org
Its founder was Amos Throop, the same person who founded the world famous university now called "Caltech". What remains of the church today stands proudly on the corner of Los Robles and Del Mar in Pasadena. With its stained glass windows which are among the finest in Southern California, and its intentionally rough and rugged unpainted exterior of dyed and weathered gunite, it is a rustic monument to the history of an quasi-extinct religion: Universalism. This Gothic structure, built in 1923, gives character to an otherwise mundane neighborhood. Nowhere west of the Mississippi is there such an imposing ex-Universalist edifice.
If one looks up universalism in the Random House Dictionary it says: "the doctrine that emphasizes the universal fatherhood of God and the final salvation of all souls". This was what the Universalist Church believed in when it was founded in the 18th century. Briefly stated this is "universal salvation" which simply means that everyone goes to heaven (at least eventually). By the time of the merger of the Universalists and Unitarians (1961) only a small minority of Universalists believed in this. Their meaning of "universalism" had changed from the narrow meaning of "universal salvation" to a much broader meaning which was never explicitly defined. For some, this new meaning still included universal salvation but for many others it didn't. Still others interpreted salvation as the elimination of suffering and injustice here on earth.
Today, only a tiny percentage of UU's believe in the original concept of "universal salvation", mainly because most UU's have at least some doubts about heaven's existence. But most people outside of the UU religion that are familiar with the word "universalism" think it means what the dictionary says it means (the original Universalist concept). There is a movement underway within conservative religious circles to combat the current widespread belief among some Christians in universal salvation. Recent books have been written opposing "universal salvation" but few UU's have seen them.
Surveys indicate that about 15% of the US population believes (including weakly believes) that everyone goes to heaven when they die. Few of these people know that their belief is called "universalism". Only in a tiny percentage of individual protestant churches with liberal ministers may such believers freely express their belief. Thus universalism, in the original sense of the word, is very much alive today. Ironically, this type of belief is far more prevalent outside of UU churches than within the UU religion.
It's important to note that in the early days of the Universalist Church, when most of the membership supposedly believed in universal salvation, a widespread belief was that people would be somehow be punished for sin (either during life or after death). It was not exactly clear what sin was since Universalists often didn't interpret the Bible literally.
Throop Church was founded in 1886 while the Universalist Church in the U.S. got its start in 1770 when its principal founder, John Murray, arrived from England and immediately began preaching universalism. Others had preached and discussed universalism prior to Murray, but he was the first one to actually construct a church edifice. Universalism was a growing religion at first, but started to decline (relatively) about the time of the Civil War (when Universalism was 90 years old). "Relative decline" means a decline in the percentage of the US population that belonged to the Universalist Church. While there was no "absolute decline" (membership held steady at roughly 50,000 during the hundred-year "decline" of Universalism) there was severe relative decline. When Throop Church was founded, in 1886. Universalism was over 115 years old and in relative decline.
The attempts of the Universalist Church (in the 19th and early 20th centuries) to become established on the west coast of the US were not very successful. Throop Church was a successful exception. It was not planted by the Universalist Church organization but by a wealthy retired gentleman and founder of Throop Church: Amos Throop. Throop Church only grew for the first few years of its existence. After that (for the past 125 years) it has mostly been in a state of relative decline (as a % of the population of Pasadena and vicinity). In many years it also suffered absolute decline in the total number of members.
On the West Coast, Throop Church was likely of more significance than all the other Universalist Churches put together. While most of the other Universalist Churches on the West Coast (such as the Los Angeles church) failed, Throop was a big success and survived to merge with the Unitarians in 1961. After that, the church slowly declined (both relatively and absolutely). In membership and activities it reached a relatively low point in about 1994. On May 15, 1994 the minister gave a sermon claiming that if we stay here we will meet an "ignominious end" and that choosing to stay is to "choose death". But the congregation heroically chose to stay. With a new minister in 1996, Paul Sawyer, there was some revitalization. But when he departed in 2004, the church was still in decline and remains in crisis. But before agonizing over current problems, let's look at the long past history which eventually led to the current crisis.
