About Us – Past & Present
I cannot consecrate my life,
For only Thou can’st consecrate.
I cannot dedicate my life,
For only Thou can’st dedicate,
But I can freely give my life
For Thee to melt, and mold, and fill.
For Thee to use it, as is best,
At just the time and place You will.
- Geneva Showerman, 1980
Our Name and Origin
Grace Brethren Church members in the early years were known by a variety of names.
Tunkers. Dunkards. Taufers. Anabaptists. Dippers. Brethren. New Baptists.
Around 1708 a good number of Godly people scattered throughout Europe grew dissatisfied with the existing spiritual state of the church. They were disappointed in its cold formalism.
And they were confident that not all the error was detected, or all truth rediscovered, during Luther’s Reformation.
They also deplored the bondage which the three state religions (Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed) imposed upon them.
These spiritually minded folk longed for a church in which they could worship God according to the leading of their conscience.
As a result, a number of these Christians gathered near the banks of the Eder River in Germany.
This region was ruled over by a Prince who gave them freedom from persecution and liberty to pursue their searching of the Scriptures without fear.
Among those who came to this place were eight persons who were to become the founders of the Brethren Church.
These eight Christians felt a need for a new denomination built entirely upon the teaching of the New Testament.
Secluded as they were from the busy markets of the world and in a tiny, rural village they searched the Scriptures for a rule of faith and practice.
The Bible, The Whole Bible,
and Nothing But The Bible
So intent were they upon following the whole Bible as God’s will for men, they determined they would adopt no creed.
They rightly felt a creed would limit them in their search after truth in the Scripture.
Thus, from that day to this, the only creed The Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches has adopted is: “The Bible, the Whole Bible, and Nothing But the Bible.”
A Secret Baptism
Often called the founder of the Brethren Church, Alexander Mack led the Brethren in their study of Scripture.
During this time the early Brethren became convinced that the only proper method of baptism was ‘triune’ and ‘full immersion’.
They were also convinced of the importance of various ordinances of the church such as an expanded Communion Service.
They also deemed human warfare as carnality and were known as conscientious objectors.
They increased in knowledge of all the great doctrines of the Christian faith, some of which were being sorely neglected in that day (just as they are in this one).
On a purposely concealed spot, these eight souls were received into the infant organization, having received triune immersion.
The name of the first baptizer was also kept secret, for they observed men’s inclination to follow one another instead of the Lord Jesus.
From this humble beginning the ‘Dunkers’ (so-called because of their practice of ‘full immersion’) grew and prospered.
However it wasn’t long before persecution forced them from their little nest in Germany.
Like the early Christians and Jews scattered by Roman armies from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth, these earnest people were deprived of home and safety.
They went to different parts of Germany, Switzerland and Holland.
But in 1719, the first group, under leadership of the noble Peter Becker, sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to the open shores of America.
New Life in America
Some settled in Germantown, Pennsylvania now a part of Philadelphia in the first German settlement.
More and more groups of Brethren followed, all of them enduring hardships that cannot be described and then, in 1729, Alexander Mack arrived in America.
He was known as a man of great encouragement to the growing Church members.
He labored only a few short years in this country before being called to the “better country”.
He is buried in the Germantown cemetery awaiting the day of Resurrection.
A Missionary Spirit
The early Brethren were missionary in spirit, intensely so. They set out from Germantown to engage in the pioneer efforts of evangelism.
Rugged men of God declared the whole counsel of God, enduring hardships as good soldiers of Jesus Christ.
New churches sprang up everywhere and the Brethren movement spread.
Adherence to the Word of God and plain living marked them. Their worship was simple and devoid of all formalism.
And as their numbers continued to grow in the east, the stage was being set for a move Westward …
Short History of Whittier, California
A hundred years before any white settlers ventured into the area surrounding Whittier, then land was inhabited by Native American Indians belonging to the Shoshenan tribes.
