Centenary Members and Friends:
For this month’s Pastor’s Column I share with you an article I was asked to write for an upcoming exhibit on Japanese American religious institutions.
GUARDIAN ANGELS IN THE MIDST OF INTERNMENT
In the Spring of 1942, Japanese Americans from the West Coast were evacuated under Executive Order 9066, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. This led to the internment of more than 110,000 persons into 10 concentration camps located in the most desolate areas across the U.S.
Upon evacuation from the communities where they lived, many Japanese American churches soon became storage sites for their members due to the strict limits on what they could take with them into the camps. For members of Centenary Methodist Church, located on the corner of 35th Street and Normandie Avenue in South L.A., their stored belongings were left in the church under soon-to-be watchful eyes of a small African American congregation that had been looking for a place to begin a new church.
In 1945, a small group of lay people who had been travelling to the east side of Los Angeles for worship began to organize a new Methodist church which would serve the rapidly growing African-American population on the west side of the city. The church was named Morgan Chapel.
During their first two years they worshipped in various places, one of them being Centenary. Under the watchful eyes of Morgan Chapel members, the belongings that were left by the Centenary members at the time of evacuation were safeguarded and left untouched.
The late Rev. Wesley Yamaka, whose father (Rev. Yuzuru Yamaka) pastored Centenary at the time of evacuation and upon resettlement, once shared:
“My father always said that when the Centenary members returned from the camps, all of their belongings they stored at the church were in the exact same place where they had left them. He attributed that to the Morgan Chapel members who kept watch over the belongings we had left there.”
During the next two years Centenary allowed the Morgan Chapel congregation to worship in the sanctuary on Sunday evenings, enabling them to grow and organize for the purposes of eventually establishing their own church. The Morgan Chapel members went on to purchase the former Pepperdine Estates property near the corner of Adams Boulevard and Arlington Avenue in the West Adams area of Los Angeles. Today, it is Holman United Methodist Church, named after Dr. Calvin Holman, the Los Angeles Methodist District Superintendent at that time.
This is documented in the Historical Summary of Holman:
“During the first two years, services were held in various locations including a dance hall at the corner of Jefferson Boulevard and Normandie Avenue. Members also met in a vacated Japanese church until its congregants returned from the WW II internment camps.”
The story of two racial-ethnic churches intersecting and supporting one another during critical periods of their histories is an endearing reminder of God’s ability to provide hope and salvation when all else seems lost.
Today, both Holman United Methodist Church and Centenary United Methodist Church are nationally known among their respective ethnic communities and the larger denomination of which they are a part. This is a fitting testament to the ability of God and the Holy Spirit that empowers people and communities to transcend limitations that are seemingly insurmountable.
Rev. Mark M. Nakagawa
West District Superintendent
The United Methodist Church