On July 25, 2010, 144 people met at Phyllis Fennell’s house in Bear Valley Springs. Technically, this group met inside and outside of Phyllis’ sizable mechanic garage. On that sweltering hot day, attendees parked their cars along the road and on Phyllis’ driveway. Then, they lugged their folding chairs to the garage area. In spite of the heat and inconvenience, there was a sense of excitement and anticipation. You could just feel it, and the smiles showed it!
During that meeting, there was worship, Bible teaching, and discussion. Additionally, a children’s ministry was started. Many moms took all the children up by the house by the grass and patio. At one point during the open forum discussion, the group made it clear that it wanted to start a new church with Jeff Kaplan as its pastor.
For the next month, this new church in the making continued to meet at Phyllis’ house. Pattie Sgherzi worked diligently with the music ministry. During the congregational singing at our second service, a choir was spontaneously formed. Each week, more and more people joined our worship services and ministries. Incredible excitement and a spirit of love, joy, and unity quickly developed and remains for all who participate with this new congregation. After receiving input from all of those in attendance, the group decided to call the new church Shepherd of the Hills.
During that month of August, many people from this new church plant stepped forward to serve the Lord however possible. New leadership was determined, a new Men’s ministry, a new Women’s ministry, a new children’s ministry, a new prayer ministry, and staff were established! Additionally, Gary Riggs, our associate pastor, was able to secure Cummings Valley Elementary School for our new meeting site. Shepherd of the Hills has been meeting at this school ever since August, 2010. In the early days of this new work of God, organizational and numerical growth was taking place at a staggering rate. Darrell Sutton, Gary Riggs, Jeff Kaplan, and the newly formed elder board carried out much of the needed behind the scenes administration. During this time, the pastors and elders forged out by-laws and a doctrinal statement.
Since that time, scores of ministries have started. We now have a Midweek Worship Service, a youth ministry, AWANA, home Bible Studies, a team of ushers, audio and video workers, potlucks, refreshments, and secretarial staff. We even have a cushion ministry so we don’t have to sit on hard metal fold out chairs!
On December 24, our new congregation held two Christmas eve services with a total attendance of approximately 300. Two days later, we held our first baptismal service.
On March 6, Jeff Kaplan utilized the Sunday morning worship service to present church membership information to those in attendance. Subsequent to that meeting, approximately 120 individuals went through the process to become charter members. It is humbling to see God work in such a demonstrative way . . .
The month of April in 2011 was an exciting month for our church family. Our congregation partnered with First Baptist Church to conduct a Passover seder. Additionally, our church was well attended at our Good Friday and Easter services. Beyond that, Shepherd of the Hills celebrated its grand opening with special, renown music groups. Free gifts and giveaways were provided for our guests. A television news team from Channel 23 came out, conducted interviews, and featured our church on their news broadcast that evening. Additionally, a Christian radio station called KAXL interviewed Pastor Jeff and aired advertisement promoting the church’s grand opening.
During the month of June, church officers were elected. In an official capacity, the new members officially voted in Jeff Kaplan as its founding senior pastor. Additionally, Gary Riggs, Bud Bridger, and Tom Allred were voted in as associate pastors. Dave Gilliam, Ben Graham, and Ben Wegner were also officially voted in as elders. There are a large number of individuals, who are in the process of being interviewed to serve as deacons and deaconesses. In the near future, the individuals, who accept the invitation to serve as a deacon or deaconess, will be publicly recognized for their role.
In June and July, Pastor Jeff’s family opened up their home to host church wide ice cream socials. Most of the congregation were happy to attend this dessert and had the opportunity to get acquainted with fellow sweet tooth indulgers!
On July 17, we officially celebrated our one year anniversary as a new church. All of the praise and honor belong to the Lord for leading us to this milestone. The music group, Fight Like This, led our worship during the morning. After the service, there was a fun pie eating contest, a water balloon contest, and mimes. Yes . . . it IS okay to have fun at church!
Eight men were chosen and subsequently voted on to serve as deacons. Additionally, nineteen women were chosen and subsequently voted on to serve as deaconesses.
In August, one of the members of the property acquisition committee (p.a.c.) learned about an approximately 20 acre property, which is right next to the school on Bear Valley Road. The p.a.c. and the elder board researched this property thoroughly and determined this would be an ideal location for the church’s future facilities. After a few months, this property was purchased. The Lord provided the church with this property in less than two years of its existence! A special land dedication ceremony took place on July 22, 2012. The Mayor of Tehachapi Mr. Grimes, County Supervisor Zack Scrivner, and a State Assembly Woman Shannon Groves accepted the church’s invitation to join us for this milestone and to make a short speech.
Clearly the Great Shepherd’s hand of favor and blessing rests upon Shepherd of the Hills. In addition to the great spirit that exists among this new congregation, lives are being touched for time and eternity!