During a cold autumn in 1898, two missionary wives offered warmth and hospitality to a handful of lonely immigrants from Japan by helping them find housing and employment as well as teaching them English by using Bible scripture for their lessons. Imagine how comforting those Bible stories must have sounded to the homesick newcomers who were struggling to adjust to a new land and experiencing the sting of racism and discrimination at every turn. In their own way, these two missionary wives became our earliest “community developers” and visionaries who set the tone for what we call Buena Vista United Methodist Church today.
As more and more immigrants settled in Alameda and found their way to our church, a larger space was needed. A large Victorian home was purchased for $8,500 with the help of an estate of a young missionary who had passed away. In 1911, a two-story, brown-shingled building was erected to house a sanctuary upstairs and Sunday School classrooms below. The church quickly became a hub of activities – a women’s group, a men’s prayer group, a Bible study group, and a rapidly growing Sunday School all occupied the church regularly. Families gathered together to nourish their growing faith as well as to provide mutual encouragement and support for each other.
As families grew, the Issei (first generation) donated personal funds and secured a grant from the Board of Mission of the Episcopal Church South to build a new fellowship hall. This new hall, complete with a full stage and downstairs kitchen, cost $6,500. The fellowship hall was used for Halloween parties, Christmas pageants, musical productions (including “An Old Kentucky Garden,” whose 1937 cast is pictured below), udon noodle lunches, and even wedding receptions. Our church’s earliest members, through their love for their Nisei (second generation) children, hard work, dedication, and faith, gave us a rich and lasting legacy of hospitality, fellowship, and gratitude that remains today.
World War II
Soon after the outbreak of World War II, following orders issued by the federal government, all Japanese living in Alameda became the first Californians to be moved to temporary quarters at Tanforan Race Track and later to internment camps located farther inland. The fellowship hall and Sunday School rooms were used to store the precious belongings of the evacuees. When the war ended and as families were allowed to return to Alameda, the church once again became the center of community activities as well as a refuge, offering housing for displaced families struggling to re-establish themselves in the city.
1968 – “Ever Onward”
Following the camp years, the second-generation Nisei took on church leadership, breaking ground in the mid-1960s on a new sanctuary (below), the one we still worship in today. The theme of our 60th anniversary in 1968, “Ever Onward,” reflected the optimistic outlook of moving ahead with continued growth and faith. During the next 20 years, benefiting and learning from the hardworking role models of their parents and grandparents, the Sansei (third generation) grew and blossomed. One new activity added to the church calendar in 1959 that became a regular event by 1968 was the annual Spring Festival Bazaar. To this day the Spring Festival Bazaar continues to mark the beginning of a new season, offering opportunities of fellowship and a chance to showcase the cultural traditions and values of our growing congregation.
1998 – “Ties that Bind – Generations of Faith”
Over the years, the church has been served by many pastors, each contributing their own legacy to our rich history by leading us through both good times and challenges, but always with the firm belief and abiding faith that God is always with us. The theme of our 100th anniversary, “Ties that Bind ~ Generations of Faith,” acknowledged the generosity and devotion of the Issei and Nisei generations, in spite of the many challenges they weathered and overcame during their lifetimes.
2008 – “Growing Together in Faith and Action”
The theme of our 110th anniversary, which we celebrated in 2008, was “Growing Together in Faith and Action.” This theme reflected our church’s deepening and increasingly dynamic understanding of faith as BVUMC engaged with critical identity issues, including affirming the spiritual wholeness of LGBTQ people. Buena Vista became a reconciling congregation in 2006.
2018 – “Building Beloved Community” – to the present
We celebrated our 120th anniversary in 2018 under the theme “Building Beloved Community,” highlighting the intersectional nature of BVUMC’s increasingly diverse justice ministries. Today, so many years after those two missionary wives offered a church home to a group of Japanese immigrants, BVUMC continues to be a welcoming place for all who seek to worship and serve God with a community anchored in faith and guided by a vision of radical hospitality and loving kinship.