Calvary Presbyterian Church (CPC) will celebrate its 150th Anniversary in 2020. God has been good to us!
The exact date of its founding is not known. One source gives October 1, 1870 as the date of chartering with eight members.
The first building of the church is the small framed building, now known as the “Memory Chapel.” On May 5, 1976, this building was declared the “Oldest Protestant Church in the Harbor Area” by the Cultural Heritage Commission of the City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department.
The Memory Chapel is a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument. Built in 1870 in the Carpenter Gothic Victorian architecture style, it was originally located at “F” Street and Marine Avenue. It was moved to its present location in 1939.
When the San Jose Presbytery was divided, the Los Angeles Presbytery held its first session meeting at CPC on March 20, 1873. As a result, CPC is considered the “Mother Church of the Los Angeles Presbytery.”
The shifts in commerce and business greatly affected the membership of the church. By the 1880s, membership began to decline. It finally got to such a low point that the Presbytery looked into the dissolution of the church. When the investigative committee came, they found one lone member who refused to quit. Her steadfastness saved the church from being closed. She continued to hold Sunday School classes for children who would come and arrange for pulpit supply for those who wished to worship.
Early to Mid 1900s
Then the Wilmington-San Pedro area became prosperous again and with that the church membership grew. Consequently, the small building could no longer comfortably accommodate the new members. It was decided to construct a bigger building, which was finished in 1913. But on Sunday morning, October 21, 1928, the building burned down. The cause of the fire was never known and most of the church properties were destroyed except the huge portrait of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane now mounted above the altar area. This is one of three paintings done and donated by a church member, Dr. Phil Lisman. His other two paintings are currently mounted in the Narthex area.
The present building is the third one to house Calvary Presbyterian Church and was dedicated on November 4, 1929 with the Rev. Herbert Tweedie as the pastor. Three months later, the church acquired a new pipe organ with Ms. Esther Scott installed as the music director.
Over the years, membership in the church increased to 700. In 1927, the Rev. Louis Evans, the pastor at the time, formed the “Schooners Club,” a fellowship for young married couples. The name of the group later changed to “The Mariners’ Club,” which performed the social and fund-raising functions of the church. When other Presbyterian organizations nationwide heard of the club’s activities, they organized their own Mariners’ Club.
The church had a monthly publication mailed to its members. The publication was named at various times “The Broadcaster,” “The Church Door,” and “Through the Church Door.” Today, Calvary Press is CPC’s official newsletter.
By the 1960s, the demographics of the Wilmington area changed once again and natural attrition caused church membership to dwindle.
1970s to Today
In 1975, when the Church’s doors were about to be closed, a handful of Filipino members, spearheaded by Joey Gutierrez, Pastors Damiano Narvaez and Vivencio T. Gutierrez, Ben and Florentino Poblete Sr., together with the Rev. Dwight Blackstock, the pastor at the time, initiated home and hospital visitations, prayer meetings, and Saturday Tagalog vesper services. Spiritually grounded, enriched in faith, blessed with lifetime of experiences in leadership, and endowed with the grace of God, they reached out to the Filipino community which helped revitalize the Church.
As Filipino membership grew, a mission study for a possible Filipino ministry was submitted to the Presbytery of the Pacific. The Presbytery granted a six-year funding assistance from the Synod and the General Assembly.
With the Rev. George Wilson as the Church Stated Supply, the original church members continued its decline while Filipino membership grew. In 1983, Calvary Presbyterian Church called the Rev. Querubin Casiano as Pastor until he retired in 2000.
In 2002, the Rev. Les Atkinson, acting as moderator of the Presbytery of the Pacific, and serving as the interim moderator of the Session of CPC, and the congregation, through its Pastoral Search Committee led by Elder Joey Gutierrez, called the Rev. Emmanuel G. Orendain as Sr. Pastor.
Considered today as the largest Filipino-American Presbyterian Church in the United States, CPC continues to grow. The church, by the grace of God, maintains its identity as a community of people dedicated to glorifying God and making disciples of Jesus Christ.