Subject and Name Headings
Scope and Content
Title: Northern California Conference, United Church Of Christ Records,
Date (inclusive): 1961-1986
Accession number: 1990/050
United Church Of Christ. Northern California Congregational Conference
Extent: 2 cubic feet
San Francisco State University. Labor Archives & Research Center
San Francisco, California 94132
Shelf location: For current information on the location of these
materials, please consult the Center's online catalog.
Collection is open for research.
Copyright has not been assigned to the Labor Archives & Research Center. All requests for
permission to publish or quote from materials must be submitted in writing
to the Director of the Archives. Permission for publication is given on behalf
of the Labor Archives & Research Center as the owner of the physical items and is not intended
to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be
obtained by the reader.
[Identification of item], Northern California Conference, United Church Of Christ Records, 1990/050, Labor Archives & Research
San Francisco State University.
Subject and Name Headings
Church and Labor
Mexican American Agricultural Laborers
Trade unions - agricultural laborers
Tulare County Community Development Project
United Farm Workers
John R. Deckenback, Associate Conference Minister of the Northern California Conference of
the United Church of Christ, donated selected records of the Conference to the Labor Archives
and Research Center in August 1990. The records document the activities of Conference
ministers and members of affiliated organizations in the agricultural communities in the
Central Valley of California. Glenn Humphreys completed the archival processing of the
collection in October 1990. Access to the collection is unrestricted.
The Northern California Conference of the United Church of Christ played a significant role in
the agricultural communities in the Central Valley of California, most notably in the 1960s. In
1962, after ministering for decades to members of the small valley towns, the Conference
began a dramatic new program in Goshen, a small town in Tulare County. The Goshen
Project specifically sought to minister to farm workers, whose needs moved the Conference
into nontraditional programs. Working with other organizations throughout the decade, the
Conference struggled to serve farm workers as well as other members of Northern California's
The leaders of the Conference recognized the plight of the farm workers was one of the most
divisive issues in California as they sought to minister to groups on all sides of the situation:
growers, shippers, laborers, processors, wholesalers, retailers, and consumers. The position
of the Conference became more difficult as it developed new programs to serve the farm
workers. The programs attacked problems such as wages, housing, and lack of county
services. Staff members participated in demonstrations, strikes, and voter registration drives.
Staff members also developed close ties with leaders of other groups such as Chris Hartmire,
the dynamic leader of the California Migrant Ministry, and Caesar Chavez, who organized and
guided the United Farm Workers. Some members of the churches in the valley towns
complained that the Conference had overstepped its boundaries. In response Richard Norberg,
the Conference Minister, and Walter Press, the Assistant Conference Minister, wrote letters
and spoke publicly about the position of the Conference. In 1966 the Board of Directors
issued a position paper explaining once again the theological base for its new programs: "To
say God should have a voice in our prayer life and our Scripture reading but not in the way we
earn our living or treat other people is to depart from the declaration of the Christian faith that
God reigns." Throughout the 1960s and the next two decades the Church has developed
programs that addressed the needs of farm workers.
During this time the Conference was acutely aware, too, of the needs of small growers and
participated in programs to help them as well as farm workers; for example, Norberg served
on the Committee on Economic Justice in the Agricultural Community, an ad hoc advisory
group to the California Church Council. The Committee reviewed the rising number of
corporate farmers, mechanization, and the 160 acre limitation on water rights, among other
issues. It sponsored seminars, reports, and open discussions. In 1968 when the California
Church Council voted to support the grape boycott sponsored by the United Farm Workers
committee members agonized over the problems of small growers.
At times the Conference worked so closely with other organizations that it is difficult to
examine the activities of the Conference alone. Not only did the staff of the Conference work
cooperatively, but they frequently served on the boards of other institutions; for example,
Walter Press served as the Chair of the Commission of the California Migrant Ministry, which
was active in the Tulare County projects of the Conference. Richard Norberg, in addition to
serving on the Committee for Economic Justice, was elected President of the Northern
California-Nevada Council of Churches in 1964 and again in 1965. After he completed his
terms as president, he maintained close contact with the Council.