It all started one fine spring day in 1886 when a wealthy retired gentleman from Chicago, Amos G. Throop, decided to look into founding a Universalist church in Pasadena. He lived then in Los Angeles but soon moved to Pasadena where he became mayor. Starting out from Los Angeles with a horse and buggy, he and a young lady minister, Florence Kollock, made the long trip to the little town of Pasadena (although it was rapidly growing). In Pasadena, they found 7 people who were interested in attending Universalist services on Sundays. They rented a small hall (Williams Hall) for Sundays on the corner of Fair Oaks Ave. and Colorado St. where Miss Kollock conducted Universalist services. A couple of months later, a church was formally organized with 30 members. At the start of 1887 they became a California corporation with the first minister being Everett L. Conger. In this year they purchased from the Methodists, a small church building on Colorado St. and moved it to a site at Fair Oaks and Chestnut. [See "Historic Pasadena" 1999, p. 23 for a photo of it]. From now on, they no longer had to meet in a rented hall.
Rapidly growing in size they decided to build a huge church building to accommodate future growth. By 1890 they reached almost 140 members and completed construction of a large church on the corner of Raymond and Chestnut. (The current church at Del Mar and Los Robles was built in 1923.) In a city of only 6000 persons (in 1890) they had build a new church which could seat about 700 persons. With unbounded optimism they had built a church to seat 12% of Pasadena's population in spite of the fact that well under 1% of the people in the US were Universalists. If we had the same optimism today we would need to build about 100 new Unitarian Universalist churches the same size as Throop Church (seats 300) in the Pasadena area.
But not everyone agreed that this had been the right thing to do. Even Amos Throop said later on that it had been against his better judgment to undertake such a large and costly structure.
While a newspaper claimed in 1890 that the church could accommodate 1000 people, a more accurate story is obtained from the Nazarene Church which eventually bought the building in 1922. They claim that as many as 1300 people could be crammed into the sanctuary with 700 seated and 600 standing. The 700 seats were not pews but were luxurious theater-style seats with arm-rests.
Financing this new (1890) building was quite complicated, involving numerous other real estate transactions and loans. In the end, Amos Throop wound up paying over 2/3 of the cost. The Governor of California contributed $1000 which was a large sum in those days. The book "Inventing the Dream, California Through the Progressive Era" mentions on p. 99: "Pasadena grew into a charming town of ten thousand by century's turn with a church for every thousand residents (including a massive Romanesque Universalist Church ...)". A local newspaper wrote: "Pasadena boasts many handsome buildings, but none of them surpass in architectural beauty the Universalist Church."
Why was the "flagship" Universalist Church in the West started in Pasadena and not some other west coast city? In the late 19th century Pasadena was one of the largest cities in California and was known for its grand hotels and wealthy retirees from the East. It was somewhat akin to the Beverly Hills of today. One of those wealthy retirees just happened to be the Universalist, Amos Throop. Thus it is not surprising that the grandest Universalist church on the West Coast was built in Pasadena.
Unfortunately, the new huge church was mostly empty on Sundays. The church could not even pay its operating expenses let alone repay its $20,000 debt. It came close to failure. Ironically, it attracted a much higher percentage of the population than the present church does. About 2% of the population of Pasadena attended it as compared to under 0.05% currently (2010). In addition, due to automobiles, as contrasted to the horse and buggy era in 1890, Throop Church today is able to attract people from surrounding communities. Thus, Throop church currently only gets about 0.01% of the population from the surrounding area. This represents about a 200-fold decline from 1890 when it got 2%. See Membership and Population
As a percentage of the local population, the decline of the church ironically started as soon as its largest edifice was built. But at the same time, the number of members increased. Although the church reached a peak in membership of over 400 in the late 1930's and again in the early 1960's, the long-term trend after that was downward, reaching about 70 members in 2004 and only 40 in 2010.
