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A HISTORICAL JOURNEY - 3rd and Central - 1988-1994

By Carolyn Tokunaga

On October 23, 1988, Bishop Jack Tuell led the Consecration Service for the new Multi-Purpose Church Building. From the 1896 house on Winston Street to the corner of 3rd and Central, Centenary had returned to its historic roots in Little Tokyo.

With the new building open, the rhythms of church life picked up. Sunday English Worship was held in the Fellowship Hall with folding chairs set up in rows. The Japanese Language Division used the large meeting room upstairs, equipped with chairs, organ, and altar. The Choirs added to the worship spirit with their uplifting voices. Meeting before each service, they welcomed all with their warmth and congeniality during this time of musical fellowship.

Sunday School students met in brand new classrooms to learn the meaning of friendship and responsibility as they reflected on Christian values and continued on their faith building journeys. The Methodist Youth Fellowship (MYF) regrouped and served the youth from 7th to 12th grade. Their time was filled with activities that stressed fellowship, faith development, fun, and growth of personal responsibility. Activities encouraged each to develop confidence and inner strength to help them accomplish all that they wanted to be.

English Bible Study met on Sundays before service. In informal study, members could be heard laughing and enjoying very stimulating conversations. With no preparation necessary, everyone was encouraged to drop in and participate. Japanese Bible Study found time to meet after their morning worship to expand on the morning message and enjoy the company of fellow worshippers.

In their new home, Centenary’s long established groups were actively involved in church life.

The United Methodist Women worked to expand concepts of mission through participation in the global ministries of the church. They did this by sponsoring video programs on missions, organizing “Women’s Day,” and sponsoring the annual party honoring church members who were 80+ years old.

Rainbow Circle was in the midst of the “Centenary Favorites” cookbook project as they worked to provide a wider fellowship among the women of the church. They could be found crafting for the Holiday Boutique, joining together in educational and spiritual workshops, and enjoying theater outings and line dancing.

The United Methodist Men held a monthly parking lot sale at Seinan Senior Citizens Center for the low-income community. Other activities included holding a yearly barbecue chicken teriyaki fundraiser for the general budget, strawberry picking, trout fishing trips, and the walk-a-thon.

The Japanese Language Division continued its active support of the church through its groups, often working with their English counterparts on common projects but also implementing activities pertinent to their congregation.

Fujinkai focused on cultural works, visitations and the activities that had been part of its mission since the 1900s when it was called the Ladies Society. They often prepared and served lunch on Sundays after worship, studied and distributed Christian literature, and as they prepared food for the church bazaar, mentored and taught skills and techniques to English speaking church members.

The Japanese Language United Methodist Men helped at the parking lot sales and participated in many joint projects with the English UMM. They helped set up tables for the Sunday lunches, sold plants at the church bazaar, and often served as ushers at church funerals.

The Galilee Club was composed of young married adults in the Japanese Division. They too were involved in church lunches, bazaar food preparations, took care of the nursery room, and provided transportation for the older members. When the group disbanded, members joined the Fujinkai and the Japanese Language UMM.

Whether serving and preparing food, organizing events, or cleaning and repairing the church building and yard, these groups were the backbone of all Centenary activities.

Centenary’s history had now spanned 90 years but the church is more than the buildings, it is its people. In 1988, the Oral History Project was granted a gift of $25,000 from Kay Sugahara, a pre-war member of Centenary. It was his dream to document and preserve facts about ourselves and the vast migration of our forefathers from Japan to the United States. Committee members Yae Nakamura, Yae Kawazoye, Kiyoshi Ito, Tom Saruwatari, Kaz Saito and George Yamaka reached out to those who lived through the times before and during the 20th Century.

Over 100 interviews were conducted and recorded recounting their family histories, faith journeys, and current personal lives. These stories spanned three generations. They gave insight into the lives built in a new land, the struggles to raise families during a time of prejudice and later war and evacuation, the dreams for their children, the role Centenary had in their lives, and the hopes for the future.

Recorded on an outdated format, Terry Kasuyama spent months digitalizing the interviews. Vicky Leon and Sookee An have prepared them for viewing on Centenary’s You Tube channel at as part of the 125th Anniversary Celebration. A precious resource of Centenary’s history has been preserved through a gift, a dream, and the work of those who saw great value in learning from our past as we move forward into the future.

The Multi-Purpose Building was serving Centenary well. There was space not only for Centenary groups and activities but there was room to develop new programming as needs were identified. Community groups also used the church facilities and expanded Centenary’s presence in Little Tokyo. The building had been built to serve church needs but also the needs of the community as a place to meet. We were a commuter church but also a community entity. Returning to the area brought us back to our roots.

But the vision for Centenary was not yet complete. By 1990, the Fellowship Hall, Multi-Purpose Room, church offices, and classrooms were paid in full at a cost of approximately $1,439,000 . At the 95th Anniversary Celebration, on October 27, 1991, the Multi-Purpose Church Building was dedicated but the Sanctuary was not yet built!

On October 1, 1992, the Third “Program of Growth” was launched. Tetsu Tanimoto became the Chairman of the Sanctuary Building Fund Campaign which had a goal of raising $1,400,000 to build the sanctuary and chapel ($1,270,656), install a Sanctuary Pipe Organ and Chapel Organ ($99,260), and furnish the buildings ($55,309).

On June 15, 1994, the Sancutary Ground Breaking Celebration was held with Bishop Roy Sano officiating. O’Leary Terasawa Partners with Tak Shida as lead architect, would design the building. Obayashi Corporation would serve as the building contractor. The sanctuary was quickly becoming a reality.

Our Ministers: 1988-1994

During this time of transition and homecoming after 3 years at Maryknoll, Centenary was guided by spiritual leaders who continued the vision set by our pioneering members. It was a time to regroup, add new ministries and missions, and reach out to a community that welcomed us into their fold.

Issei Ministers: Rev. Hidemi Ito (1985) and Rev. Shiro Kato (1991)

Nisei Ministers: Rev. George Nishikawa (1983), Rev. Dr. Roland Brammeier (Interim 1990), Rev. Dr. Hans Holborn (Interim Half-time 1991), Rev. Dr.

Dale Smith (1991), and Rev. Dr. Grant Hagiya (1993)

Assisted by: Associate Minister Rev. Mark Hobbs (1991) and Associate Minister Rev. David Nieda (1993)



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