It is the 4th of September 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
Please pardon, but also enjoy, this slightly different take on today’s show. It just so happens that today is not only the birthday of my favorite city in the world, but this city has also had an oversized role in the history of American Christianity. Today I am going to give you a 5-minute Christian history tour of the city.
It was on this, the 4th of September n 1871 that about 40 settlers (2 white, 2 black, and the rest mestizo’s) crossed the desert from Northern Mexico and settled El Pueblo de la Reyna de Los Angeles (The Pueblo of the Queen of the Angels). The settlers were encouraged to help populate the region where Father Junipero Serra had opened the San Gabriel Mission. These Pobladores from Mexico would help establish a Spanish presence in California to dissuade further Russian encroachment on the West Coast of North America.
Jumping post-Gold Rush and Civil War: Los Angeles doubled in size between 1870 and 1880. Much of this had to do with the Southern Pacific and Santa Fe railroads making travel to the coast cheap. By the end of the 1880s there were 17 different congregations in Los Angeles. This would lead naturally to the creation of colleges and seminaries. The Maclay School of Theology would open in 1885 and eventually merge with the new University of Southern California. And sure, you might know USC today with their Trojan Mascot- but you may not know that their original mascot was- no joke- the “Fightin’ Methodists”.
But in 1900 Los Angeles was nowhere near the ethnically and socially diverse place it would become- in fact, it was known as “Iowa on the Sea”. One of the engines behind the growth of diversity in Los Angeles would be the birth of the Pentecostal movement.
It was in 1906 that the Azusa Street Revival rallied Christians of different ethnic and theological backgrounds. William J. Seymour, an African American pastor began revival services that became so popular the church had to move to a new location: 312 Azusa Street. The Pentecostal Movement sought to mirror the original Pentecost with a blending of ethnicities and seemingly ecstatic worship. Pentecostalism would piggyback with Aimee Semple MacPherson’s Four Square Church and Charles Fuller’s megawatt KTBL to create what one historian has called “L.A.’s most successful export” and that’s not Hollywood, but Pentecostalism
With the Fundamentalist Modernist controversy exploding on the East Coast, many saw the West Coast be a fertile place for Fundamentalists institutions. The Bible Institute of Los Angeles with its own church “the Church of the Open Door” would become a beacon for nondenominational conservative evangelicalism. Today the institute now known as “BIOLA” continues this tradition.
By the 1940s a Works Progress Administration brochure for Los Angeles noted “The multiplicity and diversity of faiths that flourish in the aptly named City of Angels probably cannot be duplicated in any other city on earth”.
Billy Graham would set his sites on the diverse city with its established radio stations and budding television infrastructure. Televangelism, as Radio evangelism before it, would spend its formative years in LA.
The 1960s and ’70s saw the dissolution of many older ecclesiastical ties and the greater Los Angeles region would give birth to the Jesus Freak movement, the non-denom explosion, and the birth of the megachurch.
That little pueblo, El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles founded on this day in 1781 would indeed become what another historian has called a “veritable ecclesiastical jungle”.
The last word for today is Psalm 133 from the Scottish Psalter:
1 Behold, how good a thing it is,
and how becoming well,
Together such as brethren are
in unity to dwell!
2 Like precious ointment on the head,
that down the beard did flow,
Ev'n Aaron's beard, and to the skirts,
did of his garments go.
3 As Hermon's dew, the dew that doth
on Zion' hills descend:
For there the blessing God commands,
life that shall never end.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 4th of September 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man who has never had a French dip sandwich from Philippe’s (and that’s a shame) he is Christoper Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who loves Los Angeles and loves the Angels but does not approve of the silly “Los Angeles Angels” nickname. It’s Anaheim, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.