Charles and Wilma Spencer were living in Fresno and attending the Calwa Assembly of God where Rev. Ralph Hall was pastor, when they felt the call of God upon their lives. In an act of faith, they went as counselors for Youth with a Mission to the Bahamas for the summer in 1964. At this time Bro. Spencer gave up his position at Reynolds Aluminum as Purchasing Agent after 10 years. Upon returning in September of that year, they returned to work until October of 1965.
It was at this time Bro. Spencer heard the Lord speak to him one night about the community of Riverdale. God was already working His details out as usual. Sis. Clara Whited, who has since gone to be with the Lord, had a burden for a church in Riverdale. The Orange Cove Pastor, Brother Avery was helping her get started. Even though arrangements had been made for another man to be the Pastor, the Lord worked out that small detail, and Bro. Spencer was sent to pioneer the work. By the time the district had given Bro. Spencer their approval, the building was rented, the chairs lined up, and a piano was ready for purchase.
The first service was on Saturday night, October 23, 1965 with 33 in attendance. Sis. Velma Turnage, from Orange Cove was the guest speaker. Sunday School was the “big” thing in those early days of Riverdale Assembly. On Sunday morning, October 24, 1965, Sunday school was in session with 27 people present. Sis. Spencer taught the Beginners and the Adults were taught by Bro. Spencer. Shirley Goad was the first convert. She seemed to have received teaching credentials with salvation, and taught the Beginners the second month. A Primary class was formed with Sis. Campbell as teacher. Sis. Spencer took the adult class.
All of this was just the beginning of the blessings of God in that little three room press building. Classes sprung up all over. One moved into the garage across the alley, belonging to Paul Whited, and another in Bill Spencer’s egg van. The teen class met in the parsonage on Wood Ave. Later the Pastor’s family moved in the house next door to the church and two classes were held there. When the first Sunday School bus was purchased it immediately became another classroom. A missionary at a Sunday morning service made this comment, “You don’t need a superintendent, you need a safari leader!” But those were exciting days. Compelled by a desire to train Sunday School teachers, the first training course was offered. At the end of 6 months 10 of the original teachers were ready to take their classes back from the substitutes, who then entered the training class. This class produced 15 trained teachers. The required training of Sunday School teachers has continued down through the years producing a strong and faithful staff of over 100 teachers.
By 1970 attendance was averaging over 100 and the need for a new facility was eminent. Five acres just east of Marks Avenue on Mt. Whitney was purchased for construction of a new sanctuary. Neither Rev. Spencer nor his congregation had experience in the construction industry never the less, they persevered in building, learning as they built . Easter Sunday, 1971, their new sanctuary was dedicated and the church continued its growth. The need for more classrooms necessitated more construction and in 1976 the educational building was completed, adding six classrooms and a fellowship hall.
Attendance had climbed to 157 members; 1978 proved to be a turning point for the church. While attending a Pastor’s school in Hammond, Indiana. Rev. Spencer heard Dr. Donald Howard present an ideal program for Christian Education. Returning to Riverdale, he excitedly shared the Accelerated Christian Education system with the church. Immediate plans were made to start a school, and in the fall of 1978 Riverdale Christian Academy was born with 65 students enrolled. Thirty-four years later Riverdale Christian Academy’s enrollment is over 150 students, K-12. Providing a superior education, this school has proved to be the most effective ministry to the children and youth of Riverdale Assembly of God.
By 1982, attendance had hit the 200 mark, bringing the church once again to an overcrowded situation. Five acres adjacent to the present property was put on the market during that year. The timing couldn’t have been better. The congregation unanimously agreed to purchase the choice property for a future sanctuary on the corner of Marks and Mt. Whitney Avenues. The price of $100,000 seemed enormous, but the faith of the congregation was greater. Four years later the property was purchased and paid in full.In the past 20 years the outreach of Riverdale Assembly of God has become multi-faceted.
Bus Ministry: Bro. Spencer purchased on old school bus in the early years bringing many children to Sunday school. Today this ministry continues to be an effective outreach to children who might not otherwise ever attend church.
Riverdale Assembly of God Minute Men: Remodeling, framing, painting, complete construction of churches and parsonages, etc. have been a special project for the men and youth of the church. Many small churches have relied on the manpower of Riverdale Assembly of God to boost their building programs. This ministry also supplied materials and labor to build six complete churches in Mexico. Each of the churches were finished in 14-16 hours!
Choir: The music ministry has played an important part in many ways. Under the direction of Sis Spencer, the sanctuary choir was often called upon to minister in neighboring churches. The spirit of the Lord always seemed to move every time they sang. Presently the 75-member choir, under the direction of Jim and Darla Davis, continues to reach for that special anointing. In 1987, the Ambassador Youth Choir became an additional ministry of the church and has traveled extensively from California to New York. In 1992 the Youth Choir, was invited by Bill Burkett of Commission Missions to spend two weeks in Russia ministering in various churches and providing music for the first conference of the former underground churches in Kiev, Ukraine.
Prison Outreach, Kids Crusades, The Living Nativity, Holiness In Ministry Conference and many other ministries provide opportunities for every member, young and old, to be involved. With attendance over 400, Riverdale Assembly of God provides a solid church home to many families and continues to be a lighthouse for Christ in the San Joaquin Valley.