Issei Japanese roots. Christian Layman Church came to exist because of the spiritual dissatisfaction of several Issei (first-generation Japanese) Christians in 1922. A group of Issei Christians withdrew from a local church in Berkeley, CA, because they felt its teachings were too liberal, and they began having their own meetings in private homes despite criticism from others.
Photo courtesy of Christian Layman Church archives. Berkeley.
The first people to meet together were:
- Mr. & Mrs. Hisashi Sano
- Mr. & Mrs. Noburo Takahashi
- Ryosaku Matsuoka
- Genichi Hoshiga
- Kunisaburo Nomiya
Commitment and independence. These seven individuals were committed to submitting their personal lives and the life of their group to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. They were committed to being led by lay leaders and to be independent from any church denomination. Part of the reason these ideas were held so strongly was because two members, Mr. Sano and Mr. Matsuoka, had become Christians in Japan under the influence of Kanzo Uchimura (1861-1930), a famous Japanese Christian who started the lay church movement in Japan during the Meiji Era. Kanzo Uchimura had written many books on Christianity and published a monthly magazine. These early meetings in Berkeley included a study of the Bible (generally utilizing Uchimura's magazine), personal devotions shared by one of the men in the group, and prayer and the singing of hymns. These meetings were conducted in Japanese.
The first Sunday School class was conducted in 1922 by Mrs. Matsuoka, her students being her daughter Helen Matsuoka, age 6, and two small children of Mrs. Yanagi, ages 5 and 7.The meetings were first held at Mr. & Mrs. Hisashi Sano's home on Oregon Street and were later moved to the home of Mrs. Yanagi on Blake Street near McGee Street.
Group photo of Christian Layman Church, 1707 Ward Street, Berkeley. Father Takeji Manabe is in second row from top carrying young Emi Manabe. Chitose Manabe (mother) is holding Fumi Manabe (in light colored baby bunting). Sachi Takahashi is the girl in the middle front (dark dress).
Unknown. Christian Layman Church. 1927. Black and white photographic print; 15.5 x 22.5 cm. Berkeley Public Library/Berkeley History Online Collection, Berkeley.
Owning property in California. In 1928, the size of the meetings outgrew the private homes and a large two story house at 1707 Ward Street was purchased and renovated so that one large room downstairs was created for worship services and smaller rooms upstairs were converted to classrooms. The Ward Street building was purchased in the names of Hana Kamiya, Kiyoji Kanehara, Masunobu Tsukazaki and Nobumitsu Takahashi, the oldest Niseis (second-generation Japanese-Americans) in the church because at that time, it was illegal for "aliens" to own property in California. Several children at Christian Layman Church were U.S. citizens by virtue of having been born in America: Miss Kamiya and Mr. Kiyoji Kanehara were barely over 21 years old; Mr. Tsukazaki and Mr. Takahashi were only 12 - 14 years old. Years later, when the church was incorporated in the state of California in 1956, property ownership was transferred out of their names and into the name of the Christian Layman Church and its Board of Directors.
Issei's and Nisei's. Largely because of the efforts of the early members, the church increased in number. Several of the present Issei members recount how Mr. Matsuoka, Mr. Manabe and others visited them and invited their families to church. Often, because the parents were too busy to come themselves, Mr. Matsuoka, Mr. Manabe, and Mr. Hoshiga drove the Nisei children to Sunday School and then back home again. The Issei parents were so touched by their concern and kindness they began coming to church themselves. Other Issei came to church because they were invited by members of the church who were from the same ken (district in Japan) or because they were neighbors of the church members. Some Issei and their families drove many miles to come to the Christian Layman Church. The Hikidos came from Tassajara; the Sakatas, Matsumotos, and Kanagakis came from Brentwood. Every Sunday, they would drive over one hour each way to come to church; and some of the Nisei children recall eating picnic lunches in the Berkeley hills after church before returning home.
A vibrant church life. By the late 1930's, there were over 25 families regularly attending the church, with about 30-40 Issei and a Nisei Sunday School of about 50-60 children. The meetings and services continued to be conducted in Japanese in the Ward Street building with the laypersons sharing sermons and personal testimonies as well as Japanese hymns and prayers. The older Nisei also attended these Japanese-language services. Other church activities at the time were: weeknight family prayer meetings held in private homes; an early morning prayer meeting called so ten kito kai held every Sunday at 6:30 a.m.; seinen kai, a youth group; and kodomo no kai, the children's group organized for the Nisei children once a month on Sunday afternoons. There were special Easter and Christmas programs, plus a Mother's Day Tea event - where children would share their musical talents, and fathers would join together to sing Japanese folk songs and take care of the refreshments for the occasion. Church picnics with softball games were also favorite activities. Church life was vibrant and active until World War II when the Japanese on the West Coast were ordered into internment camps.
Japanese internment. The internment of the members of the Christian Layman Church during World War II profoundly affected the course and nature of the church.
In preparation for relocation, some church families stored their entire life's belongings in the church building with 1 or 2 families putting their belongings in each classroom. One member, Aiko Mayeda, vividly remembers her family being the last ones to store their belongings at the church, locking up the building, and then leaving to board the soldier-guarded buses for the Tanforan Assembly Center.
