by Paul R. Spitzzeri
The rise of evangelical Christianity in the early 20th century in the City of Angels is a remarkable religious phenomenon, perhaps best known through the outsized personality and sheer reach of the magnetic Aimee Semple McPherson and her Four Square Gospel, but there were plenty of other prominent and popular evangelicals preaching their version of the gospel in the city at the time.
Meanwhile, there were the so-called “mainstream” denominations that long held prominence in the region’s religious realm, first the Roman Catholic Church from as far back as the Spanish colonization of California in the late 18th century and, from the mid-19th century onward as the city grew through successive booms, then Protestants like the Episcopalians, Methodists and Presbyterians.
None was likely as powerful and influential as the Methodists, who were also very active in social movements, including community service to the poor and to immigrants and with temperance that culminated in Prohibition by the end of the 1910s. For years, the First Methodist Episcopal Church, long housed at the northeast corner of Hill and 6th streets (prior to that it was in a wood-frame building on Fort Street [Broadway]), was a prominent one and its pastor Charles Edward Locke (1858-1940) had enormous influence in the city, religiously and socially during his pastorate, which lasted from 1908 to 1920.
A previous post on this blog featured Locke through his 1913 publication, White Slavery in Los Angeles, which addressed prostitution and the sexual degradation of young white women, and tonight’s featured object from the Homestead’s holdings is a program from the First Methodist Episcopal Church for the week beginning on 24 February 1918.
What makes the artifact so interesting is beyond the content of the program, as its original owner also affixed four additional items to it, including three cards promoting lectures from other religious figures associated with evangelism and a “Membership Covenant and Application Blank” from The Church of the Open Door,” located just a couple of blocks west at Hope and Sixth.
As for the Methodist church, the front page features a photograph of the handsome edifice, with its distinctive rounded corner main entrance, and which is taken from an angle almost identical to a photo, also shown here, from the museum’s collection. The hours of availability and contact information for Locke and other church officials (treasurer, secretary, deaconness, church visitors, and janitor) are also provided.
The second page has content for the 11 a.m. morning service including an organ prelude by Nell Stegner; a hymn; the reading of the Apostles’ Creed; a prayer; an anthem consisting of the “Gloria” by Mozart; a scripture lesson, announcements, a gospel solo offertory by Dr. Joseph Marple; a second hymn; and a sermon by Dr. Byron H. Wilson. Also listed is the church choir, which met on Friday nights, and including the names of director Carl Bronson and the quartet of Nell Lockwood (contralto), Mrs. Leo Stadden (soprano), Harry Mills Sherman (Bass) and Marple (tenor), and the orchestra, which rehearsed Saturday afternoons and was led by Arthur M. Perry from the College of Music at the University of Southern California.
Found here, as well, was information about the Sunday School, held on Sunday mornings before the service and which was led by Dr. H.W. Brodbeck, whose office was in the Van Nuys Building at Spring and 7th streets, and the Probationers’ or Church Preparatory classes, conducted on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. and conducted by deaconness Demis Smith, who resided in the home provided for her at Figueroa and 10th (where the ESPN Zone is across from the Staples Center.)
After the service was the General Class Meeting, held in the Sunday School room, and led by D.M. Mettler, while the trio of Epworth Leagues for social service for adults and young persons met at 6 p.m. and the week’s subject was “Our Duty as Americans.” The names of foreign missionaries for Korea and Japan and the “Mexican Home missionary,” based in Boyle Heights, were also provided as was a brief statement about the nursery for little ones in the Young People’s Parlors “where parents can leave their children in the care of competent nurses during the morning service.”
On the third page was the progam for the 7:30 evening service, with two organ preludes, two hymns, the offertory of “Rule Britannia” by Mrs. Stadden, the hymn of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” a postlude and the sermon by Benjamin Scovell of “Back from the War Front.” The United States entered the First World War the previous spring and Scovell was a busy speaker in the area at the time about his work withthe joint British and Canadian force entertaining troops in the trenches of France.
Announcements for the week including notes about the meeting of those involved in Bible study and “Mutual Help;” the Dorcas Committee which provided clothes for the poor; the Young Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society; the Women’s Praying Band; Circle #15, which assisted needy families and children; and the Red Cross Auxiliary, which called out “ATTENTION Ladies! Greater speed and more workers!” as it needed assistance in all areas and noted that “aprons [were] furnished for [the] Surgical Dressings Department” for the war effort.
Other notes included a social for the Home Department’s quarterly meeting at a parishioner’s home near Western and 5th, west of downtown; the request for “trinkets of old gold and silver for the Red Cross” to be left in the Contribution Basket; and that the National Day of Prayer of the Woman’s Home Missionary Society was to be held on the last day of the month at the Union Avenue Church.
The lower part of the third and fourth pages concerned changes of address of parishioners, while most of that last page comprised an “Honor Roll Of Our Boys In The United States Service,” including the sons of Locke and Marple and about 150 others, with Miss Ebba Anderson and Mrs. I.W. Silverthorne listed as Red Cross nurses.
It is the pasted down items, however, that provide this very interesting conjunction of the mainstream Methodists and other Protestants with their evangelical brethren. For example, there was a card for an event that was advertised as “Scarce In A Lifetime” and which featured Andreos Bar Dawid Urshan (1884-1967), who was born in the northwest corner of modern Iran and was raised in the Presbyterian church before being “born again” at age 16 and embracing Pentecostalism.
Urshan came to the United States two years later after making his way through Europe and he wound up in Chicago, where, known by his Anglicized name of Andrew David, he founded the Persian Pentecolstal Mission and conducted revivals on a circuit in the Midwest. In 1913, he returned to his homeland, but was caught up in Ottoman Turkey’s invasion of that area of Persia during World War I. Urshan and some of his family (his parents died enroute) managed to escape into Georgia, then part of the soon-to-disintegrate Russian empire, and on to another part of southwestern Russia.
