Sacramento Japanese United Methodist Church has local roots dating back to 19th century

 

 

The Sacramento Japanese United Methodist Church, a church with roots dating back to the 19th century in the capital city, will be holding its 40th annual Asian Food and Cultural Bazaar on Saturday, Oct. 2.

The Sacramento Japanese United Methodist Church at 6929 Franklin Blvd. in south Sacramento will be the site of an Asian food and cultural bazaar on Saturday, Oct. 2. / Valley Community Newspapers photo by Lance Armstrong

The Sacramento Japanese United Methodist Church at 6929 Franklin Blvd. in south Sacramento will be the site of an Asian food and cultural bazaar on Saturday, Oct. 2. / Valley Community Newspapers photo by Lance Armstrong

Rich in flavor, tradition

The event, which begins at 11 a.m. and continues until 3 p.m., will feature a variety of Asian food cooked on site such as teriyaki chicken, sesame chicken, udon, Korean short ribs, kahlua pork, chow mein, sushi, and manju (Japanese confections).

Additionally, the event will include children’s games and free entertainment, including performances by the ukulele group, ACC Pocket Pickers, Sacramento Taiko, guitarist Mark McLean, and the hula group, the Ohana Dance Group.

Guests of the bazaar will also have the opportunity to purchase nursery items and handmade crafts created by the church’s Boutique Committee.

The bazaar is undoubtedly one of the church’s richest traditions, since the church, which is located at 6929 Franklin Blvd., was founded in June 1968 and the bazaar was first held in 1970.

But as previously mentioned, the church has roots dating back to the 19th century, thus in many ways, it is much older than the 42 years that it has operated on Franklin Boulevard.

A tale of two churches

The formation of the Sacramento Japanese United Methodist Church occurred as a result of a merger between the Pioneer Methodist Church of Sacramento and the Florin Japanese Methodist Church.

Pioneer Methodist Church 

Sunday school class members gather outside the Japanese Methodist Church of Sacramento at 331 O St. in 1936. / Photo courtesy of SJUMC

Sunday school class members gather outside the Japanese Methodist Church of Sacramento at 331 O St. in 1936. / Photo courtesy of SJUMC

The older of these two churches is the Pioneer Methodist Church, which according to the book, “A Centennial Legacy: Historyof the Japanese Christian Missions in North America,” was the third oldest Japanese Methodist church in the United States.

The roots of the Pioneer Methodist Church, which was originally known as the Japanese Methodist Church of Sacramento, date back to about 1891, when ministers from the Japanese Methodist Church in San Francisco traveled by riverboats to Sacramento, where they conducted worship services and roadside preaching for local Japanese residents.

The congregation gathered in a house at 510 L St. with its first appointed minister, the Rev. Sotohichi Kihara, in February 1892.

The following year, under the direction of Superintendent Harris, the church was formally organized.

According to an historic, translated record of the church, which at the time was referred to as the Japanese Methodist Mission, its members began meeting at 903 D St. in December 1893.

In 1895, the church relocated to 310 M St., where it remained until 1908.

The church held its services at 417 P St. for the following decade and in 1918 moved to its longtime site at 331 O St. A new church building was dedicated at the O Street site on March 4, 1951.

In 1954, the former Japanese Methodist Church of Sacramento was renamed Pioneer Methodist Church.

Florin Japanese Methodist Church

Although it was not as old as the Pioneer church, the Florin Japanese Methodist Church had a long history of its own.

The history of this Florin church began in 1913, when Dr. H.B. Johnson worked with Japanese community leaders to establish Christian work and a Japanese language school in the town of Florin.

In 1915, the Florin church’s first appointed minister, the Rev. Raiichi Minabe, was appointed and a two-story building was designated for the church and school.

The following year, a sanctuary was constructed for the Florin church, which began with seven members and seven children. A multi-purpose hall was added in 1927.

Despite the Japanese internment as a result of Executive Order 9066 in 1942, both churches resumed their operations in 1945.

These churches continued their services and other activities for the following two decades.

WWII internment contributed to merger

In the 1960s, efforts to merge this pair of churches began, as the Pioneer church was being forced to relocate due to city redevelopment and the Florin church’s membership numbers had dwindled.

