A Brief History of UCV

The United Church of the Valley was conceived with a vision. In 1993 seven people gathered in a home to dream and plan for a new church in Murrieta. The United Church of Christ sent Rev. Randy Leisey to be their guide on this collective journey of faith in the fast-growing Temecula Valley.

As the group grew in numbers, the congregation began meeting at the Murrieta United Methodist Church, and then spent several years ‘wandering in the wilderness’ of school multipurpose rooms — Murrieta Elementary, E. Hale Curran, Thompson Middle School, Shivela Middle School, River Springs Charter School and Temecula Masonic Center— where we currently worship.

With the new millennium came an increase in growth, activity and progress for UCV, including the momentous cross-country trek (California to Massachusetts) by our ‘pedaling pastor’, Randy Leisey, on his Bike America campaign to raise the funds to begin our building process.

Around the same time, after several years of gathering in members homes and the Korean church, the choirs’ needs led to the rental of The Joyful Noise Center, on Washington Street in old Murrieta. In addition to providing a temporary home for our choirs, JNC served as the center for many of our programs for five years. When we lost our lease in September, 2005, St. Thomas of Canterbury Episcopal Church in Temecula generously offered to share their home with us for our music and education programs. In 2006, after an interim location at the studios of our gifted pianist, Susan Miyamoto, we moved our activities to The Community House, our church office and community center in Historic Downtown Murrieta, across from the Post Office.

In 2002, the church became dually-aligned, as we partnered with The Christian Church, Disciples of Christ. Our ministry expanded in 2003 with the addition of a second minister, Rev. Suzanne Castle-Rolen. After Suzanne relocated in Texas with her family, we welcomed Rev. Sarah Halverson as our Minister of Christian Education and Youth in March 2005 to assist us in this ever-growing mission. Sarah left United Church of the Valley when she accepted a call to the position of Senior Minister at Fairview Community Church in Costa Mesa in August, 2006.  

After our founding pastor, Rev. Leisey, retired to Cody, Wyoming in 2009, we were blessed to have several guest preachers from a variety of faith backgrounds leading our worship, and eventually called a seminary student of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Brian Foxworth, as our Interim Pastor. During that time, we formally declared ourselves to be an Open and Affirming congregation, expanding an “extravagant welcome” to all.

In January, 2010, we called Rev. Joe Zarro to provide leadership as we continued on our journey. (Rev. Foxworth was subsequently ordained and called to Spirit of Joy Lutheran Church in Hemet.) Later that year, we declared Rev. Leisey as our Minister Emeritus. UCV is certainly in a position to grow and extend our community of faith throughout our valley.

In September of 2012, we were blessed with the addition of a student minister, Caroline Hamilton-Arnold, with mutual growth in spirit and knowledge between us. Rev. Zarro accepted a call from Plymouth Church in Massachusetts in October 2013. Caroline accepted our invitation to serve as our Transitional Minister while we began the process of search and call for a new settled pastor.  After Caroline received her Master of Divinity degree in May, 2014, she and husband Jeremy set out for Connecticut, while he pursues a Master's Degree in Religious Arts at Yale Divinity School.

Rev. Dr. Gilford Bisjak came out of retirement in July 2014 to accept our call as minister at United Church of the Valley.  Rev. Bisjak shared in Hospice Ministry with Randy Leisey during our early years. Having followed our development, he was eager to be a part of our ministry as a progressive church in the Inland Valley.  In April 2016, Rev. Gil re-retired as he and his wife, Ramah, relocated to Missouri. 

We are currently enjoying being a lay-led church with strong commitment to taking the next step as an entire congregation, while considering our next pastoral placement.

The dreams of the original founding members of UCV were for a community of faith where God’s people would embrace all persons with love and dignity, learning to celebrate diversity as God’s very image. Since then, United Church of the Valley continues to be a leading voice in progressive Christianity, a witness to God’s inclusive love, a refuge for many beaten down by religion, and a place where matters of justice and peace are taken seriously.

The members of United Church of the Valley invite you to grow with us as we work to establish a gathering place where our dreams will find a home.

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