Our Saviour, Placerville: A Pilgrimage Back to Their Roots

Our Saviour, Placerville: A Pilgrimage Back to Their Roots

The Rev. Deb Sabino, rector at Our Saviour, Placerville, and Deacon Stephen made a local and unusual pilgrimage last month; they attempted to retrace the paths Church of Our Savior, Placerville, founder Charles Caleb Peirce walked as the “Apostle of El Dorado County.” Their walk took them to Kelsey, Georgetown, Cool and Greenwood.

The Rev. Deb and Deacon Stephen’s pilgrimage, from the perspective of Rev. Deb:

That afternoon we set up camp at Coloma resort and had dinner with some parishioners who joined us for a night of camping out. We sang songs and told stories before getting into our tents, RVs and under the stars. The next morning we had our church service on the lawn of Emmanuel Episcopal Church.

The first day - on Friday - Deacon Stephen and I met up with Joann and Tom in Kelsey. The clouds looked ominous, and that was the day it was supposed to rain heavily. We didn’t want to get caught out walking in a heavy storm, so we decided to drive to Georgetown instead. We were glad we did because it began to pour heavily for a few hours. CC Peirce would have kept on walking even in the rain.

We resumed our walk the next morning from that place in Georgetown and headed towards Cool. We had walked about 300 feet and met up with a man, Mr. Collins, who was walking into town. He said that his great great-great-grandfather began the Free Church in Coloma in the 1860s. No doubt his great-great-granddaddy and CC Pierce would have known each other.

A few miles later we saw a man who was digging a hole for his mailbox. He looked up and saw Deacon Steven carrying the gospel staff and exclaimed, “I know what those symbols mean!”

Matthew as a man or angel represents Jesus incarnation and Christ's human nature. Mark is a lion a figure of courage and monarchy; he lion also represents Jesus' resurrection and Christ as King. Luke is a bull or ox; it is a figure of sacrifice, service and strength. And John is the eagle - a figure of the sky.

We had a good talk with him about Caleb Peirce and what we were doing and then went on our way.

A few miles later we came up to the Ace Hardware store in Greenwood. Ed Hawkins warned the manager that were coming and asked him to watch out for us. Ed's friend greeted us warmly and showed us to the Ace Hardware lunchroom. It felt like a banquet hall to us - and was great place to sit down rest our feet and enjoy our lunch.

It felt like we were two walking along the road to Emmaus - we kept imagining and talking about the kinds of people Caleb Pierce would have met on his travels.

Walking has a way of slowing things down and stretching out time so that you stop and have conversations with people you run into. The road Caleb walked would not have been the same paved highway with the logging trucks rushing by and no shoulder. It was a bit harrowing at times.

After about mile eight or nine, my knee started to hurt. In my infinite wisdom I had chosen to wear my new speedo water shoes on the walk, which was definitely not a good idea. Not only were they new, they had NO support. We got to Cool, five miles later, at about 4 p.m. It was too early to set up camp, and so we decided to go home for the night. Rob picked us up and drove us home.

My knee got more and more swollen, although I kept an ice pack on it. I was not much better the next morning, so I picked up Deacon Steven, dropped him off in Cool and wished him well. He continued the journey and evangelized the people in Coloma Club over a cold beer.

A bit of history on the founder of Our Saviour, as researched by Rev. Deb:

When the then 35 year old Charles Caleb Peirce came to Placerville in 1861, there was no church building.  There was one in Coloma, however (shown at left).  It was built in 1855, and Caleb Peirce served there while he was building up the congregation here in Placerville.

The Know Nothing political party, sprang up nationwide in 1855 was a big hit in Placerville. In fact it swept the county’s 1855 elections. In 1856, the party dissipated. This is the world Caleb Peirce entered and ministered to; it was the Wild West.

He was an attorney before he became a priest, but he could not last because - according to a biography by Charles Upton - he could not endure the “bitter rivalries, the sordid mesh and the immoralities of the courtroom and that he would be better following the call of a Christian minister.”

While in seminary Peirce met some who also followed the words of wisdom and kindness from the Lord but was dismayed by other seminarians he met whose “creeds of hate and a vengeance made a mockery of the mantle they wore as Christians. There were those who tried to reconcile eternal love with everlasting torture and were led by an abnormal doctrine of hate.” (Upton)

He was ordained in Trinity Church in New York City in 1860 and left the next day, bound for San Francisco. He came via the Isthmus of Panama and ended up at the Grace Church - now Grace Cathedral - for a year.  He was out of his element there and was advised to befriend the wealthy members of the congregation more because his success depended on them. He said that he was not there to support the wealthy and resigned.

On March 29, 1861 he took a small steamer to Sacramento, then a train to Folsom and then the Placerville stage from Folsom to Placerville. He arrived at the Cary Hotel and on March 31, 1861, Easter Sunday, he held worship services in the Placerville Court.

From that time on, he spread the news of God's love to those all over the county. He had four congregations - Placerville, Coloma, El Dorado and Diamond Springs. (And no, I don’t think I’m planning a pilgrimage to Diamond Springs soon.)

Peirce believed in a Christianity which is seen as well as heard. According to the Upton biography Peirce held positions as superintendent for the Board of Education, the clerk of the Board of Trustees, a member of the independent order of Red Men, the secretary for the trustees of Union Cemetery, member of El Dorado Lodge, member and High Priest of Templar lodge, a member of the masons, and politically a Christian socialist. Not much is written about the particularities of any of those just that he was a member.

He was driven by a commitment to Jesus Christ grounded in the message of love for all regardless of their sect or creed. The more I learn about him the more I am in awe of his physical and a spiritual stamina and passion.

What has stayed with me is that he seemed to have a way to befriend all -and there was more diversity of people then than now I think - Chinese, Native Americans, farmers, miners, business owners, bar owners - and it seems that his way of sharing God’s love was to engage with them - not to criticize or make them accept Jesus, but simply to show them love.

There is a large stained glass window dedicated to him in the Coloma church which has the phrase, “The Good Shepherd layeth down His life for His sheep”.

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