Our Humble Beginnings as a Spiritual Presence in Santa Cruz County….
Our local Methodist church has a rich and interesting history. Most recently, we were three small churches in the Live Oak (Live Oak Church, 1949 – 2002) East Side (Grace UMC, 1890 -2002), and West Side (First UMC, 1848 – 2002) Santa Cruz areas that merged 2 1/2 years after a fire destroyed the Grace Church in October of 2000.
After the fire, the Grace Church leadership began meetings with the leadership of the other two Santa Cruz churches to discuss using their fire insurance money to rebuild at their East Side location with a mission to serve the physical needs of all three Santa Cruz churches and the East Side community. It was during these meetings that the leadership of the three churches were able to feel God moving them toward a different future entirely.
Rather than a new sanctuary and improved fellowship hall with an indoor gym and children’s theater, we merged into one revitalized church with an idea to create the first Leed Certified Green Church in Santa Cruz. We felt called to help usher in a new green-focused future. But the economic collapse of 2008 dashed those plans.
God has heard our prayers for a new direction as we struggled to find a new future for ourselves and our community. In our quest to discern God’s will for our future, we revisited our long and storied past. And through this process, we rediscovered our roots.
FIRST UMC OF SANTA CRUZ
It seems we are the oldest continuously operating Protestant church in California. And the only one to exist prior to California becoming a state! The following information comes from the book, Fifty Years of Methodism: A History of the Methodist Episcopal Church Within the Bounds of the California Annual Conference from 1847 to 1897, written by C.V. Anthony, a Methodist minister.
It seems that by 1847 in Santa Cruz, there were enough English speakers in the area to desire a school to be taught in English. One of the mother’s attempted to begin a school in her home. It didn’t take long for word to reach Elihu Anthony in New York (C.V. Anthony’s older brother) that he was needed in Santa Cruz to teach these students in English. He arrived in January of 1948 and six families formed a Methodist Church with Elihu Anthony as the preacher.
The first church structure was erected on Mission and Green Streets, directly across from the Santa Cruz Catholic Mission, in 1850. This original structure served the Santa Cruz congregation until it moved to a building on Church Street in 1891 that had been vacated by the Congregational Church the previous year. This building was replaced in 1914 by a larger building erected on the same location. In 1963, the First Methodist Church was built at 250 California Street. In 2003, this became the designated location for The United Methodist Church of Santa Cruz (UMCSC), and where we do our primary ministry under the leadership of Pastor Jay Pierce.
In 1890, a lot was purchased on Pennsylvania Avenue and a chapel was constructed there on the East Side of Santa Cruz. Meetings there were suspended from 1900 – 1905, but the congregation was revitalized and formally organized in 1907, and was officially known as the Pennsylvania Avenue Methodist Church. It moved to the corner of Soquel Avenue and Cayuga Street in 1914 when a new structure was completed.
In 1922, the name was changed to the East Side Methodist Episcopal Church. Building improvements were made and a new facade was erected that enfolded the original redwood chapel and Sunday School rooms in 1925. In 1946, the name was changed to Grace Methodist Church and then to The Grace United Methodist Church in 1970.
Sadly, the sanctuary burned down on October 9, 2000. This property was eventually divided and sold. The Fellowship Hall and Sunday School rooms were sold to the Mental Health Client Action Network (MHCAN), a non-profit self-help group that originated in the church basement and grew into a flagship example of how to re-connect those with mental health struggles to community resources and help stabilize their housing and reintegrate them into the community-at-large.
The remainder of the property was sold to a non-profit housing corporation that developed half of it into housing and sold the other half to a developer who has yet to build something commercial on the section facing Soquel Avenue.
Grace Commons now sits where the sanctuary once stood and provides 15 apartments for mental health clients along with an on-site supervisor. The top floor includes a chapel. Permanent housing continues to be a challenge for this population and we are proud to have contributed to the stabilization and inclusion of this historically disenfranchised portion of our community.
LIVE OAK CHURCH
In May of 1949, ground was broken for the Live Oak Community Methodist Church. They were listed in 1998 as simply the Live Oak Church. Its mission was to reach out to the unchurched and show them the power of God’s love to transform lives. They were also able to establish a long-running Christian after school childcare and enrichment program for low-income families called, Loving and Learning.
Since the merger, we continued to serve the local Live Oak community. This building housed two programs. One program was an English as a Second Language site for Spanish speaking parents who wanted to be able to communicate with their children’s teachers. We partnered with the Live Oak Family Resource Center and Adult Education. This program was discontinued once the property was razed in 2005. The second program was Loving and Learning, a daycare for low-income families. This program ended in 2007 due to declining funding for federally funded vouchers.
UMCSC started a community garden on this site in 2012 after the plans for a “green” church fell apart. We didn’t have the resources to manage and grow this program on our own. Since 2014, it’s been a community garden for 49 low-income families in partnership with Mesa Verde Gardens, a non-profit organization that works to improve food security and nutrition by co-creating pesticide-free family gardens throughout Santa Cruz County.
Since our merger, we have wanted to use the bounty of God’s grace to the benefit of the neediest in our community. We value our community partnerships in coordinating our resources to stretch them to do the most good for the most vulnerable among us: the homeless, the disabled, the mentally ill, women, children and the elderly. The one constant unifying factor that has the most impact on improving the quality of life for these groups is having a home. Having a safe place of one’s own allows us all to grow and thrive.
Our ministry states, “trusting in God’s life-changing power, we embrace all people compassionately, as we educate and prepare each other to faithfully serve. We offer community, deepen ourselves spiritually, and work toward a more compassionate and just world.”