Skip to main content

What better time to reflect than on Thanksgiving God’s remarkable faithfulness. It is a reminder to all of us of how the Lord has been there for us from the beginning of Calvary Chapel in 1961. For those of us who were there in the very beginning, and there are only a few of us left, we need to share with the following generations of what GOD has done.

I wonder if the generations that have followed us realize what a rich heritage they have. Psalm 145:4 says, “One generation shall praise Your works to another, and shall declare Your mighty acts.”

Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa began with a couple of mere 20-year-olds joining hands with about 10 seniors in a little trailer court recreation room on Newport Blvd. in Costa Mesa, CA. Little did we know that God had an amazing plan. We soon grew out of that small place and rented the Girls Club building in Costa Mesa. We thought “this is getting serious” as people wanted to donate money to pay the rent and buy hymnals. It was necessary that we incorporate as a non-profit organization…but it came to our attention that we didn’t have a name. Lois Nelson, the wife of the then leader Floyd Nelson, called my husband Hal and asked, “What would you think if we named our little church Calvary Chapel?” Hal immediately thought, “This sounds like a great name since we were a small group of about 25 and could never think of ourselves as being anything more.” So, Calvary Chapel it became!

As we invited family and friends to join us, we grew and had to find another place to meet. A gentleman in the group heard that a little church on Church Street in Costa Mesa was for sale… for over $24,000. That was an impossibility; we could barely pay our rent and small expenses. By this time, though, we did have a small savings account. The board was presented with the idea that with a $10,000 down payment we could purchase the little church. Miraculously, an elderly woman in our congregation said she would make up the difference between our savings and the necessary down payment. Within a few months, we were sitting in our own little church that seated a whopping 100 people; we filled barely half of it, but we were up and running with a Sunday school room, nursery and pastor’s office. But we needed a pastor for this little congregation.

The services were led with the help of professors from Southern Bible College and others for several years. Another miracle was about to take place when Pastor Chuck Smith agreed to speak on a Sunday morning. We then asked him to speak again; we loved the teaching we heard. We brazenly asked if he would consider being our pastor. It took a lot of nerve because we couldn’t begin to pay him as much as he was then receiving. Yet, we witnessed another miracle when Chuck said he was feeling led to come back to the area. The board then asked the congregation to vote, and they unanimously voted Chuck Smith to be our pastor.

Once again, through an act of God, our congregation grew until we outgrew our precious little chapel. Toward the end of 1965, a few hippie types attended our services, and another miracle was about to happen. They accepted Jesus into their lives and left their drugs and old lifestyle behind them and began telling others about Jesus. They came by the hundreds and then by the thousands…

This posed a difficulty. We had to sell the little chapel and rent a larger church, yet the miracles kept happening. Pastor Chuck made a low-ball offer on a school in Santa Ana; surprisingly, it was the only offer. The old school had to be torn down, and our new church on Sunflower and Greenville was built….and that was even too small. Cars filled the parking lot and parked up and down the streets. Costa Mesa police officers offered their off-duty time to help with the hundreds who came early to get in line, in order to find a place to sit or stand when Pastor Chuck began teaching. I saw a picture of Chuck with a pensive look on his face observing the congregation of people, young and old, crammed into the church, maybe what he was sensing and asking himself is, “What just happened?” He was simply teaching God’s Word, and we were all absorbing it like sponges.

Miracles were still on the horizon. We erected a huge circus type tent on the 20 acres that God miraculously made available to us, to accommodate the thousands of young and old alike. In retrospect, it was a roller coaster ride we could not have imagined, and it got the attention of the media. Out of those early years, young men rose up to pastor Calvary Chapels, and to this day, there are Calvary Chapels around the world.

Just as the church was built on the Apostles and the Prophets with the cornerstone Christ Jesus Himself (Ephesians 2:22,21), we at Calvary Chapel modeled that same foundation by the simple teaching of God’s Word. We have inherited a great legacy. From my memories of those early years, how can I not be so thankful this Thanksgiving? And how can I not share it with those generations that are following behind, with the encouragement that God is still doing the miraculous? We shouldn’t expect anything less. To God be the glory; great things He has done this Thanksgiving and beyond.

Originally published in 2020

Sharon Fischer is the author of "I Remember... The Birth of Calvary Chapel." You can find a copy through major outlets or the Chapel Store.