A History of Our Conference
In 1874, three young Japanese men met at an American Congregational church in San Francisco. It was the dawn of Christianity among the Japanese people in the United States. The first Japanese church, called The Gospel Society, was organized in 1877 with the enthusiastic assistance of Caucasian-American church members who had led these Japanese to salvation through English study sessions.
In 1910, there were thirty-five churches with thirty ministers and a total membership of 2,618. In 1915, there were seventy-one churches, seventy-eight ministers, 2,165 church school children, and a membership of 4,391—this membership represented approximately five percent of the Japanese population in California (Horikoshi 1977:37).
The Sunday schools were formed first, where children were taught and nurtured in the Christian lifestyle. Then youth groups were formed to serve the needs of the young people. They learned not only the Bible, but also the Japanese language, because their parents insisted they do so. Since Japanese children were not then admitted to public schools, some churches built their own gymnasiums so these children and youths would have opportunities to play.
Women’s groups were founded next; wives met to discuss the education of their children and the mother's role in the family. Many mothers who joined the church were attracted by these activities. These groups undertook mission activities in addition to their own concerns. Finally, men joined the church through family ties.
The Japanese Church Federation was founded in both Northern and Southern California in 1910. One of the main reasons for establishing this organization was to boost the morale of the community in view of incidents of racial prejudice and persecution at businesses, schools, and work places. The Federation helped the larger Japanese community learn American principles and grasp social concepts, spreading its assistance over a larger area than any single church could handle.
Churches became the first organizations in the Japanese community to offer social services. These included assistance after the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, help during the wartime emergency, and the providing of hostels during the postwar resettlement of the people. Churches also preached about social justice, the sacredness of family and home life, and the prohibition of smoking and drinking. Church activities, therefore, became central in meeting many of the spiritual and social needs of Japanese-Americans.
The Formation of the Holiness Church: 1910-1920
In the summer of 1991, the Oriental Missionary Society (OMS) Holiness Church of North America celebrated its seventieth anniversary. The celebration was held in conjunction with the annual General Conference which convened at the Los Angeles Holiness Church—the same church a small band of young people founded in 1920. Throughout the seventy-two year history of the OMS Conference, God has blessed us in many ways. Although most of the pioneer Issei and some of the Nisei members are with the Lord, those remaining still carry on as spiritual warriors today.
Much of the history of the Holiness Conference was extracted from the pages of the Conference bulletin entitled the Reisei (the Voice of the Spirit). Reading these accounts firsthand was both inspiring and fascinating. It was especially thrilling to realize the uniqueness of the Holiness Conference: to this day it is the only truly indigenous Christian work among Japanese-Americans.
The Reisei originated in 1922 as a monthly bulletin of the OMS Holiness Church. With the passing of time, it changed from a monthly to a seasonal publication and the entire series numbered 134 bulletins by 1979. Fortunately, Rev. Eiji Suehiro, the retired minister of the Los Angeles Holiness Church, had carefully saved the entire collection. Thus in 1986 Tsukasa Sugimura republished the entire series, including the handwritten wartime Reisei, to preserve for newer generations what God had achieved through the Holiness church. In 1987, the Reisei was revived as a seasonal bulletin and it continues to be published today.
During the past few years, there has been a growing conviction that the Holiness Conference must be revived spiritually, especially as the year 2000 approaches. Seventy-two years ago the Holiness Church of North America began with revivals. This study emphasizes the need to rediscover the spiritual treasures of these past revival experiences, if we are to determine the future course of the Holiness church.
Pioneer Period of the Holiness Church: 1921-1941
The pioneer period was a time of testing and discipline for the young Bible school students. While their days were spent in work and class attendance, their evenings were devoted to the study of the Bible and to prayer under the spiritual leadership of Sadaichi Kuzuhara.
The Lord blessed the fledgling church with new members and new churches. During this period of expansion, ten new churches were added, with a total membership of approximately 350 people. It could be considered one of the fastest growing Japanese-American churches in Southern California at that time.
The World War II Period of the Holiness Church: 1941-1945
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, came as a devastating shock to all Americans. The anger and fear which this event caused was felt most strongly by Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast and Hawaii. The shock was magnified because of their ethnic and cultural identity with the nation which had shattered the peace. Added to these emotions was a devastating sense of shame and fear. In the face of the tensions and emotions across the land, Japanese-Americans felt somewhat defenseless and strained in their relationship with the general public. Immediately upon the outbreak of war, the FBI questioned the Los Angeles Church about Japanese language church activities. The FBI eventually decided that as long as the Bible was being taught, there was no problem whatsoever.
Within three days, 1,291 influential members of Japanese-American society—community leaders, ministers, former Japanese military officers, Japanese language-school teachers, and right-wingers—were among those arrested and incarcerated in special internment camps.
Transition Period of the Holiness Church: 1945-1962
Although the war continued in the Pacific, on January 2, 1945, Executive Order 9066 which authorized the forced removal of all Japanese-Americans from the West Coast, was rescinded. The Jerome Relocation Camp was the first to be closed on June 30, 1944, Its 5,000 remaining internees were sent to other camps, many to nearby Rohwer. Tule Lake was the last camp to be closed on March 20, 1946.
