By Carolyn Tokunaga
At 35th and Normandie: 1925-1945
With hope, vision, and unbounding faith, the immigrant founders and ministers grew a congregation and now could fulfill their dream of a more permanent home. With the lot purchased on the corner of 35th and Normandie, they envisioned a new church building.
Always trusting God to guide, they embarked on a building campaign to raise $51,000. In this new land where they had faced prejudice, restrictive racial laws, and limited opportunities, they would build a church. Through fundraising and a donation from the Methodist Centennial Fund, money was available to complete their dream. The Japanese Methodist Episcopal Mission of Los Angeles became Centenary Methodist Episcopal Church (lovingly called ME Kyokai) as part of Methodism’s 100 Year celebration. A few years later, the name was shortened to Centenary Methodist Church.
With space to grow ministries, the late 20’s and 30’s filled the church with activity. In addition to the thriving Epworth League and Ladies Aid Society, a Japanese Language Class was started for the Nisei youngsters and soon expanded to become a vital Japanese Language School for the area. Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts were organized at the church. The Argonauts Y Group, Happy Girls Club and Blue Circle Girls Club were formed. Sunday School continued to build a faith foundation for the youngsters.
The growing families created the need for children and youth activities but the Issei continued to nurture their spiritual journeys. With a new sanctuary for worship, the choir inspired the spirit and ministers delivered messages of hope and faith. Bible Studies continued to support and grow their spiritual lives. Church picnics provided casual time for fellowship and fun.
The Depression years created special challenges for the Issei members as the failing economy added to the hardships of these resilient souls. Mid-week prayer meetings encouraged and sustained. The church choir uplifted spirits during Sunday Worship of about 100 people. Children attended Sunday School. Loyal, faithful members held the church together through untold financial difficulties. The church survived and continued to grow. More space was again needed!
In 1940, Wesley Chapel was built. Funds were raised by the Issei members and the parents of the Seinan Gakuen pupils. The chapel was dedicated in 1941 and Nisei English Worship Services were inaugurated.
As an active growing congregation, Centenary provided a faith community for the Issei immigrants, Nisei children and young adults. For over 40 years it nurtured those embarking on a new life in this foreign land. It provided nurture and support in the face of prejudice and a safety zone in which to share experiences and raise children. Those children received a faith foundation that would sustain them as World War II began.
In 1942, Executive Order 9066 decreed that all people of Japanese ancestry were to be evacuated from the West Coast. Lives were suddenly disrupted and livelihoods destroyed. With “gaman,” the congregation followed orders and left all behind. Centenary closed its doors. The basement was used to store members’ possessions and Sunday School teacher, Lillian Clark, volunteered to act as custodian.
A place of faith, Centenary opened its doors to house an African-American congregation during the war years. What became Holman United Methodist Church took up residence, offering another marginalized group a place to worship.
Centenary members were dispersed to the many camps. Lives were put on hold. New hardships had to be faced and endured. Children were being raised behind barbed wire away from the security of home. The Issei immigrants once again were displaced and relocated. Not knowing what was to come, their faith and prayers sustained them as they found comfort in worship within the camps. They were asked to sacrifice so much for a country that marginalized them, discriminated against them, and threw up barriers as they had tried to make a new life. Centenary would wait their return.
Our Ministers: 1925-1942
From 1925-1942, many ministers provided the spiritual nurturing that grew the church at the new 35th and Normandie location. From the construction of the church building, through the years of the Great Depression, until the time of evacuation, they led from a place of faith and love, always trusting that God would provide: Rev. Suematsu Saito (1924), Rev. S. Kawashima (1927), and Rev. Yuzuru Yamaka (1931) joined by Rev. Lester Suzuki (1937) as the first Nisei minister.
During some of the years, others assisted in different capacities: Miss Dorothy Funabiki (1933), Mrs. Charles Kamayasu (1933), and Rev. and Mrs. Takashi Kamaye (1941).
In 1942, Centenary was closed as families were forced to leave the west coast.
Read Carolyn’s other articles recounting Centenary’s 125 years of ministry:
A Historical Journey - https://www.centenarydtla.org/post/a-historical-journey
A Historical Journey: The Early Years - 1896-1925 - https://www.centenarydtla.org/post/a-historical-journey-the-early-years-1896-1925