Two lots were later given to the congregation for the purpose of building a church during the pastorate of Rev. Samuel W. Delzell. The first services in the new church were held on November 25, 1888, with dedication of the church taking place on February 10, 1889. Membership was counted at 49 in 1893, fluctuating, between 25 to 50 members over the ensuing years. Finally, in 1906, a bell was acquired for the church steeple. Needless to say, the bell was highly prized.
In a “close to home” missionary effort, a church was founded in Hemet in 1904. This was accomplished through the efforts of the four members of the Stout Family who were highly valued members of the San Jacinto Church and five other interested people who responded to an ad in the Hemet News. This church, which later was renamed Pilgrim Congregational Church, and was originally named the Little Lake Congregational Church. Services were first held in the “old” Little Lake Schoolhouse. The San Jacinto pastor was shared between the two congregations, with services in San Jacinto being held on Sunday morning, while those in Hemet were held in the afternoon.
On Sunday, April 21, 1918, an earthquake struck the valley, causing catastrophic damage to both downtown Hemet and San Jacinto, and completely destroyed the church in San Jacinto. All that was salvaged from the wreckage was the much-prized bell. After the destruction of the church, members met in homes in the area and then moved to the Christian Church and in 1919 the Christian Church and The First Congregational Church of San Jacinto united to become the “Union Church.” Tragedy struck once again when church burned down in 1922. Although the two congregations united and became the Union Church, they both continued separately, holding meetings and electing church officers. However they could only hold worship services as the Union Church. The Christian Church and the Congregational Church would each elect three of their members to represent them on a committee for the Union Church, including the pastor, for a total of seven.
During the early days of the Little Lake Church, the valley was very rural and transportation depended on horse and wagon. Apparently to encourage the building of homes in the area, land for a church was donated to the congregation by the Lake Hemet Land and Water Company and was completed in 1908 and the first service was held on April 26 by the Rev. J. Hubert Thompson. In 1924 Webb Corwin, with the help of his brother and his son, Webb, moved a farm house on a flat-bed trailer pulled by a team of horses from the Chambers Ranch to the lot donated by the Nelson family, which is just east of the sanctuary.
In 1927, The First Congregational Church of San Jacinto merged with the Little Lake Church and the name was changed to Pilgrim Congregational Church of Hemet and San Jacinto. Membership at the time stood at 110. A number of pastors served between 1936 and 1990, some for as little as one year. The longest serving had been the Rev. Armin Geisler, who led the congregation for nearly 15 years, but we celebrated the fact that in August of 2012 we celebrated the 22nd year of Reverend Heppner’s pastorate with us.
In 1957 80% of our churches in the Southern California Conference, voted to approve the merger of the Congregational Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Churches to form the United Church of Christ. For some reason not indicated in church records, our congregation waited until 1959 to become a member of the United Church of Christ. So, we are a United Church of Christ, but still congregational in the sense that our local church runs itself.
As originally built, the sanctuary could only hold a maximum of 105 people, but by 1993 couldn’t hold the present membership. Two services were tried for a time, but that idea was not popular with parishioners. So, in 2001 a remodeling of our sanctuary was completed. We could now hold 187 people, more than enough for our membership!
As we progress through a new millennium, we face new challenges with a sense of excitement and confidence. Our church remains a friendly and God-loving church family that is holding on to, and nurturing, the intimacy that has drawn people to us.