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About Filipino Disciples Christian Church

(also known as Filipino Christian Church)

Filipino Christian Fellowship

The Filipino Christian Fellowship was established in 1928 by students of California Christian College (later Chapman University), an affiliate of the Disciples of Christ. California Christian College had been formed in 1918 when the Disciples of Christ incorporated its various California colleges into one, moving to a new campus on Vermont Avenue in Los Angeles in 1921. The Dyes were trustees of the college, and as a result of their involvement, a group of thirteen young Filipino men were admitted to the college under the direction of Rev. Morales, who went on to obtain his graduate degree in Theology. While it was noted at the time that the majority of these students would eventually return to the Philippines to serve as Bible teachers, in fact many remained in Los Angeles and formed the nucleus of the Filipino Christian Fellowship, with Rev. Morales serving as its first minister.” The Fellowship actively recruited Filipinos to attend gatherings at the Dyes’ home. When these gatherings grew too large for the garden, “Mother Dye” arranged for the group to utilize the basement of the First Christian Church of Los Angeles, where the Dyes were influential members, for Bible classes and morning worship. The Fellowship grew rapidly and soon the Disciples of Christ Christian State Board adopted the work with the Filipinos as its mission, calling upon Rev. and Mrs. Frank Stipp to supervise these efforts. The Stipps had served as Disciples of Christ missionaries in the Ilocos region for over a decade, establishing various schools and working closely with students. Rev. Stipp and his wife moved to Los Angeles in 1928 to oversee the work of the Filipino Christian Fellowship. The Fellowship flourished under their guidance, due in part to their familiarity with the Filipino culture. Seeking to broaden the reach of their evangelization, the Stipps and the Disciples of Christ Christian State Board secured a small space on Weller Street between First and San Pedro, in the Little Tokyo section of downtown Los Angeles, just blocks away from what was then a thriving community of Filipinos known as Little Manila. By the summer of 1929, the Filipino Christian Fellowship was able to move to larger quarters, acquiring an apartment house and four bungalows at First Street and Bunker Hill. Here the Fellowship established the Filipino Center, intended as a Christian home for Filipinos where members “could live, study, socialize and worship free of prejudice.” The Center housed fifty young Filipino men, including Rev. Morales. At the same time, the Fellowship left the First Christian Church and began renting the large basement hall of the nearby Majestic Hotel for worship services. The establishment of the Filipino Center in the Bunker Hill area is considered to have been “the beginning of an organized Filipino community in the Greater Los Angeles area.” During the Great Depression of the 1930s, many of the American missionaries left the Philippines, and Rev. Morales was asked to return to his homeland to continue his work there. In 1934, Rev. Morales left Los Angeles with his wife and young son, Royal Frank Morales. With Rev. Morales leaving his post as minister of the Filipino Christian Fellowship, his duties were assumed by the recently ordained Rev. Felix Pascua, also a graduate of California Christian College. Rev. Pascua assumed his new role with the Fellowship at its location in the Chapman Building at 546 S. Los Angeles Street in downtown. That same year, he oversaw the Filipino Christian Fellowship’s transition to a formal church.