Few were the times when the old church (on Raymond) was full. One was at the funeral services for Amos Throop in 1894, just 4 years after the massive new church edifice (a white elephant) had been built. Throop had served as the Mayor of Pasadena, had founded a college destined to become world famous, and had been a friend of the Governor who gave a brief address at the funeral. Dr. E. L. Conger, who was about to retire as minister due to poor health, also spoke at the funeral. Conger also founded the Pasadena Humane Society (for sheltering lost pets, etc.). The new temporary (associate) minister was Miss Kollock (who had helped start the church). Her sermons (and the fact that a woman minister was a very rare sight in those days) sometimes almost filled up the church. Unfortunately, she resigned about a couple of years later, supposedly to get married (which happened a year after she left). Later, when silent motion pictures become popular, the exhibition of major entertainment films at the church (using the church as a motion picture theater) often filled the church.
There was a sequence of 5 ministers over the next 25 years, none of whom were successful in getting the 700 seats anywhere near full. See Notes on Throop History for more details. For this reason, and also because there was fear that the neighborhood around the church was deteriorating and that industry might be brought in, the church decided to sell the edifice on Raymond Ave. and move to somewhat smaller but "better" quarters. They then sold the old church to the Church of the Nazarene and built a new church (the present structure) at Los Robles and Del Mar which was completed in 1923.
The present sanctuary only seats 300 people (less than half that of the old church). But the new church in exterior size is roughly the same size as the old one since the old church (except for its towers and huge basement) was mostly sanctuary. The new church is less than half sanctuary and has a separate social hall with a stage while the old church had a huge cement-floored basement which was used for social functions and also as a roller skating rink. This basement had windows and was at some locations completely above ground. Counting the basement, which extended under the entire old building, the old church likely had more square feet of floor space than the new church.
The new church has a high tower but the old church had 3 lower towers, one of which had a hemispherical bronze dome supported by Roman columns. At the new church, the stained glass windows by Charles Connick are superb, far out-classing (and outnumbering) the smaller ones at the old church (which are now at the Church of the Nazarene on Sierra Madre Blvd.). The new church had more classrooms (most of which today are no longer used as classrooms). The old church was mostly of wood construction but the new one is a mixture of wood, gunite, hollow tile, reinforced concrete, and steel beams. Thus in a number of respects the old church was superior to the new one and conversely. The new church was definitely more modern.
The new "smaller but better" church cost about $150,000, over four times the $35,000 which was received from the sale of the old church. Part of this increased cost was due to the inflation following World War I. Thus Throop's share in the present assets of this church is only about 10% considering the additional property later obtained next to the church (the former apartments on Del Mar, and Henry House to the north). Without him, however, the existence and success of the church would be problematical.
What happened during the 30 years at the old church on Raymond Ave.? Since the church was initially in financial crisis, much effort was devoted to fund raising, especially by the women's organization of the church. There were also church picnics and even a few hikes up Mt. Wilson by church members.
A major event at the old church was the Universalist General Convention in the summer of 1915. Several hundred Universalists arrived via special trains from the eastern US. A guidebook was prepared to help them enjoy a vacation in California and see the sights of the Golden State. Some also attended the renowned Pan Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco.
A major scandal was the publication of a letter by a disgruntled "ex-member" in a local newspaper where various negative insinuations and charges were leveled at the church. See Angry Letter to the Editor, 1915. One charge was "prostitution of the pulpit to pull off school sites". There is some evidence to support this charge: an old newspaper left in the archives telling about a real estate subdivision near John Marshall school. This implies that the minister was supposed to favor certain school sites so that real estate speculators in the church could make money by developing land which they owned in that area. Some of the money made in this way may have found its way into the church coffers.
The "ex-member" also implied that the church was being mismanaged under the control of a small clique of people who ran the show. In addition, he objected to the decision to sell the church to the Nazarines for too low a price and the illogic of moving to a smaller church (the present one on Los Robles) to meet the needs of a growing city.
The old church was sold before a new one was built. At first, the plan was to build a new church on Lake Ave. where the big red streetcars ran north to Altadena and Mt. Lowe (via the cable-car incline). A lot was purchased on Lake Ave. but was later sold. The new church was actually built in another location: on the NE corner of Los Robles Ave. and Center St. (now named Del Mar Blvd.).