Returning to the United States and to Chicago in 1916, Urshan resumed his evangelism and this led him to Los Angeles to speak on “How I Escaped Martyrdom” relaying how he avoided perishing “at the hands of Bloodthirsty Turks in the Christian Armenian massacred during this PRESENT WAR.” The talk, offered at an ice skating rink on Broadway south of 10th Street, was also given on 10 March at the Temple Auditorium of the Temple Baptist Church on the corner of Hill and 5th streets across from Pershing Square, was so well received that it was repeated the next Sunday.
The day prior to the talk, the Los Angeles Express reported that Urshan’s revival work “has created much interest and daily attracted large congregations. Many conversions have been the result of the services. Visitors from surrounding towns have also been present and cases of healing from sickness have been reported.”
The Whittier News reported that “his address was considered one of the most remarkable of its nature ever delivered in Los Angeles” and that Urshan’s follow-up presentation would expand on his experiences, such as
the effect which was produced on the populace [in his native land], when he raised the American flag, together with those of France and England, after having received word of the Turkish officer that all who sought shelter under those banners would not be massacred.
In June, Urshan delivered a sermon at a camp meeting in Highland Park in June and was quoted by the Express as telling the assemblage, “friends, let us examine our hearts, domestic, business and society life. See if we are right with God and our fellow men. Then you can afford to talk aloud your profession. Let us all heed this sane exhortation of the apostle, ‘Make your election and calling sure.'”
The two other narrow cards were for appearances at the Bible Institute Auditorium of The Church of the Open Door, including a one-time only special lecture on “The Darkness of the Crucifixion” by the Canon Reverend F.E. Howitt, formerly of St. Luke’s Anglican Church in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, with which he was affiliated for some thirty-five years. The card for his talk noted that there were “4000 Free Seats” and “Appropriate Singing,” though the latter would seem self-evident given the setting and affiliation.
The third card, with a more eye-catching design, was for a three-week run by the renowned and controversial “Tornado of the Pulpit,” William P. Nicholson (1876-1962), also routinely denoted as “The Irish Evangelist.” Nicholson was well-known for his habit of, with God’s love, referring warmly and kindly to the heaven that awaited true believers and then giving way to intense displays of passion and fire, through God’s hell, about the eternal damnation that was left to those who failed to see the light.
The 16 February edition of the Express featured an article on Nicholson’s tenure, noting that he came to Los Angeles a year prior and had become quite popular with his “pleasing personality and musical voice” reminding many of Rodney “Gipsy” Smith, a famous British evangelist. The Los Angeles Times of the same date reported that Nicholson “is a second edition of the famous Gipsy Smith” and recommended that “every person should hear his wonderfully pleasing and eloquent sermons.” The paper concluded “his musical voice and attractive personality have no little to do with the effectiveness with which he delivers his message.”
Finally, pasted down to the fourth page is the covenant and application for The Church of the Open Door, which opened a year after the establishment of the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (BIOLA) at the Sixth and Hope location. A major founding donor was Lyman Stewart, the powerful president of the Union Oil Company of California who was also the guiding hand behind the Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles in the early Nineties.
The covenant had thirteen elements concerning the irrefutability of the Bible; the nature of the trinity; the divine and human aspects of Christ, his chosen sacrifice as the redeemer of human sin, and the lack of error in his words, being those of God his father; the promise of the second coming; the form of the Holy Spirit; the state of humans as “morally and spiritually dead” after the fall; the requirement of being “born again” to achieve salvation and eternal life; the “unutterable, endless torment and anguish” awaiting unbelievers; the existence of a “personal devil” whose “vast power [is] only so far as God suffers him” to possess; and that Satan was destined to perpetual torment in a lake of fire and brimstone.
Anyone seeking membership followed these covenant components with the acknowledgement that “I cheefully accept the statement of doctrine of this church as recorded above, and subscribe to the Constitution and By-Laws.” Moreover, new members swore “to be loyal to the interests of the church [and] . . . be subject to the discipline” of it while agreeing “to contribute to its support as the Lord shall prosper me.” If, however, the accepted member was to “find myself at variance with the teaching, life and rules of the church,” they were “to ask for my letter and quietly withdraw.” There was space for the prospective member’s information, including dates of conversion and baptism (this by sprinkling or immersion), how they were received (through “Confession of Christ” or by a letter or reaffirmation), their “Experience in Christian Work” and, below this, room for the name of the interviewer, for approval “by Session” and a date.
As for the Church of the Open Door, even though the Bible Institute (BIOLA) relocated to suburban La Mirada in 1959, it continued to operate at the Los Angeles building until the mid-1980s. Selling the structure with a hefty windfall, the church bought a 40-acre property in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains in Glendora where it operates today well over a century after its founding during a period of growth of evangelicalism in the Angel City.
Remarkably, the First Methodist Episcopal Church also engaged in a transformation, but of a very different sort from the Church of the Open Door. In the late Nineties, it elected to raze the building at Hill and Sixth, but, rather than build a new structure or move to another edifice, the church chose to invest the funds in housing for people in the community. It owns a parking lot at the corner of Flower Street and Olympic Boulevard where it meets for services and, as the website states, “we remain a church without walls, without borders, without barriers. This reflects our theological openness, and the way we believe God’s love should be experienced and shared.”
This program is a notable one connected to early 20th century religion in the Angel City, because of its direct association with a mainstream Protestant church and its attached cards and flyer relating to the rising evangelical movement taking place.