Feb 07 2011

My Visit to Bidwell Memorial Presbyterian Church in Chico, CA

After two weeks of study leave, I am back (Monday). Since I didn’t need to preach today, I visited a church that’s been on my radar for a few years, since it has grown from a Sunday attendance of about 400 to nearly 1000 in ten years! So, I visited Bidwell Memorial Presbyterian Church in Chico.

Website Description: We offer a traditional worship service at 8:30.m. with hymns, organ, and chancel choir as well as two contemporary worship services (9:45 a.m. and 11:11 a.m.) with a praise band and praise songs.  In the evening during the school year, we offer an alternative worship service that is culturally relevant for college age and young adults at 5:45.

BPCBidwell has four Sunday worship services, three are in the morning. David Francone went with me. We were aiming to get there in time for the 9:45 service but, since traffic was nonexistent, we caught the last half of the 8:30 traditional service. The parking lot was not as large as what a church this size would need. I wondered if most people were parking on the street or whether they had the use of someone else’s parking lot. The church is in downtown Chico, next to the campus of Chico State University. The large brick buildings had obviously been around a long time, but we were impressed with how clean the buildings were and how well-maintained. We entered the back of the building that seemed to include the sanctuary and saw that it had been updated recently. We walked by a nursery and younger children’s classrooms that were very attractive – clean, bright and safe looking. We had to go out the front of the building to find the sanctuary and entered while the first service was in progress.

The sanctuary is well equipped for a traditional style worship service. The chairs are pews, about 25 rows of them. June, who sat beside me and introduced herself after the service as a backup organist, told me they had replaced an Allen organ with a Galanti organ. They use projectors mounted just behind some PA speakers to project lyrics onto two screens. The white font on black background ended up on the screen as white on off-white. But the words on the screen were readable. Pastor Steve Schibsted, who has been with the church 12 years, preached a good sermon on Philippians 3. We were impressed with his object lesson of throwing some symbols of his accomplishments into a garbage can there on the stage, illustrating Paul’s message of counting all his accomplishments as rubbish for the sake of knowing Christ. The sanctuary seats at least 400 and it was not packed but fairly full. Most of the congregation appeared to be older – lots of white hair. A choir with about 25 robed singers sounded great. The bulletin did not include the order of service, just some announcements. Inserted in the bulletin was a connection card which we were encouraged to fill out and drop in the offering plate. They do not use a friendship pad.I noticed that others on my row did not drop a card in the offering plate. On the back of the card, you are encouraged to ask for information about certain ministries like baptism, membership, various ministries and volunteering. You can also request prayer.

Pastor Steve Schibsted

Pastor Steve Schibsted

After the service, I introduced myself to the associate pastor, Jim Coons, and then to Pastor Steve. I then caught up with Dave on the patio where Boy Scouts were serving pineapple upside down cake and coffee. We picked up lots of literature on the information table which was outside on the patio.

We went back into the sanctuary for the 9:45 service and wished we had come back in earlier so we could have gotten better seats. The sanctuary was nearly packed. A band of eight lead in singing songs such as Knowing You. I was impressed with how the songs fit the sermon so well. During the previous traditional service, I noticed a wooden screen which matched the wood of the building that seem to be hiding the drums and band gear. The screen was now removed and the small stage was filled with the band and their instruments. The leader of the band played guitar and sang and it was clear that he was leading the singing and that he was also leading the band. The acoustics of the room, which were great for the organ and choir were not good for the band. There was too much echo. The acoustics are great for speaking either. The congregation was very responsive to Steve’s sermon. The order of the service consisted of a song, welcome and prayer, to songs, the offering during which the band performed a special music song, the sermon, communion, a pastoral prayer, including the Lord’s prayer, and a final song. The first service lasted 60 min., but the second service went an hour and 15 min.

El Rey TheaterThe church had just begun a new worship service, January 23, which meets in an old theater that is apparently used now for concerts. We went for the beginning of that service, which they call Bidwell at El Rey, which began at 11:11. We were surprised to see that the large theater was very full with high school students, college students, parents and a few white-haired people. We only stayed for the first two songs which were led by a band – a different band then the 945 contemporary service. They started with “Your Grace Is Enough.” They were louder than the previous band – a lot louder. You not only heard the music you felt it. It looked like Pastor Steve, was prepared to give the same sermon, complete with garbage can and other props. He started the morning in a robe, dressed for the second service with a dress shirt, no tie. But in this service he had changed into jeans and a casual shirt.

We left, enthusiastic to experience a little of a Presbyterian Church that was working hard to reach new people for Christ, while at the same time, caring for the older members of the congregation. This is a Presbyterian Church that is excited and growing.

The session consists of the three ordained pastors and 12 elders. This, in a church of nearly 1500 members and about 1000 in Sunday attendance.


Stats at pcusa.org http://apps.pcusa.org/tenyeartrends/report/724/all_statistics.jsp


  1. Debra Bowersox

    My husband and I have been attending Bidwell Pres. for just over a year. We have lived just south of Chico for 26 years since moving here from the south and had just never connected to a church. Finally, I suggested we try Bidwell Pres. as we had been married in the Presbyterian church I attended growing up. Seemed like a good place to start. We went on Easter to their 11:11 service that used to be at the church and is now, as you mentioned, moved to the El Rey. Needless to say it was packed as many services are on Easter Sunday, but what moved us initially was the friendliness of the members, the beautiful praise band and choir. Those folks obviously enjoyed being a part of the church in that manner sharing their gifts of voice and music. We weren’t sure what to expect in terms of the sermon having never heard Pastor Schibsted before. We listened and were captivated by how his sermon seemed to speak directly to us, personally. Although the church was full of people, it seemed he spoke to us face to face. His ability to take sections of the Bible and relate it to the real world and one’s day to day life is truly a gift he has and shares very well. Because we attend regularly, it seems to us anyway, that his sermons hit the mark most times. We can feel and understand the presence of God there and know, really know, that we as people of the congregation are the body of Christ. The Church proper is well maintained and there are volunteer greeters at each service to say hello, help direct you to where you need to go, and also to provide safety for those children attending Sunday School. This church definitely recognizes the need to reach out to “those they haven’t yet reached” in the effort to bring in all peoples to experience Christ. And the efforts of Bidwell at El Rey is the step in that direction. Everyone experiences Christ in their life differently and Bidwell Pres. gets that and is reaching its hand out to welcome those folks in. The elders help the church stay current with changing technology as well in keeping connected to its members through news and messages utilizing the internet. If one misses a sermon they are recorded and can be found on the Bidwell Pres. website for listening at another time. Bidwell Pres. and its’ ministries definitely aspire to touch all ages and walks of life in the effort for us to know and share in Christ.

    1. Dave

      Thank you for your first-hand perspective of Bidwell Church. It’s great to hear about a church that’s getting it right.

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