Just after the old building had been sold and the Universalists were without a building, some people wanted to undo the deal and recover the old church. Some Nazarines spent the night in their newly acquired church building so as to prevent the Universalists from physically taking possession of it. But it was a false alarm. No Universalists every showed up to reclaim it.
While Throop Church was being built (and even before construction started), the Universalists temporarily met at the Shakespeare Club on on S. Los Robles Ave. By March 1923, after about 1 year of construction, services were held in the new church's social hall. But the sanctuary was still not finished so the new church wasn't dedicated until Nov. 1923.
The new church had many classrooms on the second floor for the various grades of the church school. Most of these rooms are currently used for other purposes such as offices. At that time there was little traffic on the 2-lane streets past the church. A stop sign protected Los Robles from the sparse traffic on Center Street (now called "Del Mar").
Pasadena was founded as a high class city and attracted a significant number of people of wealth. In politics, its upper and middle class residents were mostly Republican. Even in the Pasadena Universalist Church, the Republicans were in the majority (until the 1970's ?). The ministers tended to be significantly more liberal in politics than many members of the congregation and this created friction. When politically liberal ministers (Gehr and Kaufmann) were called, some of the more conservative members left the church.
Little is known about some of the ministers at the old church on Raymond Ave. For breif notes on some of them see See Notes on Throop History.
He preached that this was a church where religion was compatible with the results of science. There was an effort to fire him (reason unknown) but he died a short time later on Jan. 23, 1929.
He arrived in the fall of 1929, but resigned after 2 1/2 years to return to Illinois. He wrote two letters on why he resigned, one for public consumption and the other privately disclosing his real reasons for leaving. One cause, not mentioned in either letter, may have been the reduction in his salary as a result of the need to balance the church's budget during the great depression of the 1930's.
He found that the church members didn't want to take on the task of organizing the church. It seems that he wanted to devote most of his time and effort to education and study with church members handling the organization and day-to-day running of the church which they didn't seem to want to do.
Starting in Jan. 1933, he was apparently able to organize the church. In the summer of 1933, a new position of "Assistant Minister" was filled by Kenneth R. Hutchinson. Church growth reached record heights in 1935 with over 50 new members, bringing total membership up to about 400. In 1938, Cummins left to become the General Superintendent for the Universalist denomination.
On Dec. 12, 1938, Charles Clare Blauvelt was installed as minister. During his tenure, Throop was welcomed into the Pasadena Council of Churches despite it's liberal theology. It's no longer a member. Why?
In Sept. 1956, Charles Blauvelt resigned to become the minister of the Universalist Fellowship in Costa Mesa. This was a new fellowship just getting started. They built the existing UU church in Costa Mesa and Throop loaned them money.
After serving a church in Philadelphia for many years, Harmon M. Gehr was installed as the minister on Nov. 11 1956. The author was married by him in Feb. 1965. At one point in the ceremony he confused the bride with the groom. It has been said that he should have retired sooner than he did as he was becoming old and not thinking as fast in his later years.
Gehr gave some interesting sermons on topics like the irrational beliefs of fundamentalist churches. He seemed to be very kind hearted. When Martin Luther King asked other ministers to help him, he bravely responded at once and went to his aid. For the first few years of his tenure, Throop and Neighborhood had combined services during July. He finally retired on June 17, 1973 with a big celebration to mark the event.
Average attendance reached a peak of 182 in 1965 but then slowly declined to 122 by 1973 when Gehr retired. During those years, there was also a substantial decline in UU membership nationally. In 1967, membership was 412 with 185 pledging units. A parish poll taken in 1967 showed that on average, members pledged 1.85% of gross income. By 1990 it was down to about 1.2%. In 1967 members were urged to pledge 3% of their income in order to eliminate deficit budgets.
The cross and Bible that had been on the pulpit, were removed during Gehr's tenure. The sermons became more humanist and less Christian oriented. Gehr was alleged to be too liberal political oriented (in a church that was mostly Republican). This both attracted new members and resulted in some of the older conservative members leaving.