In the 1760′s, from a vantage point atop the Puente Hills, one could see huts and the smoke curling from the cook fires of the Sejat villagers in the Los Nietos Valley and the Awigna villagers along San Jose Creek in the La Puente Valley.
The original inhabitants knew little about agriculture living on honey and an array of berries, acorns, sage, squirrels, rabbits and birds.
The Native people gave a friendly welcome to the first explorer to come into the area, Gaspar de Portola who arrived in 1769 and traversed both La Puente Valley and Whittier Narrows and carved out the trail called El Camino Real (Highway of the King) long before it became Whittier Boulevard.
When the Catholic Padres left Mexico, the followed the coast to San Diego and gradually moved northward.
Missions flourished, offering employment and protection to the Natives.
But in 1833, the Mexican Congress passed a Secularization Bill, the intent of which was to return the wealth and prosperity of the missions back to the Native people.
But the long years of control by the Padres left the Natives ill-equipped to deal with the management of the land as they lost not only their native identity but became more Spanish than native. Most were employed as house servants or field workers for land holding Spanish governors.
On a day in 1849, gold was discovered at Sutters Mill in Northern California and the rush West would be on.
But first …
Founders, Fathers and a Poet
Whittier itself began as a Quaker Colony.
Although Quakers (or ‘Friends’) were a minority in Whitter’s later years, this was not so in early days.
Aquilla H. Pickering was responsible for the founding of the Whittier colony. He was interested in preserving Quaker traditions and expanding them westward.
But was also promoting California development as the Agent of a major railroad.
Mr. Pickering tells of his searching out a site for the new colony:
“Early in 1887 we traveled over a large portion of California. Toward the end of our search we were driven to the ranch, the present site of Whittier.
“From the first we were favorable impressed with this beautiful situation; the high ground sloping away from the Puente Hills from which we could see the whole valley reaching toward the south and west until our eyes rested upon the ocean, some miles away.”
They bought the Thomas Ranch of some 1,285 acres on the south slope of the Puente Hills in April of 1887.
This ranch was called the Mustard Ranch for the mustard often grew as high as a man on horseback.
They also purchased Turnbull Ranch which was about 2,400 acres adjacent hill country.
They decided upon the name “Whittier” after the Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier.
A townsite was laid out within the boundaries of modern day Painter Avenue, Pickering Avenue, Hadley Street, and Penn Street.
And surrounding lands were divided into small orchard parcels.
On May 11, 1887, Jonathan Bailey and his wife Rebecca became the first residents.
Prior to 1890 Whittier had no indoor plumbing, electricity, gas or piped water. Houses usually had no built-in cupboards or closets for clothing.
Dusty or muddy streets were mostly wagon tracks and either the family horse – or cow, depending – could be allowed to graze along Painter Avenue or anywhere convenient.
Some of the principal streets of the town were named after outstanding citizens of the community, as well as John Greenleaf Whittier.
A.H. Pickering, Washington Hadley, Jonathan Bailey, Mahlon Newlin, John Bright, and Milton Lindley to name just a few.
Times were hard in 1890′s Whittier but disaster was averted by three events: water was brought to the town, a State School – Nelle’s School for Boys – was located to Whittier, and Vernon’s Cannery brought jobs to most citizens.
The turn of the century also brought in abundance. Between 1900 and World War One, life was good. Almost no one was sick and real poverty was nearly unknown. Thrifty and careful, Whittierites had laid the basis for prosperity.
In this fertile ground, a seed was eventually planted on the corner of Milton and Bailey.
Strong Arms and a Purpose
It was the Fall of 1913, October 9 to be exact. A.V. Kimmell met with a group of Brethren people in the Whittier area, at the home of C.H. Flory and D.H. Epperly, at which time possibilities and plans for a Brethren Church were discussed.
This was the day on which Grace Brethren Church – called First Brethren Church at the time – was born in Whittier.
Brother Kimmell moved to Whittier from Los Angeles where he had been Pastor to begin the preparations.
