All Saints’ Big Sur Mission
Part I: The Early Years, 1959-1972
By: Elizabeth Barratt, parish archivist/historian
Under the driving energy and guidance of Fr. David Hill, the Big Sur Mission became the third mission sponsored by All Saints’ Church after St. Matthias (1954) and St. Dunstan’s (1955). The first service was held on Easter Day, March 29, 1959, at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, with the Rev. C.E. Wilson officiating.
Regular services began several months later, when on July 26, 1959, Holy Communion was celebrated at 9 AM at the Big Sur Grange Hall. The Rev. Harvey Buck officiated at the service, attended by fifteen individuals. By October 11, 1959, worship time was moved to 9:30 AM, which it remained for over a decade.
The mission’s original Register of Services, which covers the period July 1959 to July 1972, shows that the preponderance of services over those years were conducted by Fr. David Hill and Fr. Peter Farmer. Additionally, on many other occasions, assisting All Saints’ clergy held communion services. When clergy was not present, lay readers conducted Morning Prayer. Names, both clergy and lay readers, appearing in the register include: S.A. Grant, Harvey Buck, G.F. Campbell, W.L. Smith, J.S. Neill, J. T. Somerville, Lloyd Johnston, Raymond Smith, Jack Schaper, C.W. Cannon, Daniel Hood and B. Wood.
The newly arrived Fr. Peter Farmer was closely associated with the earliest years of the Big Sur Mission. His first Holy Communion service was offered at the Big Sur Grange Hall on August 30, 1959. Within three months, Fr. Farmer was a very busy man: by then he had become the new Vicar of St. Dunstan’s Mission in Carmel Valley. According to the October 3, 1959 Monterey Peninsula Herald, he was also appointed to head the All Saints’ newly established mission in Big Sur. How to handle the double job? The stated plan, on the third Sunday of the month, was to head down to Big Sur to hold Morning Prayer in the Grange Hall, and at such time, services would not be held at St. Dunstan’s.
By November 15, 1959, Fr. Farmer’s margin notes in the Register record that the mission had its first choir, consisting of four girls who sang for the Mass.
Five months later, the April 1960 Parish Patter announced, “Big Sur Mission Now Part of Parish.” The report noted, “The new mission of Santa Lucia in Big Sur will become an integral part of All Saints’ Church as a result of the action of the Rector, Wardens and Vestrymen and approval of the Diocesan Council and Bishops…the mission [is] as yet unorganized.”
By then there was a slight change to the service schedule, with communion observed on the second Sunday of the month. Lay readers from All Saints traveled to Big Sur on the other Sundays to conduct Morning Prayer. Midweek Church School was held on Wednesday afternoons at the Grange Hall.
April 24, 1960 was a banner day when All Saints’ Parish made its milestone first annual pilgrimage to Big Sur, a tradition that has continued ever since. The occasion included a service at the Grange Hall, where Frs. Farmer and Hill celebrated the Eucharist. At the service, Fr. Farmer blessed a processional altar crucifix featuring a 200 year-old Christ figure from Guatemala. A driftwood altar cross with wrought iron stand was also blessed. It was made and offered as a gift by an anonymous Big Sur artisan. Over 175 worshippers attended the Grange Hall service, with 50 turned away for lack of space. A record 200 came to the picnic that followed at Pfeiffer State Park.
Fr. Farmer officiated at the mission’s first wedding ceremony on September 12, 1960. The lucky couple, Robinson Jon Hill and Jane Durrie, chose Nepenthe for their wedding venue.
The following month, on October 9, 1960, he performed the mission’s first baptisms for four children of the Cooley family.
The Patter reported in October 1960 that Fr. Farmer was finding larger than expected congregations both at the Grange Hall services and that the weekday Church School had also resumed for the fall session. He added, “Interest is awakening for the use of the natural beauty of the Big Sur region as a site for retreats, conferences and camps for the young people and adults in Carmel and elsewhere. Suitable land is available, although prices are not low, and we pray that churchmen may be moved to make possible the acquisition of some of this magnificent area for the glory of God and the rest and refreshment of His people.”
Official Status was established organizing the Santa Lucia Mission as a mission of All Saints Parish, Carmel, in a November 21, 1960 letter from the Rev. David Hill to the Bishop and Diocesan Council of the Diocese of California. The bounds of the mission were established as “that portion of the coastal area south of Carmel to the southern boundary of Monterey County, east to the ridge of the Santa Lucia Mountains. The mission was to be known as Santa Lucia, Big Sur. As Vicar, the Rev. James Peter Farmer was to be paid a salary of $250 per month. The mission’s other officers were also named: Warden, Paul Hettich of Big Sur; Clerk, Bick Moe of Big Sur and Treasurer, Ransom H. Colley of Pt. Sur Naval Facility.
Three months later, on February 2, 1961, newspaper accounts briefly linked Fr. Farmer’s name to two famous American families when he performed the marriage ceremony uniting John Fell Stevenson, youngest son of onetime Presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson, to Natalie Owings, daughter of architect Nathaniel Owings. The wedding took place at “Wild Bird,” the spectacular A-frame designed Owings home, perched atop a Big Sur cliff with sweeping Pacific views.