On Nov. 18, 1973, Robert F. Kaufmann was installed as minister. He was perhaps even more politically oriented than Gehr. He was somewhat of a comedian and said funny things during his sermons to get people to laugh. He appeared to be highly intellectual and had a background in psychology and the movie industry. He was a supporter of liberal political causes, such as anti racial discrimination. Because of the big change in the style and orientation of the ministry, some members quit and went over to Neighborhood church. But Kaufmann attracted his own following of intellectuals, including new members.
Kaufmann seemed quite zealous about getting money for the church, and for himself. At one point he proposed that he would get say the first year's pledge of any new member that joined the church. The board wouldn't go along. He offered free counseling, but one didn't get much unless they were a non-trivial contributor to the church or willing to pay him privately. Someone recalled Kaufmann calling him over to sign him up for a pledge when he actually didn't really want to pledge. As a result, he didn't come back to the church until years later after Kaufmann had been long gone. Kaufmann treated the Varney sisters well and they agreed to will their residence to the church for which about $130,000 was received in Aug. 1989 (after Kaufmann had resigned).
Why he resigned (effective Jan. 15, 1985) is shrouded in mystery. Some say he was in danger of being dismissed by the congregation/board and thus resigned before that happened. He explained that he was getting old and not as sharp as he was previously, so he thought that it was time to step down.
Kaufmann was a member of Mensa, the high IQ organization, and attracted some church members from Mensa. He even listed the church as the headquarters of "double-M" an organization of the super-intelligent (the cream of the Mensans) but it's alleged that this organization was somewhat of a joke and mainly existed only on paper.
Kaufmann was sometimes able to attract large crowds to the church to hear distinguished speakers such as Isaac Asimov and Norman Cousins. The church renovated the Sunday School building and rented it, thus increasing church income. Kaufmann instituted "talk back" portions of the Sunday service where people could comment or disagree with aspects of the sermon.
My personal recollections of Kaufmann: He was often not at the church during the week, but was at home instead. He was authoring a book "Better Sex, Better Marriage", and I wondered if he was spending time writing the book that should have been spent on growing the church. He once announced a picnic to be held that same day at a local park. I attended and we had a tug-of-war with a rope, sack races, etc. It was so much fun that I thought that "this is the church for me". Unfortunately, I don't think there has ever been a picnic like this (with physical games) since then. It was one-of-a-kind.
Average attendance was 122 the year he took over but declined to 87 a couple of years later. It stayed at approximately this level until he resigned.
During Norman Naylor's tenure the decline that started in 1965 under Gehr accelerated. Attendance declining from 72 in in 1986 to 46 in 1994 when he left. A major event that hurt the church was the failed merger with Neighborhood church. See merge_history.html.
The UUA "World" magazine published an euphemistic article in 1993 which had a few paragraphs about Throop and Norman Naylor: Universalism: 200 years and growing
Personal Recollections: Norman Naylor usually just read his sermons which were often copied sermons that others had written. But he often pointed out the sources of what he read. It was usually obvious that he was just reading and thus the sermons and their presentation seemed to be below average.
He realized that the church needed more activities so he announced a dinner with him at the church but almost no one showed up for it (only the choir director and me). There were all sorts of things that needed doing at the church but no one to do them. Naylor often failed to step in to do them and mentioned at this dinner that if he were to do so, then there wouldn't be any strong incentive for members to do these tasks.
One time when it rained, the roof leaked and water poured into the social hall. See The Roof Leaks. Norman Naylor seemed to show little concern for this major problem although there was a ship's ladder leading to a small door to the roof where one could go to try to find the leak(s). Unfortunately there wasn't any active property committee. While Paul Sawyer, the regular minister after Naylor) would approach members and personally ask them (but not pressure them) to serve on committees (such as property) Norman Naylor was not successful in staffing committees.
After a "Decisions for Growth" program run by the Pacific SW District of the UUA, it was suggested by the district that Norman Naylor should leave Throop. Thus he resigned and a survey of the congregation showed that a large majority (including myself) wanted him out. He may have had good intentions, but the result of his ministry was further decline of the church.
