First United Methodist Church of Arroyo Grande

The First United Methodist Church of Arroyo Grande Celebrates 125 Years of Ministry

Rock founded, Christ centered, Faith sustained

In 1784 on Christmas Eve, sixty circuit riding preachers met at Lovely Lane Church in Baltimore and formed the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States of America.

The Methodist movement had grown out of a club nicknamed "The Holy Club", formed by John and Charles Wesley while they were students at Oxford University. Later someone thought up the name Methodist because such strict method was followed by these young men in their daily lives.

As the church movement in England gained strength, John Wesley and two other members of "The Holy Club" reponded to a plea from the new colony of Georgia. They preached under the trees, as here, preaching to the natives.

Another early Saint was Dr. Thomas Coke, shown here as he presided at the ordination of Francis Asbury. He came from England to guide the infant movement in America.

The Methodist Church was literally moved forward on horseback with the Circuit Rider Preacher. Traveling 4 or 5 weeks at a time, he preached daily at noon time at any convenient gathering place. In 1784 he was paid $64/year, but by 1800 his salary had advanced to $80/year plus traveling expenses and an allowance for his family.

The Methodist Church adapted well to the western movement. A church with an itinerant connectional system could not lose the battle for souls on the frontier. Adaptable and purposefully organized, bishops, traveling preachers, local preachers, exhorters, and class leaders went with people through brooding wilderness, lush prairie, boundless plain, over shining mountains to the western sea.

The beaver brought them here, but the otter kept them here.

As Smith's family grew, he built the great casa in the upper Arroyo Grande valley, shown here in ruins in 1895.

The Nipomo grant dates to April 1837, but it was a number of years before Captain Dana brought Josepha and their growing family to Nipomo.

John Price, having married Manuela Branch's sister, Andrea, purchased El Pizmo and settled there sometime in the 1850s. For years the coast knew only these two great ranchos with their village of people, necessary to their was of life.

As the Branch children married and were given land and other portions sold, the great Santa Manuela Rancho was broken up. The Arroyo Grande township was formed in 1862, and Branch laid out the townsite of Arroyo Grande in 1867.

The Seeds Are Sown

Pre 1884

Text by Jean Hubbard

Much of this "first 100 years" history was put together for the 100th Anniversary in 1984.

The best known and most effective American Methodist leader was Francis Asbury, usually called by the unmerited title of Bishop. He disregarded his feeble body and much sickness to travel widely, preaching and praying. Under his guidance Methodism became an important part of the religious life of the United States.

The Methodist Circuit Rider threw his influence in the direction of civilization and culture inspite of his own lack of education. He carried books, etc. and was often the only visitor a family would see in weeks.

The trail to the western area was a long and rough one. We believe the first Methodist into California was Jedediah Smith, a fur trader who earned the title "Pathfinder".

In 1826, Smith and his men arrived at the Mission San Gabriel.

The beaver drew these men across the awesome desert and mountain barriers to California.

Trade generated by the fur companies brought a limited number of people to California.

In the Arroyo Grande area, the first white men were the rancheros. The lovely ladies and their land had easily persuaded them to the Catholic faith. Frances Zeba Branch, a New Yorker, first saw our valley in 1835.

He became a Mexican citizen and married Manuela Carlon. They were granted the 16,000+ acres that he called the Santa Manuela Rancho. In a few years he had added hundreds of acres to this site, until all of the valley was his.

Manifest Destiny was pushing people westward, but it took gold to bring the people to populate California almost overnight.

Meanwhile, a few years earlier in Los Angeles... Adam Bland began a church in the El Dorado saloon on Main Street adjacent to the old Plaza in 1853. He and his wife lived upstairs and had a church and school for girls downstairs. Few came to church and the project folded for lack of funds. "Of all society that I ever saw, here is the worst," declared Bland as he left Los Angeles in a huff. By 1868, migration had begun in earnest and Bland returned to found (on what is now Broadway) the Fourth Street Methodist Episcopal Church with 54 members. By 1876 the Methodists had 13 church buildings and 1,200 members in southern California, enough to organize the Southern California Annual Conference.