Filipino Christian Church

In 1933, the Filipino Christian Fellowship was reorganized as the Filipino Christian Church. At this time, elders and deacons were elected, a Board of Directors was established, and a Sunday School was formed. This reorganization took place under the auspices of the Disciples of Christ denomination, with the members of the Filipino Christian Fellowship serving as the new church’s charter members. While the vast majority of Filipinos were Catholic, the Catholic churches at the time did not cater to the Filipino community. Rather, Catholic Filipinos often attended mass at their local parish, which provided connection to their faith but not to their culture. In contrast, the Filipino Christian Church was the only religious institution that was devoted to the well-being of the Filipino community. As a result, the Filipino Christian Church drew membership from throughout the greater Los Angeles area. Members came from as far north as the San Fernando Valley, where Filipinos worked in the agricultural fields, and as far south as the Harbor area, where there was a substantial Filipino population living and working around the naval base. Meanwhile, the Church continued to search for a larger and more permanent space. In 1936, it moved to a space at 306 Winston Street near Little Manila. That same year, Rev. Pascua relinquished his position as Pastor in favor of his friend, Rev. Casiano Coloma, upon Coloma’s graduation from California Christian College. By this time, the Stipps had left the Filipino Christian Church to minister to another congregation, and the Church was joined by Miss Grace Lacock, a Sunday School teacher at nearby First Christian Church. Miss Lacock took over the role of sponsor and became the Director of Christian Education, a position she held until her death in 1986. In this role, Miss Lacock oversaw the Church’s day-to-day operations, while also being responsible for the children’s work in the Church. In 1940, the Church relocated yet again, this time moving into a former Chinese Presbyterian Church, which had been vacated due to the razing of Chinatown to make way for the construction of Union Station. The Filipino Christian Church remained at this location for ten years. Beginning in the 1930s, the Filipino Christian Church played a vital role in the spiritual, civic, and cultural advancement of the Filipino American community in the Los Angeles area. Participation in Church-sponsored activities rose dramatically during this period. Rev. Pascua attributed this growth to the fact that: the American protestant churches had a committee meeting. They decided that since the Disciples of Christ Christian Church had more success among the Filipinos, they would delegate the Christian Church to take care of the Filipinos in Southern California. So, since the Filipinos who were Presbyterian, Methodists or others, including Catholics, had no church building at the time, many of them came to the Filipino Christian Church.

A high point came in 1942 when Jaime Hernandez, personal representative of Philippine President Manuel Quezon, traveled to Los Angeles to attend a gathering of Filipinos of the Western States, Alaska, and Hawaii held at the Filipino Christian Church. During the 1930s and 1940s, the Church’s membership continued its rapid growth. Recognizing its role in the larger Filipino American community, the Filipino Christian Church welcomed persons of various faiths, and organized a variety of social and recreational activities. Perhaps the most important of these activities was the community lunch held after Sunday services, where church members and community members gathered to socialize. Additional activities organized by the Filipino Christian Church during this period included a church choir, prayer meetings, family gatherings, Friday night youth fellowship, holiday banquets, Christmas pageants, caroling at local hospitals and nursing homes, talent and fashion shows, Sunday school, field trips and retreats, weekend picnics, and tennis tournaments. During this same period, the children’s annual summer camp, Camp Throne, was established in the San Bernardino Mountains, where church members served as counselors and chaperones. The Church also funded a scholarship for Chapman University. As early as the late 1930s, Filipinos began moving out of Little Manila, first to the Bunker Hill area and then to the area around Temple and Figueroa Streets, on the northern edge of downtown. While Bunker Hill and its vicinity continued to house Filipinos through the 1940s, numerous Filipino businesses and social organizations began migrating to the Temple-Figueroa neighborhood, and many Filipino American families began purchasing homes and establishing new businesses in that area. Despite the dispersal of Los Angeles’ Filipino American community during this period, participation at Filipino Christian Church events remained high. In 1943, at a convention of Christian Churches and Churches of Christ held in Long Beach, the Filipino Christian Church of Los Angeles was commended for its program of development to meet the needs of Filipinos in Southern California. During this period, the Filipino Christian Church was the acknowledged center of the Filipino American community in Los Angeles. On July 4, 1946, the Republic of the Philippines was granted full independence by the United States, and the annual immigration quota for the Philippines was raised from fifty to one hundred. Perhaps more importantly, in 1948, the California Supreme Court overturned antimiscegenation laws in Perez v. Sharp. This had a significant impact on the Filipino American community, as the absence of Filipina women meant that many young Filipino men married outside their race, often traveling out of state to do so. This trend was reflected in the racial diversity of the Filipino Christian Church’s membership, which included a number of racially mixed families.


