Pastor Dennis Short
Downey Memorial Christian Church:
How did I get involved in the ministry? Well, I grew up in the 50’s and the early 60’s and because I had Hispanic and black and Japanese friends I saw the prejudice towards them and saw that the church was doing something about it and I wanted to join that effort. I grew up in the orange groves of
San Dimas and helped farm oranges when I was growing up. I went to First Christian Church San Dimas in the town of
San Dimas. It was part of the Disciples of Christ denomination which founded what was called the “
Los Angeles. Our national office is in
Indiana and they sent a minister and his wife here to start a church. They started it in an empty building because the Japanese people here had all been sent to the intern camps. So he started a community center and ultimately it became a worshipping congregation.
Probably the main influence for me was just seeing what a difference that church made in peoples lives. One time he caught some kids breaking a window in the church and instead of turning them over to the police he talked to them and invited them to join the newly formed basketball team. One of those guys was named Rudy Gutierrez and he went on to graduate from
ChapmanCollege and became one of the first Mexican American principals in the
San GabrielValley and led in the integration of the schools for Hispanics. The church is no longer there because two kids got into the church and were wandering around with candles and lit the choir robes on fire and burnt the whole church down. Other changes over the years are that about the only orange trees left are in people’s yards.
There was a lot of prejudice at that time and still is. I live now in
OrangeCounty and they had separate classrooms for Hispanic and Anglos until around 1950. But this church has been a very active church in this community and there are two Spanish speaking churches that meet in this building. A year ago the church hired a Spanish speaking woman as associate minister to help connect with the English speaking Hispanic people in the area to get them involved in this congregation. So my job as a transitional minister over the next two years is to help that happen.
How am I doing that? Well just preaching the gospel and telling people about what it means to be a Christian. To open your heart to other people and to be inclusive.
What is my main theological belief? That Christ is central to the faith and that God through Christ called us to be reconcilers with everybody.
There are about 50 active members and last Sunday for my first Sunday we had 40 here and I was encouraged by that. I’ve just started here so last Sunday was the start of my preaching here. I was the pastor in Newport Beach for 15 years and before that I was f the campus Chaplain at
Orange. What led me to leave there and come to
Downey was partly the challenge of this congregation of being racially inclusive and their vision is one that I believe in. By inclusive I mean everybody. Hispanic, Black, Asian and Caucasian. There is room for everybody here but especially Hispanic because that is the major influence around here.
Downey used to be a “Sundowner” city as a lot of
Southern California cities were. Our regional office used to be in
Glendale which also at time was a sundowner city. Over the years there have been quite a few changes. This church has quite a history in this city and just celebrated its 50th anniversary here though this building is only 25 or 30 years old. Laws in other parts of the country have changed with the times too. In New Jersey they had the “Blue Laws” where only certain stores could be open on a Sunday and in
Indianapolis at a store a bag boy could not carry a bag with liquor from the counter to your car but had to get one of the older employees to do it. Today the courts overturned the law against gay marriage and this church is also attempting to be open to gays and lesbians. It is open and there is at least one gay couple and two of the elders are gay. So when we say inclusive homosexuals are certainly welcome here. I was also the president of the Interfaith Council in Costa Mesa and
Irvine for many years.
My preaching is fairly informal. It usually takes about twenty minutes based on the scripture but that doesn’t mean I just stick to the Bible. So this Sunday and last Sunday I’m kind of giving them my life history on how I got interested in the ministry and where it has taken me along the way. It has been a journey.
Where has my journey led me? Well, it led me to
ChapmanCollege because that was our church related school and I got an athletic scholarship to play basketball and baseball. I met Linda who became my wife at the beginning of my third year and realized I wasn’t going to be a pro baseball player like I’d dreamed of when I was younger and that someday I would need to make a living. I decided to major in philosophy and sociology but stayed with my interest in civil rights. Martin Luther King spoke at the college and the administration invited me to drive him back to the airport along with a couple of faculty members. I was 21.
I wanted to go to a seminary or graduate school where I could work with inner city kids and I wanted to combine ministry and coaching. I was invited by an Episcopal Church to direct a Settlement House in a poor community in downtown
Indianapolis with poor white kids and African Americans kids. I did that for a couple of years and then was invited to go to a community center settlement kind of a thing there. They employed 21 people called Flanner House and as far as I know they were one of the first to come up with “Sweat Equity” housing which is what habitat for humanity does. To get this house you have to commit yourself to work for so many hours. You work off your down payment. They did that in a very poor black community in downtown
Indianapolis and we became known around the nation for it. My job was to do work camps and tours with high school and college kids who came in to experience what was going on in the inner cities. (CONTINUED ON VIDEO PORTION)
I just want to finish up by saying I have high hopes for this church. It has had a great past and I think it will have a significant future. A lot of people have really stuck out their necks to create the funds to hire a full time associate pastor a year ago who is a Spanish speaking woman. Annika Terrones who went from
Sweden to a mission camp and married a Peruvian man. She is a very sharp person and it is a pleasure to be working with her. We are hoping to increase the attendance and increase the commitment and bring the English speaking Hispanic persons together with this English speaking congregation.
Downey Memorial Christian Church is located at
8441 Florence Avenue
Phone Number 562-869-7291
Web site www.downeymemorial.org