The First United Methodist Church – the oldest church in Santa Maria – has called the corner of Cook Street and Broadway home for the past 100 years, celebrating this milestone and its legacy of social activism with a special Sunday celebration.
The church has retained its prime real estate since its first consecration in May 1922 and currently serves a congregation of more than 100 Christians, mostly Filipinos and Anglo-Christians, according to Reverend Bob Isep. Churchgoers honored the church’s history with an open house and performance by the Hancock College Choir on Sunday, among other festivities.
“I forgot who told me this, but God’s church will exist forever and we were blessed to last 100 years,” Isep said. “We hope to see the church last for a long time yet.”
According to the church’s website, the First United Methodist Church was the first church in Santa Maria, establishing its original home in 1878 before breaking ground at its current site on September 11, 1921. One of the shovels used during the 1921 ceremony is still kept there. .
From 1923 to 1963 a gas station stood on the corner of the plot and was used to help the church out of debt during the Great Depression.
According to the Santa Maria Valley Historical Society, the original bell of the First United Methodist Church was salvaged from the schooner Anna Lyle, which on its maiden voyage was wrecked along the Point Sal wharf on Christmas Day in 1876. The bell has moved from the original church location to today’s site, where it remains, although an electronic sound system is now used to preserve the artifact.
To this day, the sound of church bells can be heard throughout downtown Santa Maria, whether across the street at Town Center Mall, the historic Santa Maria Inn, or the city Hall. For Isep, the bell provides an important reminder to the community.
“We are in many ways a beacon, but you might also hear our church bell. It’s a reminder that sometimes pricks our conscience too, as we have throughout our history been on the front lines of social justice. “, Isep told the city council. at its May 3 meeting, when a proclamation was made celebrating the church’s milestone.
Until COVID-19 shut down the operation, one of the church’s most successful programs was its Showers of Blessing ministry, where on Mondays anyone could use the upstairs showers of the church. ‘church. Although the restrictions have been lifted, the church will need new volunteers if the program is to be renewed.
“I just want to say that I had the opportunity to volunteer for Showers of Blessings. It’s a wonderful program and the volunteers have done a great job. The heart is there,” said Councilman Carlos Escobedo May 3. “Thank you for your service. The whole process, getting dressed, showering and shaving, it was a great program.”
Until the program continues, ISEP refers people to the Salvation Army for similar services.
According to Isep, in the 1950s and 1960s the church helped feed and house black soldiers stationed in Vandenberg whenever they faced racial discrimination, as well as being a key part of anti- war in Santa Maria during the Vietnam War. Isep and the church continued this tradition by helping immigrant families and organizing a prayer vigil at the height of the George Floyd protests, among other actions.
For Isep, the 100-year mark and his upcoming departure in July symbolize a milestone for the church.
“The church is at a crossroads,” he said. “We have a history of social justice and action. What will be our contribution as Santa Maria continues to grow and grapple with the challenges of an agricultural community, but also an urban one?”
Every Sunday, the church hosts services for First United Methodist and Bethel Korean Methodist congregations, both in-person and remotely.
This article has been corrected to reflect the correct location of the church at Cook Street and Broadway.