Worship meetings continued. At the Tanforan Assembly Center where Berkeley/Oakland Japanese residents were gathered, the leaders of the Christian Layman Church continued to conduct meetings. In Topaz, Utah, where many of the church members were relocated, there were joint services for all the Protestant churches conducted by ministers from various denominations. A Japanese-language service was held separately from an English-language service. For the Christian Layman Nisei, it was the first time they had heard a sermon in English, and many said they liked this much better than listening to sermons in Japanese. Because of the large number of children, four separate Sunday Schools were conducted; Miss Tomiko Hino, a member of Christian Layman Church, was in charge of one of these Sunday Schools.
Church as shelter. During the war, the church building had been rented for public housing by the War Relocation Authority (WRA) and the belongings stored at the church were moved to a WRA warehouse. After the war, when the church members returned to Berkeley around September 1945, the tenants housed at the church did not want to leave, so the first church meetings were held at the Matsuokas' home next door to the church. The tenants were finally evicted in early 1946 and the first service held in the church building was in March 1946. The church building and the Matsuoka home served as temporary housing for several church families as they looked for employment and permanent places to live. The church became a shelter for some of its members in both a physical as well as a spiritual sense.
English worship services. The Christian Layman Church struggled to continue as a layman church and at the same time be responsive to the needs of all the Issei and Nisei members. The Nisei, since they had enjoyed and benefitted from the English worship services in the relocation camps, wanted to begin having an English worship service. By the invitation of some of the Nisei members, Dr. Thorlickson and his family began volunteering their services to the Nisei congregation. From 1946-1949, Dr. Thorlickson, a former missionary to Japan, served as a preacher and pastor to the Nisei members. The Issei during this time continued to function as a lay church conducting their own separate Japanese-speaking services. During this time, the desire for an English-speaking minister grew. Rev. Dan Shinoda became the first officially hired minister of the Christian Layman Church. From 1950-1955, Rev. Shinoda led the English worship service, mid-week English Bible studies, and participated in the various church meetings. During this period, the Nisei church grew and in 1953, preparations were made for a larger church building. In 1955, the lot next door to the church was purchased for $3,500. The new chapel was completed in early 1958, and a formal dedication service was held on July 6, 1958.
After Dr. Thorlickson and Rev. Shinoda, those serving the church as pastors (some of whom were bilingual in Japanese and English) are as follows:
Ray Narusawa (student pastor) 07/55 - 02/57
George Toda 10/56 - 09/59
Bill Hara (student pastor) 09/59 - 06/63
Lloyd Matsuoka 07/63 - 06/64
Ralph Rutley 09/64 - 06/66
Joseph Meeko 09/66 - 02/68
Kazuo Masuno 03/68 - 12/78
Alpha & Pam Goto 07/79 - 06/80
Alpha Goto 09/79 - 06/82
During this time the worship services were sometimes joint/bilingual services and sometimes separate Japanese and English services. The Gotos were the church's first Sansei (third-generation Japanese-American) ministers, and the first husband-wife team ministers. New activities were introduced for the Sansei generation. Basketball teams were sponsored by the church from 1962-1982, and youth groups such as "Jesus Christ and Company" and the Young Adult Fellowship were also popular. There was also a Ladies Circle for the Nisei women, a Ha ha no kai for the Issei mothers, and a Shira yuri kai for young Japanese-speaking women.
The struggle to retain the legacy of lay leadership and independence from church denominations and yet to be responsive to all the various members' needs often required difficult decisions. In 1966, the church considered being affiliated with the Baptist denomination, but the decision was made to remain independent.
The Issei beginnings established a model and legacy of lay leadership, of deep personal commitment to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and of independence from church denominations. The advent of the English-speaking services and English-speaking ministers was in response to the need to make the message of Jesus Christ more relevant to the second and third generation Japanese Americans. The Nisei and Sansei have not forgotten the Issei's examples and have struggled to continue in the same manner to glorify God at Christian Layman Church.
The material for this brief history was collected from personal interviews, dialogues with long time church members, and from the minutes of church Board meetings by Lawrence Yano and Jim Koide; written and edited by Lawrence and Ellen Yano.
Our heartfelt thanks go to all those who have faithfully and lovingly laid the groundwork for Christian Layman Church.
Photo courtesy of Christian Layman Church archives. Berkeley.
Growth and Expanded Identity. In July 1983, when Wayne Ogimachi became Pastor at CLC, we were a small Japanese American congregation of 35 people. Through Pastor Wayne's leadership and founding of AACF at Cal (Fall 1983), the growth of CLC was fueled by the influx of Cal students. The Board of Directors opened up leadership circles (mid-1980's) to new personnel and continued to adapt to the needs of the congregation. English language services and contemporary musical worship were introduced.
We are the CLC of today, a multi-ethnic Asian American church, largely due to the faithful work of Pastor Wayne and church leadership in the 1980's-1990's. Pastor Wayne answered the call to plant a new church in Seattle (July 2000).
Current Season of Change.Today, in 2020, CLC history is still being written. We are in the midst of a new season of change as we search for a new Lead Pastor and support the Huang Family as they prepare to move overseas. The entire world is in a season of change as we reckon with COVID-19, global economic impacts, and social unrest as people speak out against racial injustice.
Please continue to pray for CLC leadership -- our pastors, staff, Board of Directors, lay leaders, and entire congregation -- as we deepen our faith and live this out every day.