Services began – in a tent – on May 19, 1914. And in June, Mr. Kimmel began a long and fruitful ministry as the Pastor of the Brethren work.
Those who recall the “tent meetings” of 1914 have said Dr. L.S. Bauman brought the messages of the early days. One was entitled, “Bed Too Short – Covers Too Narrow”.
After two weeks, there were two people who came to Christ – Zelpha Ogden and Hollis Vaught.
A platform was built at the front of the tent and a baptistery to the left of the platform.
This “baptistery” was really a large metal watering trough, five feet deep and seven feet wide. Steps were placed both inside and outside the tank.
One of our “old timers” recalled that, “Brother Kimmell was a very large man and [when he baptized us] he really buried us!”
The early months in the tent were times of both blessing and trial.
The services were wonderful but the weather did not cooperate.
Summer turned to Fall and Winter – and wind and rain.
One cold, windy, rainy night there was a knock at the Crawford’s door. It was Pastor Kimmel with the unwelcome news that the rain had softened the ground in which the tent-poles were staked, until the tent was on the verge of being blown away by the wind and rain.
Harry Crawford, E.V. Hand and Pastor Kimmell literally held the tent down from evening until morning.
Three men with strong arms and a purpose – the tent stayed up!
July 4, 1914 was a memorable day, for the cornerstone of the church was laid.
The sermon was preached by Elder L.S. Bauman of Long Beach.
The stone when sealed contained a copy of the holy Bible, two copies of the Whittier News, a picture of Pastor Kimmell and a history of the local church and its organization.
The completed building was dedicated on September 12, 1915 with a membership of 85.
After fourteen years Brother Kimmell resigned as Pastor. Under his ministry the church moved from its very beginning to a thriving church with an active Sunday School, Christian Endeavor and Missionary Society.
The church was growing rapidly. In 1933 the auditorium was enlarged to accommodate the growing attendance.
The surrounding area was growing rapidly too. Hundreds of families moved to the area following World War Two.
In 1950 Grace Community Chapel was begun as a church and school several miles away.
In 1955 the Youth Building was built behind the existing church to be used as a social hall for young people.
In 1958 members launched out in missionary endeavor to found and build another church in nearby La Habra.
Our own Pastor Steve helped to build that church – with a hammer and nail – as a young man.
At the time of the church’s 50th anniversary in 1963 the membership totaled 500.
Grace Brethren Church has been at the corner of Milton and Bailey for more than ninety-six years.
Throughout those years the values of the nation have changed, the community has become more diverse, and of course, people have come and gone.
But as we look back over the years there remains a constant in the life of this church.
That one thing is an unwavering commitment to the Word of God — the Bible.
Our pastors and leaders have had as their goal from the inception of this church to see that the Bible is taught to all who would listen to its unchanging message.
Whether as children in Sunday School and Awana Clubs, or as adults in various study groups, and in corporate worship.
We have maintained the constant goal to teach the unfathomable riches of God in Jesus Christ.
Even today as our world continues to change, we look for ministry opportunities to encourage all Christians to know and obey the wisdom found in the Bible and the salvation found only in Jesus Christ.
If you are looking for a place to learn and grow and serve we welcome you to come and join us in serving our Lord.
Adapted from “First Brethren Church of Whittier – A History”
by Bruce and Donna Park, 1980.
- John Greenleaf Whittier never came to Whittier, even though he knew it was named after him
- Pastor A.V. Kimmell’s salary for the first year was $1,200
- The average attendance for Sunday School in the year 1915 was 108, in 1936 it was 333 and in 1979 it was 190
- Pastor Steve taught his first Sunday School class here in 1957 when he was in 7th grade and he was elected Pastor in 1979
- Soren and his brother Coen (who are also Pastor Steve’s grandsons) are 5th generation attendees of Grace Brethren Church, Whittier
- Mrs. Ethel Miller began teaching our Sunday School kids back in 1953 and is a faithful helper with Awana Sparks even today!