He arrived in Nov. 1994 and departed at the end of June 1996. During this time membership per Allen went from 75 to 78 and the decline of the previous 20 years ended. However a more accurate estimate by the membership committee indicated only 67 active members in June 1996 (when Allen left). Since the 75 figure was likely also too high, it's not clear if membership under Allen decreased or increased but it is clear that there was little change. Church attendance in '95-'96 was 40-45 except during the summer when it was around 35.
Allen started a weekly brown bag lunch with the minister to discuss current events (politics, etc.) or whatever. But he failed to take much initiative to start new programs and increase publicity to get more members.
He became minister in the Fall of 1996 and departed at the end of June 2004 under a cloud. He was very active in social concerns and strongly opposed the US invasion of Iraq. He wrote articles on this which were published in the weekly newspaper: The Pasadena Weekly. He was also quite personable and was able to get people to serve on committees.
The author was the only one to openly oppose him being called to become the minister. One reason that I opposed him was that when he first met me in the tower I showed him the bell room and mentioned that we never had a bell. He responded that if he became our minister, we would get a bell. Now it turned out that I didn't really think that we needed a bell. I expected a thoughtful person to respond with a question as to whether or not getting a bell would be a wise expenditure of money and effort. Also, how did he know that he could get us a bell? Suppose we were short of money (as usual) and/or the board wouldn't approve. I expected that a reasonable person might say that he would make every effort to get us a bell (provided we needed one in the first place). I thus concluded that he was just not being honest and was making promises that he probably couldn't keep just to get elected minister. After he became minister, he did nothing to get us a bell.
There are other examples of this minister making statements that weren't exactly correct, similar in nature to the above. White lies, euphemisms, etc. but I expect a minister to be absolutely honest. However, overall, he was a better minister, in my opinion, than either Naylor or Allen (the previous two ministers).
He departed (allegedly resigned ?) effective June 2004. The board negotiated a separation agreement with him which stipulated that neither he nor the board members were to discuss the critical complaints about him presented to the board.
Prior to the departure of Paul Sawyer the RE director would not follow the wishes of the RE committee and got the Board of Directors to overrule the committee decisions. The minister tried to support the committee but the result was that the supervisory authority of the minister over the RE director was removed by the Board. As a result, some people on the committee resigned and/or left the church. At present (Feb. 2007) I'm told there is no RE committee yet the By-Laws require that this committee have 5 members.
The Board of Directors (Trustees) acted (in the authors opinion) with gross incompetence in this matter. Taking away the minister's authority in such a case is a grave decision. The author was present at a Board meeting where this happened. The RE Director just stated that she didn't want to be under the authority of the minister when he returned from sabbatical. There was no discussion of this and no vote. But it was assumed to have passed unanimously since no one voiced any objection to it.
After the minister lost supervisory authority over the religious education director, he also lost such authority over the church administrator. He could not even get the administrator to type up his sermons. The minister told me that once the RE director got out from the minister's supervision, the administrator realized that she too could get away with the same ploy.
Depriving the minister authority over the other church employees was probably not justified and contributed to the minister leaving. Unfortunately, the membership was kept in the dark about what was going on, even though the minutes of Board meeting were supposed to be posted on the bulletin board.
The By-Laws state that the minister may be dismissed by the congregation by majority vote. Since this minister had some opponents, it's possible that a vote could have dismissed the minister, especially if the people opposed to him made a strong case. Sawyer was opposed to selling the apartments owned by the church (located next to the church) while most of the board seemed to favored selling them. This is one possible reasons for wanting him out. Actually, at a Board meeting attended by the author, only the employees spoke in favor of selling the apartments while no one on the board objected. With all the money from the sale, the financial crisis would end and there would be no need to consider reduction of employee compensation or hours.
After Sawyer's Departure, Jim Bodman was hired as a contract minister. He was old and didn't seem very energetic. His strongly supported the sale of the church's Apartments next to the church which were sold under his blessing.
Starting in the fall of 2006, Clyde Grubbs became the Interim Minister. He didn't think the church was ready yet to seek a regular minister.
By 2011, attendance at the Sunday services was only about 20 but most of the decline likely took place previously.
