Today, chapels of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints dot the I-15 corridor from Corona to the San Diego County line. Yet, barely more than 40 years ago, church membership was widely scattered and those living in the areas of Temecula, Murrieta and even parts of Perris, attended what was known as the Elsinore “branch.”
The branch, the smallest organized (congregational) unit in the Church, met in a building off Main Street—a chapel built by its own members. Those familiar with the construction recall one of the Church’s visiting General Authorities referring to some of the workers as “shingle sisters,” women members who proudly lugged roofing shingles and nails to men on ladders.
It was not until the fall of 1977 that the first Elsinore ward (a full congregation) was able to meet in the chapel located on Almond Street, barely a block from Elsinore High School. Even then, it wasn’t until the mid-1980s that local members were able to raise the money and complete the building with a cultural hall, kitchen and additional classrooms.
When a much larger facility, one located within the city limits, was completed in 1993, it featured the dimensions of a “stake center” or multi-congregation chapel, however, the Lake Elsinore membership found it remained attached to some other designated area. The branch began as part of Riverside West Stake; the Elsinore wards as part of Corona Stake, then Murrieta Stake, and for the last 18 years the 6,000-plus member Menifee Stake.
But that changed Sunday, Sept. 22, when it was determined membership and density had reached a point that Lake Elsinore could stand on its own, and the building on Dexter Avenue and Eleventh Street was officially designated as a stake center.
The new Lake Elsinore Stake will be led by President Robert J. Wilson III, and his counselors Rocky F. Snider and Curtis Drake. And now seven congregations from Lake Elsinore, Canyon Lake, Wildomar and adjacent areas are its components.
Two sisters, members of the pioneer Merrifield family of Lake Elsinore, were moved by the recent changes. Laurie Snider, wife of a member of the new presidency, noted, “It’s a really exciting, historic thing for me, having lived here all my life. When I was little, it was the Elsinore Branch, formed in the 1940s. That little place downtown would have 15 or 30 people attending on Sunday.”
“What a great day,” her sister Janna Kaas added. “It’s so exciting to see this kind of growth in our little hometown. I’m sure those early Mormon pioneers are thrilled looking down. What a great day for them and for us.”
With such a rich history in the community, the changes are a point of pride with the members. As Mrs. Snider exulted, “We’ve always been part of another stake. It’s exciting to have it called Lake Elsinore Stake.” --Contributed content.