A Permanent Home

In 1947, Rev. Coloma and his family returned to their native Philippines, and ministerial duties at Filipino Christian Church were taken over once again by Rev. Pascua. In 1949, the Filipino Christian Church filed for incorporation with the State of California. By 1950, the City announced large-scale redevelopment plans for the central city area, including the Little Manila portion of Little Tokyo, and the Filipino Christian Church was once again looking for a new home. In 1950, Rev. Pascua and Miss Grace Lacock were alerted to the availability of an early twentieth century church building at the corner of Union Avenue and Court Street, in what was referred to as the Temple-Beverly corridor, just west of Temple-Figueroa. Rev. Pascua immediately contacted the Disciples of Christ Board of Church Extension and was soon gifted a down payment and interest-free loan. With this, along with some financial assistance from the Church’s State Board of Southern California, as well as funds raised by congregants, the building was purchased outright for $32,500 cash. In early 1951, the Filipino Christian Church held its first services in its permanent home at 301 N. Union Avenue. This welcome turn of events came three years early, as the Church had established a goal of purchasing a new space in time for its twentieth anniversary in 1953. The Filipino Christian Church’s move to Union Avenue and the Temple-Beverly corridor is regarded as the origin of what became Historic Filipinotown. Change and Growth in the Postwar Era In the 1950s, the Temple-Beverly corridor evolved into a vibrant community of Filipino owned and operated businesses, institutions, and organizations. By this time, Filipinos were permitted to purchase property in the United States. In Los Angeles, many Filipino families bought their first homes in the Temple-Beverly corridor, establishing firm roots in this growing community. As Filipina American writer Valorie Slaughter Bejarano noted of this period: “Filipinos were able to slowly merge into the middle-class after years of discrimination…What had started as a bachelor society recruited to work in the agricultural industry in Hawaii and California, became a close knit community that no longer had to hide from racist, anti-Asian sentiments.”