She became a half-time minister and normally preached every other Sunday.
Photos of Ministers: Norman Naylor (1986) to present
Deficit Budgets have been the norm for this church (at least since the 1960's). The shortfalls have been made up by drawing down various endowments. From 1962-1967 (and beyond) the shortfall was about $12 thousand a year. In 1967, pledges were about $30 thousand a year. Prior to the Varney sisters endowment of about $130 thousand in 1989, the previous endowment of $176 thousand (1962 ?) had already been consumed by deficits. Not only did the congregation go along with deficit budgets at times, but even when the congregation voted for balanced budgets, the actual results were often deficits. This was mainly due to overly-optimistic estimates of income from such sources as pledges, gifts, fund raisers, and rental income.
Why were such unrealistic estimates made? Well, if one makes conservative estimates, then in order to balance the budget, cost must be reduced and this may mean laying off employees, reducing their hours and/or salaries, etc. Such proposed actions may get a much louder protest than being overly optimistic on income. This is especially the case if employees attend board meetings as they did.
Throop church has had numerous problems with it's property resulting in decay and neglect which contributed to an unfavorable appearance and impression of the church and significantly contributed to the decline of the church. The problems were in part due to mismanagement, neglect, and ignorance of the property and its problems by the ministers, boards, congregation and committees (including the sometimes dysfunctional property committee).
A major problem has been the failure to keep the roof in good repair, resulting in a leaking roof. See Roof Problems for a more detailed description. A major cause of the problem was failure to depreciate the roof in the church budget so that there would be money available to reroof the church when the roof became worn out and leaked.
In the late 1970's the roof developed leaks and a funding drive was instituted to raise money for a new roof. It took 8 years to raise the money, and all these years the wood of the roof got wet from the leaks and suffered severe water damage. Photographs of old roof taken during the installation of the new roof, show a number of holes in the wood due to rot and the personal experience of the author in nailing of shingles on this roof revealed extensive areas of rot (the nails went into the wood with just light tapping). It's likely that some of the water damage to the roof happened prior to the 1970's.
Unfortunately, the new roof (completed in 1987) didn't replace any of the rotten wood on the roof. They just nailed a new shingle roof into the rotten wood, using a minimal amount of nails with the result that high winds had an easy time of blowing new shingles off the roof. After very windy weather, one would often find numerous shingles on the church lawn, or even on the streets next to the church.
Why was the roofing job done so poorly? Well, the church only got two bids on the job and accepted the lowest bid. To insure a good job, they required the roofer to obtain a permit from the city and paid the roofer in full when the job was completed. But they neglected one critical point. They never checked to see if the city had ever inspected the roof. It turned out that the roofer did the job, but never called for an inspection and as a result, the permit to reroof the church was cancelled. But no one at the church was ever informed of this and no one checked with the city building inspectors. So in effect, a defective roof was installed without any permit or inspection even though a permit was obtained. The people at the church did not realize that they had been deceived into thinking a good roof had been installed when it hadn't. In addition, the roof came with no guarantee, the roofer claiming that no one would guarantee a roof so steep.
When the new roof started leaking just a few years after it had been installed, no one at the church could understand why. This shows the problems caused by a lack of follow-thru by church members and/or the minister on a major project that took 8 long years to raise the funds for. It's just one example of where the church allowed itself to be cheated by contractors. As of 2011, the roof problem hasn't been fixed, although many blown-off shingles have been replaced.
One factor discouraging people from attending services at Throop Church has been the rather poor sound system in the Sanctuary. This situation was not due to lack of money but to ignorance of acoustics and even when I explained the problem to others, I was mostly ignored. Every since I started attending Throop in the mid 1970's, there were loudspeakers mounted on each side of the Sanctuary. Sometimes they had just one speaker on each side and at other times, two on each side. But anyone who knows about acoustics, knows this is a poor arrangement for spoken sound, since at most locations in the sanctuary there will be interference between the speakers and certain frequencies will cancel out resulting in what is known as a "comb filter" effect. There should have been just a single loudspeaker, perhaps placed above the stage. This would have made the sound much more clear and understandable. There was even a hidden ladder inside the wall so that one could gain access to the top of the stage. Also, the ceiling has acoustic insulation on it. So all the prerequisites were in place to obtain a good sound system but it wasn't implemented.