After nearly two years of services at the Big Sur Grange Hall, acreage for the new mission campgrounds and chapel was purchased in 1961. The April Patter reported, “The land purchased from Hans Ewoldsen property is part of the original John Pfeiffer land. Mrs. Ewoldsen is a member of the Pfeiffer family. Funds to purchase the property were provided by the 1961 Parish Expansion Fund. “The property will be available for camps retreats and small conferences for church groups throughout the Central California area,” the Patter reported. The property had cost $30,000, to be paid over a period of six years at $5,000. per year.
The Mission and campgrounds were aptly named Santa Lucia in honor of the seaward sloping mountain range originally designated by Spanish navigators who plied the Big Sur seacoast centuries earlier.
The first official service at the Santa Lucia outdoor chapel by the river was held at 10:30 on April 9, 1961. It was a banner day: Fathers Farmer and Hill celebrated the Eucharist on the new site for the first time and Carol Ann Royin was baptized. The All Saints’ Parish pilgrimage to the site followed another quickly established All Saints’ tradition, a picnic at the grounds.
The event was well covered in the April 22, 1961 issue of the Monterey Peninsula Herald, which noted that, “Six acres of magnificently wooded property along the Big Sur River have been purchased by the parish to be used as a camp center, for retreats and conferences, and for the Santa Lucia Chapel.”
Services during 1961 were held sometimes at the Grange Hall, other times at the outdoor chapel. Fr. David Hill explained this in the same Herald article, noting, “The property will be kept in its naturally beautiful state, we do not plan to do any building other than a small storage shelter. The fact that we are able to use the Grange Hall for our Chapel during inclement weather makes it possible for us to keep this beautiful property as it is.”
Although Fr. Farmer was chosen to become the head of the new All Saints’ Day School in September 1961, he continued to conduct services frequently over the years at the Big Sur mission.
In May 1963 a work party went down to the grounds a week prior to the annual picnic to replace the outdoor altar after the original one was washed away by 57 inches of rainfall during the previous winter. Other recreational areas were also both cleared and constructed for the incoming camping season.
“The enthusiasm of parishioners to expand the church work down the coast has met with great appreciation from those who seriously ponder the destruction of natural beauty. Part of the purpose of the parish work in Big Sur is to provide a place of natural beauty, quiet and recreation for those who come from near and far,” Fr. Hill wrote, in his May 1963 Patter message.
In May 1964 the Patter reported that Rogation Sunday (the fifth Sunday after Easter) had become the established annual date for the parish pilgrimage to the grounds.
In February 1965, besides confirmations at the mission, Fr. Farmer reported that he had been invited to conduct nondenominational services at the United States Naval Facility at Pt. Sur. Services at Santa Lucia Mission chapel by this time were held both at 9:30 AM on Sundays and at 3 PM on Thursdays.
It was the start of the hippie “invasion” of Big Sur and this was also reflected at the campgrounds where, in June 1968, Sanford Carlisle was hired to be the summer caretaker. Because of increased vandalism at the site, campers were by this time required to apply at the church office for written permits to use the land. On the plus side, increased permit use of the grounds included groups from the San Francisco Bay Area, the junior choir from All Saints’ Palo Alto, who spent their fourth summer at the site and for the second year in a row, a group of inner city Oakland youth camped under the towering redwoods.
Winter weather by December 1968 suspended services at the chapel. In their place, weekday Home Eucharists were celebrated. A Family Christmas Eve service was planned for 8 PM at the Santa Lucia Chapel, weather permitting, according to the Patter.
Over the next decade, as the grounds developed into a campsite, many locals, Big Sur visitors and Boy Scout troops who were camping elsewhere came to attend Sunday services at the charming chapel. On March 26, 1967, the Rev. C.E. Wilson officiated at the blessing of an organ and vestments for the site.
By 1971 service attendance had been dwindling, and the worship hour was changed to 10 AM, perhaps to attract more people. Average attendance, when taken over the years, was usually around 20 to 30 individuals on a given summer Sunday. During winter months the number sometimes dwindled to 4 or 5 souls. In September 1969 there were two occasions when attendance was recorded as zero. At the other end of the scale, a whopping 247 attended one service at the St. Lucia Chapel on May 8, 1966, when newsmaker Bishop James A. Pike officiated.
The final entry in the Service Record for the Big Sur Mission occurred on July 30, 1972. Lay reader Raymond Smith conducted Morning Prayer, and recorded an attendance of 12 people.
Fr. David Hill’s dream, of a silent and beckoning spot “untouched by bulldozers and hamburger counters” still stands as a testament to the diligence of the early founders, who foresaw the serene appeal of the forested acreage. In Fr. Hill’s words, the grounds stand as “a silent witness to the beauty of God Creator and to our obligation to preserve His beauty for our children.”
Over all the years since, the wooded setting has continued to be a favored destination for church picnics, outdoor worship services, retreats, and of course, camping, under the towering redwoods alongside the rush and ripple of the nearby Big Sur River. No matter the season, the peaceful grounds offer a pilgrimage destination for anyone yearning to commune with God our Creator, in His natural environment.