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DOWNEY – Previously, in parts One, Two, and Three, we related the story of growth by a small group of Methodists who began to meet 160 years ago in 1854. At first these early pioneers met in homes and open fields. Later they built the Los Nietos Collegiate Institute, the first Protestant college in Los Angeles County, and held worship services in the classrooms. In 1877 they built their first adequate house of worship and, in 1891, moved the entire structure one mile north into the growing town of Downey.
The original church structure served the members well until the early 1920s. The congregation had grown so large by then that the original facilities were no longer adequate. In 1921 the following resolution was adopted at the Quarterly Conference: “Resolved . . . that the Quarterly Conference authorize and instruct the Board of Trustees to borrow from the Los Nietos Valley Bank a sum not to exceed $2,000 and apply same as a first payment of lots.” Following minutes show that $1,900 was borrowed from the bank. A lot bounded by Fifth Street on the North, New Street on the West, and Crawford Street (Downey Avenue) on the East, was purchased for $3,800. $1,900 was paid in cash. In the minutes of March 2, 1921, during the pastorate of the Reverend L. J. Miliken, we read, “Motion made and carried to ask the Board of Church Extension for donation of $6,000 and a loan of $10,000.” A new sanctuary was erected and the church was built on several floor levels. There was a basement for Sunday School classes and social activities, a Sanctuary up several steps from street level, and more rooms in the belfry. For reasons that are unclear, the original 800 pound bell was not placed in the belfry. A cement foundation was made for the bell at the rear of the church. Perhaps the new steeple was not strong enough for a bell of this size and weight, or there were fears of earthquakes. When the church was completed a parsonage was built at the rear of the sanctuary, facing New Street.
The following article was taken from an old copy of Downey’s “Live Wire” newspaper: “The Methodist Church dedicatory service with Bishop DuBose in attendance will be held Thursday. All other churches, fraternal orders, and Downey men and women’s clubs have been sent a special invitation to attend. The Board of Stewards will present the church to the Bishop for dedication and during the service the audience will sing the ‘Victory Song’ written by Mrs. A. G. Haygood. The service will close with Mrs. H. P. Myers singing her ‘Rejoice’ song dedicated to the building.”
After World War II, the population of Downey increased rapidly. Orange groves were giving way to subdivisions. New homes were going up and the church was feeling the pressure. Additional property was purchased immediately south of the church and a fellowship hall and several new classrooms were built, followed by the construction of the present sanctuary. The sanctuary was dedicated in June 1954 by Bishop Gerald Kennedy. The building program was completed with the construction of an office and classroom complex on the site of the old sanctuary and parsonage. Some years later, a new entrance to the sanctuary was built facing the parking area. ADA compliant restrooms were added at that time.
Many physical changes have taken place over the years, and the name of the church has changed a number of times too. The first came with the move into the town of Downey. What had been the Los Nietos Methodist Episcopal Church, South became the Downey Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Then, in 1939, the three major branches of Methodism – the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and the Methodist Protestant Church – joined to form the Methodist Church. With this merger it became the Downey Methodist Church. The present name resulted from the union, in 1968, of the Evangelical United Brethren with the Methodist Church, forming the United Methodist Church.
But we are the same church, and the spirit that brought those original 1854 pioneers together for worship is still alive and still active in the world. The generations that have served this church, nurturing its growth, have also served the community faithfully and with pride.
We have a tradition of outreach to others. Our church facilities have been home to other denominations and ethnic congregations until they grew large enough to support their own facilities. The congregation of Temple Ner Tamid met here from 1959 to 1962. We shared our sanctuary with a Korean Methodist congregation for several years. They moved to their own facilities in 1994. We now enjoy the full partnership of a thriving Hispanic congregation led by the Reverend David Achon.
We are blessed with a superior nursery school at our church. All children from the Downey area are welcomed. They are better prepared to enter school and they learn the skills that make them good citizens and friends. We are also committed to providing outreach to the many community groups who use our facilities. We sponsor Troop 2 of the Boy Scouts of America. Troop 2 was chartered to our church in 1923, making it one of the oldest Troops in southern California. Troop 2 is rightfully proud to have had many Eagle Scouts come from within their members.
This church, and the people who have worshipped here, have participated in many joyous events. Weddings and baptisms of members and friends are a way of affirming our faith in the future. Funerals and memorial services validate our life here on earth, and attest to our belief in life eternal. An example of the joyous events would be the marriage of Richard Carpenter, of the Carpenters music duo, to his wife Mary in 1984, and the subsequent baptism of their children. We also celebrated the life of Richard’s sister Karen, after her tragic death in 1983.
Weddings, baptisms, memorial services, and funerals are shared events. They bring the community together in many ways. For more than one-hundred and sixty years this congregation has sought to bring our community closer together. We are brothers and sisters; children of a loving God. Our shared faith has made a strong bond of fellowship, and our shared faith has led us on the path to service.
We reside in the present and we can take pride in our past, but we look forward, with God’s help and guidance, to an even greater future!
Richard Daggett is the historian for Downey United Methodist Church. Parts I, II and III can be found online at thedowneypatriot.com.
Published: June 26, 2014 – Volume 13 – Issue 11