As more Filipino immigrants began arriving in Los Angeles after the war, the Filipino Christian Church became a receiving ground of sorts, a place of welcome where new arrivals could congregate and socialize, regardless of faith, bonded by their common ancestry. For those with no place to stay, the parsonage might become a temporary home for a few days until more permanent housing arrangements could be made. By this time, the Filipino Christian Church had grown to nearly 200 members and was the largest body of Protestant Filipinos in the Southland. By some accounts, the Filipino Christian Church was “the largest Filipino Protestant congregation in the United States” and was acknowledged as the center of Filipino American community activities in Southern California. The Filipino Christian Church was also the owner of an aging church building, so maintenance and repair became an ongoing challenge. Dedicated members of the congregation devoted countless volunteer hours to the building’s upkeep. As remembered by one congregant: The struggles of maintaining this church required many hands for labor, sacrifice of time, contributions of financial support, and dedication to a common purpose. Many times I recall members of the church having to rally together to fix a leaking roof that had damaged much of the upper floor area, repair and paint the plaster walls that were damaged, remove the soiled books and carpeting, attend to the yard and flower beds, repair the plumbing, among other maintenance needs. The men and women of the Filipino Christian Church voluntarily and unselfishly made sure that these needs were taken care of on a weekly basis. They understood the importance of keeping their place of worship and fellowship in good condition and ready before any special occasion and before the next Sunday came. They took pride in being blessed with a place of “their own.” As the city’s Filipino American population grew throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the needs of the community became ever more complex. To meet these evolving needs, this period saw an unprecedented proliferation of Filipino-serving community groups and organizations, from social service organizations to groups dedicated to promoting ethnic pride among new immigrants and American-born Filipinos. As the earliest church organization in Los Angeles to cater to Filipino Americans, the Filipino Christian Church became an incubator for many key organizations that emerged during this period. Many of the most important organizations serving the Filipino American community in Southern California were originally founded, led, or supported by the core membership of the Filipino Christian Church. Members of the Filipino Christian Church served as early presidents of the Filipino Community of Los Angeles (later the Filipino American Community of Los Angeles, or FACLA), one of the earliest Filipino American organizations in the country. The formation of FACLA marks the beginning of a long-standing and continuing trend of Filipino Christian Fellowship and Church members serving as prominent community leaders, pioneering and actively participating in numerous Filipino organizations. Filipino Christian Church members formed Filipino student clubs at Chapman College and the University of Southern California (USC). Church members founded the first Sinaitenians of California, the Philippine Junior Cultural Organization (PJCO, later called the Filipino Youth Club), and the Los Angeles Downtown Evening Optimist Club. Church members co-founded junior and senior chapters of the Los Angeles Philippine Women’s Club (LAPWC) and the Los Angeles Filipino American Basketball League. Additionally, church members have served as president of the United Filipino Community Association of Southern California and been active in various Legionario groups and hometown associations. In some instances, the Filipino Christian Church building was the original home of these organizations, as its basement social hall hosted countless community groups, activities, and functions over the decades. The social hall held gatherings for the Pangasinan Association, and hosted events coordinated by local Filipino lodges. Filipino Christian Church members founded the local chapter of the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS), which held its meetings at the church. The Filipino Cultural School, a volunteer dance and cultural troupe, used the Church’s social hall as its rehearsal space during its early years. In 1985, the Church donated a room on its basement level to house the Filipino American Library, where the library remained for nearly ten years. The Filipino Christian Church also maintains a History Photo Gallery on the wall of its social hall, which chronicles the history of the Filipino Christian Church and its role in the advancement of the Filipino American community of Los Angeles. One of the most influential organizations to evolve out of the Filipino Christian Church is the Search to Involve Pilipino Americans (SIPA). Founded by Royal Frank “Uncle Roy” Morales in 1972 in the basement of the Filipino Christian Church, where it remained for its first dozen years, SIPA is “the largest, community-based charitable non-profit organization primarily serving Pilipino Americans in the United States.” Uncle Roy’s ties to the Filipino Christian Church were lifelong. The son of Rev. Morales, the Filipino Christian Fellowship’s first minister, Uncle Roy was born at the Filipino Center on Bunker Hill. Raised in the Ilocos province of the Philippines, Roy returned to Los Angeles in 1951 to study at Chapman College, later receiving a master’s degree in social work from USC. Referring to the Filipino Christian Church as his “anchor” during this period, he soon became involved in many of its community outreach programs. Uncle Roy worked as a social worker, college professor, and community organizer, with an emphasis on youth, substance abuse, and mental health issues in the Pacific Asian community generally, and the Filipino American community in particular. He taught classes in social work at USC, and in Filipino American studies at UCLA. He always maintained his connection with the Filipino Christian Church, teaching Sunday School to middle and high school students, and