It’s time for California to get out of the oil business

by Judith Lewis Mernit, Sierra Club

In the late 1920s, the Methodist Community Church of Santa Fe Springs, California, was going broke. The town’s pious, churchgoing farmers had leased their land to oil companies and fled to the coast to escape the industrial blight, and the roughnecks who replaced them weren’t exactly the tithing kind. The church elders initially resisted collaborating with the wildcatters but soon gave in.

With the understanding that any royalties would redound to the church, they allowed the General Petroleum Company to raise a derrick and spud a well on church property. Black crude gushed forth, just as the oilmen had predicted.
Oil resolved the church’s debts, paid for repairs, and even financed a fleet of buses to bring the self-exiled congregants back home for Sunday services. Twelve years later, the church had become so enamored of oil that its pastor, Reverend Harry G. Banks Sr., proposed “erecting a living memorial to the genius of oil workers in Southern California.”

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