First United Methodist Church — the oldest church in Santa Maria — has made the corner of Cook Street and Broadway its home for the last 100 years, celebrating the milestone and its legacy of social activism with a special celebration Sunday.
The church has held its prominent real estate since it was first dedicated in May 1922, and currently serves a congregation of more than 100 mostly Filipino and Anglo Christians, according to the Rev. Bob Isep. Churchgoers honored the church’s history by holding an open house and Hancock College Choir performance on Sunday, among other festivities.
“I forgot who said this to me, but the church of God shall exist for all time and we’ve been lucky to last 100 years,” Isep said. “We hope to see the church last for a long time to come.”
According to the church’s website, the First United Methodist was the first church in Santa Maria, establishing its original home in 1878 before breaking ground on its current site Sept. 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 parcel and was used to help keep the church out of debt during the Great Depression.
According to the Santa Maria Valley Historical Society, the original First United Methodist Church bell was salvaged from the schooner Anna Lyle, which on its maiden voyage was destroyed along the Point Sal Wharf on Christmas Day in 1876. The bell made the move from the original church location to today’s site, where it remains, although an electronic sound system now is used to preserve the artifact.
To this day, the sound of church bells can be heard throughout downtown Santa Maria, whether that’s across the street at the Town Center Mall, the historic Santa Maria Inn or at City Hall. To Isep, the ringing offers an important reminder to the community.
“We are in many ways a beacon, but also you might hear our church bell. It’s a reminder that sometimes pricks our conscience as well, because we have been throughout our history 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 more successful programs was its Showers of Blessing ministry, where on Mondays anyone would be able to use the church’s upstairs shower facilities. While restrictions have lifted, the church will need new volunteers if the program is to be renewed.
“I just want to say I’ve had the opportunity to volunteer for Showers of Blessings. It’s a wonderful program and the volunteers did a great job. The heart is there,” said City Councilman Carlos Escobedo on May 3. “Thank you for your service. The whole process, clothing, showering and shaving, it was a great program.”
Until the program continues, Isep is referring people to the Salvation Army for similar services.
According to Isep, in the 1950s and ’60s, the church helped feed and house Black soldiers stationed at Vandenberg whenever they faced racial discrimination, as well as being a key component of anti-war protests in Santa Maria during the Vietnam War. Isep and the church have continued that tradition by helping immigrant families, and by holding a prayer vigil at the height of the George Floyd protests, among other actions.
For Isep, the 100-year mark and his upcoming departure this July, symbolize an important juncture 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 face the issues of an agricultural community, but also an urban one?”
Every Sunday, the church is home to services for the 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.