calling upon members of the service-oriented congregation to assist in his various endeavors. When he gave “Roy’s Community Tour of Los Angeles,” a tour of sites important to Filipino immigrants in Los Angeles, the Filipino Christian Church was the first stop. At the same time that Los Angeles’ Filipino American community was becoming more organized, it was also becoming more geographically dispersed. Under the G.I. Bill, many Filipinos who had served in the armed forces during World War II were able to purchase homes, often relocating to more suburban communities. Beginning in the mid-1960s, changes in U.S immigration policy that eliminated national origin quotas in favor of family reunification resulted in a massive new wave of Filipino immigrants in Los Angeles. While some of this new generation of Filipinos joined first, second, and third generation Filipino Americans living in the Temple-Beverly corridor, many settled in other parts of Los Angeles. Despite this dispersal of the region’s Filipino American population, many early members maintained their active participation in the Filipino Christian Church throughout their lives, passing along this commitment to their children and grandchildren. Thus, it is not uncommon to find three or even four generations of a single family at the Church. Many of the most active church members were traveling greater distances, from the San Fernando Valley or South Los Angeles, the Westside or the South Bay, in order to attend Sunday services and the luncheon that followed. This was so much the case that services were held no earlier than 11:00 am, to allow time for members to make the trip. As one congregant stated, “Despite the distance, my parents were devoted to the church and served as summer camp cooks and prepared lunch for the church Sunday luncheon once a month for over fifty years. The church was a big part of their life.” In 1971, the Sylmar earthquake struck in the San Fernando Valley, causing extensive damage throughout the Los Angeles region. The Filipino Christian Church suffered structural damage to portions of the building with unreinforced brick construction, including the south wall (along Court Street) and the three-story bell tower at the southwest corner. The damage to the Filipino Christian Church building from the earthquake was estimated at $25,000. The earthquake was an ominous start to a turbulent decade for the Filipino Christian Church. The 1970s was a period of transition for the Temple-Beverly corridor generally, and for the Filipino Christian Church in particular. As more Filipino Americans began moving out of the area to more distant suburbs, the demographics of the neighborhood changed and the membership of the Filipino Christian Church slowly began to decline. By the 1980s, much of the city’s Filipino American population had dispersed throughout the Greater Los Angeles region, and were being joined by the next wave of immigration from the Philippines. Post-Period of Significance During the late 1990s and early 2000s, the local Filipino American community took several important steps toward preserving and commemorating their unique history in Los Angeles, all of which have direct links to the Filipino Christian Church. In 1995, artist Eliseo Art Silva created the nation's largest Filipino American mural at Unidad Park in Filipinotown. The painted mural, entitled “Gintong Kasaysayan, Gintong Pamana” (A Glorious History, A Golden Legacy), depicts the history of the Filipinos over time, from their fight to overthrow Spanish domination in the Philippines, to their struggles and accomplishments in the United States. Fittingly, the Filipino Christian Church is depicted at the center of the mural. In 1995, the Filipino Christian Church officially changed its name to the Filipino Disciples Christian Church. In 1998, the congregation sought and received local historic designation of their church building at 301 N. Union Avenue when the Los Angeles City Council designated the Filipino Christian Church as Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument No. 651 for its “influential role in the development of the Filipino American community in Los Angeles.” Not surprisingly, Uncle Roy was the driving force behind the campaign for historic designation, which was strongly endorsed by the congregation and the church’s Board of Directors. To date, this is one of just two designated Historic-Cultural Monuments in the city with Filipino origins, and the only one located in Filipinotown. Also in 1998, the Los Angeles City Council and then Councilman Eric Garcetti adopted a resolution recognizing the Disciples of Christ and the Filipino Christian Church for the important role they have played in the history and cultural development of the Filipino American community in Los Angeles. In 2002, after years of community effort to bring attention to the important contributions made by Filipino Americans in Los Angeles, the City Council unanimously approved the designation of a portion of the Temple-Beverly corridor as “Historic Filipinotown.” In creating Historic Filipinotown, it was acknowledged that this is not the only Filipino enclave in the Los Angeles area, and Filipinos are a numerical minority in this ethnically diverse neighborhood. Despite this demographic shift, however, the area continues to have one of the highest concentrations of Filipino Americans in Southern California, and is home to key Filipino organizations, including Filipino churches, housing complexes, and social service centers. While some Filipino American families began purchasing homes and establishing businesses in the area as early as the 1940s, many consider the relocation of the Filipino Christian Church in 1951 to have been the catalyst for other organizations and institutions moving to the Temple-Beverly corridor. Historic Filipinotown is considered the cultural heart of the Filipino American community in Los Angeles, and Filipino Christian Church one of its oldest and most significant institutions. In 2012, Historic Filipinotown was designated as one of the nation’s Preserve America Communities, providing strong Federal support and incentives for the continued preservation of its cultural and natural heritage resources.

 

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