Together these organizations and the Northern California Conference worked together to find
solutions to the problems of farm workers, growers, and other members of the agricultural
communities in the Central Valley. The programs of the Conference at times caused conflict
among the other religious organizations as well as among members of the Church. Much of
the work of the staff of the Conference was to resolve these conflicts while actively developing
programs to serve its constituencies. Above all the Conference sought to serve all members of
the communities in Northern California.
The social activism of the staff of the Northern California Conference was not out of step with
the views of executives in the national bodies of the United Church of Christ. National staff
members such as John Morse, the secretary of the United Church Board for Homeland
Ministries, supported the work of the Conference and regularly sent packets of information
about farm workers. The Church's liberal position on agricultural labor was consistent with
other positions taken in the 1960s, such as advocating economic sanctions against organizations
that discriminated on the basis of race, national background, or ethnic origin (1963). The
Church's social activism can be traced to the progressive work of Horace Bushnell (1802-
1876), Washington Gladden (1836-1918), and William J. Tucker (1839-1926) in the late
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Church also participated in the work of Jane
Addams (1860-1935) at Hull House in Chicago.
The Northern California Conference is one of thirty-nine UCC conferences in the United
States and Puerto Rico. The geographical area of a UCC conference is usually determined by
the boundaries of the state; California, however, has two conferences. The territory of the
Northern California Conference ranges from Fort Bidwell in northeastern California to
Porterville in the Central Valley and includes 120 churches with 360 clergy and seminarians
and 27,000 members. A Board of Directors, consisting of thirty persons serving four-year
terms, manages the Conference between annual meetings. In addition, there is a system of
committees, commissions, and associations. The staff of the Conference is comprised of four
Conference ministers, three secretaries, a part-time bookkeeper, and a part-time clerk. The
charges given to the Conference from the UCC and the member churches of the Conference
include ministering and placing pastors; offering counseling and consulting services, resources,
and outreach efforts to member churches; and working with affiliated organizations, among
other duties. The Northern California Conference can trace its roots to the nineteenth century
but it has existed in its present form since the merger of the Evangelical and Reformed Church
and the General Council of Congregational Christian Churches in 1957. The merger produced
the current United Church of Christ.*
*Information for this descriptive guide is from records in the collection and:
Northern California Conference. The United Church of Christ.
San Francisco: Northern California Conference,
Arthur Carl Piepkorn.
Profiles in Belief. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1978.
Smith, Sydney D.
Grapes of Conflict. Pasadena, CA: Hope Publishing House, 1987.
Scope and Content
The religious community of Northern California was actively involved in the farm labor
movement but its role is not discussed extensively in histories of the movement. This
collection will help researchers better understand the role of the Northern California
Conference and affiliated religious organizations in the farm labor movement specifically and
in the California farming communities in general from 1964 to 1986. The bulk of the records
reflect the activities of the Conference in the 1960s, the most volatile decade of the farm labor
movement since the 1930s.
The records, consisting of minutes, correspondence, resolutions, reports, and newsletters,
demonstrate the Conference's strong support for farm workers and small growers. Of
particular interest are the records of the Goshen Project, a small community development
program, and the more ambitious Tulare County Community Development Project, which
focused on economic and political issues; the resolutions in support of the grape boycott
sponsored by the United Farm Workers in 1968; and the debates about the worker-priest
program proposed by the California Migrant Ministry.
The records in the collection have been organized by institution to reflect the activities of each
group as it worked independently and in association with the Northern California Conference.
For example, the records of the Northern California Ecumenical Council contain the
correspondence and resolution files from Norberg's presidency as well as minutes and financial
records from later years. The records of the Committee on Economic Justice in the
Agricultural Community reflect Norberg's membership on that Committee. The collection
contains minutes from the California Migrant Ministry (CMM), which co-sponsored programs
with the Conference, such as the Tulare County Community Development Project. The bulk
of the material from the CMM, however, consists of resource materials about farm workers
compiled by Chris Hartmire and mailed to the Conference. The resource material from the
CMM and the United Board for Homeland Ministries demonstrates the information available to
the leaders of the Conference. The files include material such as the statements of Caesar
Chavez and Dolores Huerta before the United States Senate Subcommittee on Labor in 1969 as
well as a photocopy of a paycheck of I.A. Gonzalez, a farm worker, in the amount of $1.10 in
The Conference had wide-ranging duties and responsibilities in Northern California, but only
records pertaining to its work in the farming communities in California are in the Labor