In the 1990's and early 2000's the church gave property repair and improvement jobs to various contractors but usually failed to adequately oversee them. One examples is The Roof Leaks. When installing a disabled accessable restroom, the contractor was paid before the job was finished and the contractor got away without completing it. The author noted that the very lowest quality of caulk had been used. An electical installer just ran loose wires in the attic in violation of codes but since no permit was taken out, no inspector discovered it. The church hired handymen but there was little oversight regarding what they actully did. Even when there was a functioning property committee, work was often undertaken without consulting the committee.
Throop Church was by far the richest Universalist church on the West Coast and often gave/loaned money to other churches prior to it's decline starting in the 1970's.
In the 1960's it loaned money to Camp deBenneville Pines which was paid back by vouchers giving free lodging. But many of the vouchers were not used, so much of this "loan" was actually a gift. Throop also gave money in the 1960's for rebuilding after the riots in S. Los Angeles. (Source: John Hunnewell).
Among Universalist Churches it helped out financially are Riverside, Santa Paula, and Costa Mesa.
It's not easy to determine membership since when people leave the church, they often don't let us know about it. Their names remain on the membership roll for a while (perhaps a year) but they have left the church.
In 1890 when the huge church building was built, Pasadena had a population of 6,000. With about 120 members (almost 140 is claimed but often such claims are exaggerated) it had 2% of the population.
In 2002, Pasadena had a population of 133,000. Excluding church employees, only about 25% of current active membership lives in Pasadena. The other 75% live mostly in nearby cities such as Los Angeles, South Pasadena, etc. Thus for every Pasadena resident, there are three persons who live in other cities. So to account for the population of the area from which Throop attracts members, multiply 133,000 by 4 resulting in a figure of over 1/2 million people. In 2002 membership was about 80 (not including church employees) or 0.016% of this population of 1/2 million. Thus 2% (1890) is over 100 times the current 0.016%. So one may claim that the decline in church membership (as a percentage of the population) was over 100-fold. But by 2010, the membership had declined to about 40, so the 100-fold decrease became 200-fold.
Of course one can note that Neighborhood Church is competing with Throop for members, so might this explain a part of the 200-fold decrease. But it doesn't explain it since the merger of the Universalists and Unitarians shouldn't have made much change in Throop membership. After the merger, Throop should have attracted Unitarians too which would have tended to increase Throop's size. But similarly, Neighborhood would attract Universalists who would otherwise have gone to Throop. The overall result should have led to little change in Troop's (and Neighborhood's) "market share".
The present membership book was started in 1930 when 258 persons signed it. Most of these were already members so we don't know how many were new in 1930. Here's a table showing the number of new members which signed the membership book each year. If one person signed for their spouse it counts as two new members, while children are not counted. * marks a year the church got a new minister.
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 MINISTERS 1930s 26 16* 07 17 51 35 19 25* 11 Robert Cummins 1932-1938 1940s 02 17 24 11 13 10 05 13 13 09 Charles Blauvelt 1938-1956 1950s 13 17 45 17 14 30 11* 24 30 28 Harmon Gehr 1956-1973 1960s 55 28 29 61 68 63 55 48 28 75 1970s 34 30 26 38* 38 22 49 24 15 34 Roberts Kaufmann 1973-1985 1980s 13 21 21 06 08 08 08* 11 17 08 Norman Naylor 1986-1994 1990s 19 04 03 03 09 06 20* 21 08 09 Paul Sawyer 1996-2004 2000s 09 22 16
Note that for both Kaufmann and Naylor the new member statistic became very low in the last few years of their tenures This tends to support the claim that Kaufmann resigned because he was getting old and that the merger fiasco during the last years of Naylor's tenure hurt the church.
Much of the information presented in this article comes from files in the church archives. Some is from personal observation and also from verbal information and opinions supplied by others, some of whom didn't want to be quoted.