Tom Kushi, who was born in Florin in 1924 and graduated from Elk Grove High School in 1942, three days prior to the internment, said that a contributing factor to the Florin church’s attendance woes was due to the internment.

“Most of the membership didn’t come back to Florin (following the internment),” said Tom, who was raised on his father Shonosuke Kushi’s farm at Stockton Boulevard and Gerber Road.

Tom said that less than a dozen former Florin church members are living today.

Among these former members is Sam Kashiwagi, who was raised on Stockton Boulevard, along the former Highway 99, about a mile south of Florin Road.

Kashiwagi said that the Florin church originally met in a structure at Florin and Pritchard roads – across the street from today’s Buddhist Church of Florin – that was connected to a parsonage. He added that a community hall was built on the site about 10 or 15 years later and by about 1958, a new parsonage was built just south of the hall.

Efforts to locate a home for a new church ended when the Merwin Memorial United Methodist Church at 6929 Franklin Blvd. dispersed and the Merwin church’s four acres of property and its small building was obtained by the Pioneer and Florin churches for $1, plus the payment of the Merwin church’s debts.

The acquisition of the Merwin church and property was aided by a recommendation by Merwin church pioneer members, Eugene and Marion Drown.

Bill Taketa, who managed the Bank of America at 1515 Broadway and served as the church’s treasurer, said that a considerably large cost of the new church was the addition of a $20,000 parking lot.

The Japanese United Methodist Church

The Rev. Motoe Yamada is the current pastor of the Sacramento Japanese United Methodist Church. / Valley Community Newspapers photo by Lance Armstrong

The Rev. Motoe Yamada is the current pastor of the Sacramento Japanese United Methodist Church. / Valley Community Newspapers photo by Lance Armstrong

The merger, which occurred in June 1968, allowed the Pioneer and Florin churches to officially meet together as the Japanese United Methodist Church.

Initially, the then-new church met in the sanctuary within the site’s small building, but through the assistance of many of its members who helped to lower costs, a new sanctuary and multi-purpose social hall was completed in 1970 at a cost of $250,000.

Roy Sato was among the members who helped lower the cost of the project, as he provided free heating and air conditioning labor.

Charles Kobayashi, a member of the church’s history committee and a former member of the Pioneer church, said that the preservation of the church’s history is an important endeavor, which includes a current project to translate about 12 volumes of handwritten Pioneer church journals. The journals were written from about 1892 to about 1940.

The church’s pastor, the Rev. Motoe Yamada, who was born and raised in Tokyo, Japan, was the daughter of a Buddhist monk and became a Christian in the 1990s, said that it is important to remember the church’s history and its early members.

“I think it’s wonderful that we have such a rich history,” said Yamada, who attended the University of Toledo in Ohio. “We don’t want to forget that, because of the Isseis and what they went through and their experiences coming over all the way from Japan and being Christians and of course, second generation (Japanese) born here who experienced internment camps. Now we have third, fourth, fifth generation (Japanese) and we are becoming more mixed. I always want to make sure we learn from the history, so we will never forget how faithful those first and second generation (Japanese church members) were and the legacy they have.”

In honor of the Issei Japanese, church members created a memorial garden between the old Merwin building and the 1970 structure. Last year, a fountain was placed within the garden, which is cared for by a church group, known as the “Garden Angels.” The “Angels” are led by Ed Kubo and Bob Sasaki.

Yamada said that in appreciation of members of the former Merwin church, a special ceremony will be held at the recently renovated Merwin sanctuary on Sunday, Nov. 7 at about 11:45 a.m., following the 10:30 a.m. worship service in the larger sanctuary.

Yamada emphasized that in addition to the importance of remembering the roots of the church and its early members, it is also important to stress that despite its name, the Sacramento Japanese United Methodist Church is very much a multicultural church.

“We are becoming more and more multicultural,” Yamada said. “We have a Japanese-speaking ministry, but almost everything is done in English. And regardless of a person’s age, race, gender or ethnic background, everyone is invited.”

And like the church’s Sunday services, the community is also invited to attend the Asian Food and Cultural Bazaar on Saturday, Oct. 2 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

For additional information regarding the Sacramento Japanese United Methodist Church and its upcoming events, call (916) 421-1017.

lance@valcomnews.com