Founded in 1956
At the turn of the century the Episcopal Church began mission work in Fortuna, originally under the name of St. Paul’s, although no property was ever purchased or a church building built. 19 individuals were baptized and a few confirmed over a period of about ten years, with ministration from the resident priest at either Ferndale or Eureka. This work was discontinued, however, around 1912 and the present church was not organized until 1956.
St. Francis’ Fortuna was started by the Reverend Ken Samuelson. Reverend Samuelson along with Reverend J. Thomas Lewis, from Christ Church in Eureka, also helped organize the missions of St. Andrew’s in Redway; St. Alban’s in Arcata; and St. Paul’s in Crescent City. Bishop Porter had appointed Reverend Samuelson, to run St. Andrew’s in Redway and St. Mary’s in Ferndale. As those churches grew under his guidance, it became too much for Reverend Samuelson to manage both churches and he was relieved of St. Andrew’s. St. Mary’s had begun to involve people from Fortuna in rather large numbers and in fact St. Mary’s was filled to capacity on Sunday mornings and Fortuna people began thinking about starting their own church in Fortuna.
Around that same time the 7th Day Adventists in Fortuna had outgrown their building (the building is believed to have been built in 1886) and offered it for sale for $25,000. On May 10th ,1956 (it happened to be Mother’s Day), a group of interested parishioners along with Father Samuelson held a meeting at what is now St. Francis’ Church located at 16th & L Streets in Fortuna. A group of men, led by Paul Mudgett and his wife Henrietta arranged the financing out of their own pockets in the form of a loan for which they were later paid back. Other contributors included Kenneth and Martha Gilson, Herbert and Ruth Farrar Jackie and Ram Farris, and Dave and Betsy Somerville. It was a very good and enthusiastic beginning.
It is a tribute to these individuals, especially Paul Mudgett, that there is no indebtedness on the present building. The Mudgett’s also purchased a large portion of the furnishings still in use at the church. Paul Mudgett attended the General Convention in Miami Beach in 1958. Church suppliers had displays there and one of the things displayed was the altar, which Mr. Mudgett purchased. He later bought the pulpit and the lectern desk all to match – this furniture is still in use today at St. Francis.’ His death in 1962 from an automobile accident left a huge void. (Covell Report- History of the Congregation.) (c. 1969).
According to longtime parishioner and Sextant, Lois Thompson, Ms. Shaffer (Kathie Crawley’s mother) was responsible for receiving a grant from a foundation for the St. Francis’ organ. The statue of St. Francis located in the niche by the front door was donated by Helen Hover.
In the 1960’s St. Francis’ bought the house next door to use as the vicarage. Members Ed Bretzke and Holman remodeled the kitchen and Father Ken Samuelson started Bible studies at the home of Martha Gilson.
Parishioners who were active in the church during the founding years have fond memories of those beginning days. According to Dave and Betsy Somerville in order to access the bathroom in the 1950’s you had to go out a door in the kitchen, down wooden steps, and across a wooden plank until you reached a little shed with a bathroom on one side and a storage shed on the other.
The years brought many fundraisers including a lemon bake sale that included every type of lemon dessert known to mankind. Church members have sold small statues of St. Francis, organized numerous bake sales and rummage sales, they published a cookbook which was sold to the community. St. Francis also had a thrift shop in the 1970’s on Main Street at the time Father Foch was Vicar. Delma Swain and Ethel Polaski headed it up. Then it closed and later started up again. Church members have organized numerous pie booths and in fact are well known for their delicious, flaky pie crusts which they sell annually at the Autoxpo in Fortuna.
Dave Somerville recalled a talent show/fundraiser when he five other members, including the Reverend Ken Samuelson, sat in a bathtub and sang Singing in the Rain while dressed in long johns. While they didn’t reach their goal of $26,000 that night, they certainly lifted the spirits of the entire congregation with their antics.
Church members have fond memories of many years of progressive Christmas dinners. Before that Christmas dinners were held at various member’s homes, accompanied by funny white elephant gift exchanges.
For many years St. Francis’ sent used eye glasses to the Soloman Islands for outreach, eventually sponsoring a child, N. Ernest from the Philippines. Ernest was from Sebu Island.
Over the years the church grew and shrank along with the timber industry and other industries that brought employment to the town of Fortuna.
In 1988, the Reverend David Stenner was called to St. Francis. The rectory at the time which was located next to the church was not big enough to house the Stenner’s and their three children. Member Dave Somerville bought a house to house the family, receiving payments from the church. Eventually he donated the house to the Chuch and the Stenner’s lived there until 1998 when Pamela Mueller became the next Rector at St. Francis and she and her husband Jorn Mueller eventually bought this house from the Church and the Church purchased a different house for use at the Rectory.
During the Stenner’s tenure the church grew adding outreach programs like the Christian Women’s fellowship lunch held every month on Saturday afternoons that Stenner’s wife, Janet Stenner and member Julie Wells started. The lunch featured salads and desserts and a guest speaker.
The present church building seats approximately 150 persons. Additional information and the history and properties of the church can be found on pages J-4 through J-6 of the Church Self-Study Form or in The Missionary, January 1998.
1956 – Admitted as a mission
At the special convention in September 1956 (no minutes exist), when the delegates elected Bishop Watson of Utah as Co-adjuster (who turned down the election), St. Francis’, Fortuna was admitted into union with the diocese as a mission. This note in Bishop Porter’s hand from his Official Diary, summary for 1956: “New Mission at Fortuna admitted into union.”
Bishop Porter’s visit: June 2, 1956 Lunch with Paul Mudgett and inspected Fortuna property… (Official Diary)
The Chair called for Reports from the Rural Deans and Rev. J. Thomas Lewis (Sempervirens) told of cottage meetings being held as a prelude to the possibility of a new Mission and introduced a delegation from Fortuna. (Journal 1956 April 10-11, Petaluma, Page 5)
The Church Neighborhood
St. Francis Church is located near the downtown district of Fortuna. The local high school is located within two blocks of the church building. The grade school is nine blocks from the church and there are two parochial grade schools within the community. Slightly north of the city is a junior college, College of the Redwoods. There are nine churches of other denominations within the Fortuna community.
Fire at Church: December 19, 1997
Source: The Missionary
Fire Forces Worshippers from Sanctuary at St. Francis’, Fortuna
A fire in the sanctuary at St. Francis’ Church in Fortuna has forced members to worship in the parish hall until repairs are completed later this month. The December 10th fire apparently was started by a malfunctioning floor furnace.
“We’re incredibly fortunate the whole church didn’t go,” says Father David Stenner, vicar at the Northcoast mission. Damage consisted of a six-foot by eight-foot hole in the wooden floor and extensive smoke damage. Everything in the church had to be cleaned, including vestments. Banners that hung from the walls were ruined, Stenner said. It’s amazing how this has brought us together. We’re watching how God is restoring us right before our eyes,” said Stenner.