Knowing the urgent need for shelter among those returning from the relocation camps, most of the Christian churches, including the Los Angeles Holiness Church, opened their doors to the returnees. With the help of American churches, the Southern California Church Federation decided to open every church door to the returnees. One of the first and largest hostels was opened in Boyle Heights and was called the Evergreen Hostel. It had the capacity to hold 150 people and was coordinated by the Friends church. Father Lavery of Maryknoll Catholic Church and Herbert Nicholson, a Friends missionary, were among those who greatly assisted the returning Japanese.
Not all Christian churches were open to returnees. An incident was cited in which a Methodist minister rejected Issei returnees for fear of what others might think. The Salvation Army also did not welcome the Issei; as a result, many returnees harbored ill feelings toward Christians. In March 1945, George Yahiro returned to Los Angeles from the Granada Relocation Camp to reopen the church. He wrote about his experiences at that time:
I returned to my home in March 1945. The Los Angeles Church building had been rented to Indians, so meetings could not be held there. Both the 35th Street and the 28th Street parsonages were also rented. I had to ask my American Christian friend if I could stay at his house. To support myself, I began to work as a gardener. As time passed, the church facility and parsonages were vacated one by one, so we began prayer meetings first. A building next door to the church and belonging to another denomination was vacant, so we rented it as a hostel for returning evacuees. As membership increased we began Sunday worship services and home meetings (Suehiro 1972:150).
The hostel was called the Holiness Hostel and remained open until January 1949. Holiness church members, including the Kimuras and Kuwaharas, rented rooms there until they found permanent places to live. Marian Kadomatsu, a member of the English Department of the Los Angeles Holiness Church, also wrote about her experiences:
In September 1945, my husband, Masao, was then a language instructor with the U.S. Army Military Intelligence Language School, at Fort Snelling, Minneapolis, Minnesota. I was employed by the Federal Government, War Relocation Authority, in Minneapolis, in a secretarial position. I assisted evacuees from the various relocation centers with finding employment and housing in that area. When we were informed that my parents and family had to leave Manzanar, we immediately returned to Los Angeles to help my family find housing and establish themselves in the Los Angeles area. My father soon had a gardening route and was able to buy a car, thus allowing them to resume their membership in the Los Angeles Church sometime in 1945 or 1946, I believe. Meanwhile, Masao and I returned to Minneapolis with our six-months-old daughter, Patrice.
This period can be described as a time of transition within the Church from the Issei, who spoke primarily Japanese, to the Nisei, who were more comfortable speaking English—or from the Japanese language division to the English language division. By the end of this period, although the Japanese division worship attendance was larger, the English division began to surpass them in the area of finances. It is apparent that with the maturation of the Nisei generation, a new period had come to the Holiness Conference as well as for all Nikkei churches.
This transitional period was marked with the implementation of new organizational structures spearheaded by the Nisei leadership. A major change was witnessed by the adoption of a new Constitution and By-laws at the 1954 General Conference. The significance of this change was for a more democratic form of government in the Conference. In the prior setup, the Bishop was the sole authority in making major decisions, e.g., in the stationing of pastors at various churches. At the 1958 General Conference, a committee system with a representative form of government was unanimously accepted. In 1960, in conjunction with World-wide Communion Sunday, the first Sunday of October was set aside also as Conference Extension Sunday to encourage new work. During this period a medical insurance program for pastors was instituted, while in 1962 a pension program for pastors was created.
Expansion Period of the Holiness Church: 1963-1987
The twenty-five year period from 1963 to 1987 can be best described as the expansion period. During this time, the total congregation of the English department consisted of more than 1,000 people. Although attendance at English department worship services exceeded 500 people in 1965, it was not until 1976 that the Japanese department would expand beyond that figure.
Renewal Period of the Holiness Church: 1988-1993
The initial step of the renewal movement was proposed by the Japanese Department of the Los Angeles Holiness Church at the 1988 General Conference. The first Conference-wide renewal retreat in Holiness Church history, was held at Camp Hess Kramer in Malibu, California, in 1990. The Conference had begun with revival movements in both 1920 and 1922; seventy years later, the Holiness Church again sought power from above as a Conference. This period can be called the period of renewal and the last decade before the year 2000.
The Conference Visions Committee (CVC) was appointed by the Executive Council, specifically, to execute a proposition passed by the 1988 General Conference. The CVC’s primary task was to form detailed plans of action for the Conference: plans for pioneer mission work and for church growth. The key component of this proposition was renewal, not only of each member, but also of each Conference church.
Also as an expression of concern for retiring ministers, the 1988 General Conference delegates approved a major proposal to establish a Retirement Housing Benefit Plan. This plan provides a lump sum benefit upon retirement to all qualified pastors.
For Additional Information
For additional information on the OMS Holiness Church of North America, visit the Kuzuhara Library’s website.