Our Church History in North Downey

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“Members of the church of Christ do not conceive of themselves as a new church started near the beginning of the 19th century. Rather, the whole movement is designed to reproduce in contemporary times the church originally established on Pentecost, A.D. 33. The strength of the appeal lies in the restoration of Christ's original church.”

-Batsell Barrett Baxter


The church of Christ dates back to the days of the New Testament. Christ founded it on the Day of Pentecost, A.D. 33, not long after His ascension back to heaven. In the years that followed, it rapidly grew to fill Jerusalem, then Judea, Samaria, and finally the whole Roman Empire. In America, the first churches of Christ were planted in the late 1700s as the result of a movement to go back to the Bible, do Bible things in Bible ways, and call Bible things by Bible names.

The church of Christ in Downey can be traced as far back to the year 1860. The First Christian Church even shared a building with the church until around 1913, when a dispute arose about the property ownership. Eventually, the Downey Church of Christ relocated to Imperial Highway, where it stands to this day.

About 1967, the old Pico Rivera Church of Christ that met on Cord Avenue, sold their building. They gave most of the proceeds, through Bro. Elbert Kelly, to the elders of the Imperial Highway Church of Christ in South Downey. This was done with the idea of establishing a new congregation in a better location that could serve both Pico Rivera and the North Downey area.

After searching for some time, Bro. Art Jacobs located the property which was for sale by the Four Square church. At that time, there was a Downey Fire Station, a church building and a small preacher’s house on the property.

Our present auditorium was planned and built in 1968-1969 and was eventually to have been converted into a two-story classroom facility whenever a new auditorium was built. However, financial considerations caused us to add a fellowship hall and classrooms instead. James Bayless was our construction boss and John Belle Isle our electrical engineer.

Our first assembly at North Downey was on Sunday, January 4th 1970. This was after 12 to 15 months of preparation, which included repairing and cleaning up the old Four Square church building. It was used for classes and fellowship. The new building was also in the process of construction during this period. Many members were involved in the construction and much enthusiasm and financial sacrifice was displayed by them.

The charter membership roll that first Sunday morning worship was 172. Bro. Buck Walker was the first minister. We had no pews at the time, so we used folding chairs until money could be raised for better seating. The chairs “hissed and whooshed“ when we sat down and stood up leading to awkward moments during our worship hour.

The present classroom and fellowship addition was begun in 1973, allowing us to tear down the old Four Square building and finish the parking lot as it now stands. Our first directory contained pictures of 136 people. The first elders were Howard (Speed) Owens and Howard Romkee. The first deacons were James Bayless, Dan Allen, Jack Turney, and Bill Ball Sr.

As a matter of interest, the pulpit stand and communion table were brought from the Imperial Highway congregation after many years of use there. They were built by Bro. Ray Voorhees and are still in use today. They are pictured on the welcome page of our church website and retain their beauty after all these years.

In 1979, the congregation at Bell Gardens merged with the church in North Downey, with the Bell Gardens property ultimately being sold. The certification from the secretary of state actually was dated on August 26th, 1981. This increased the number of elders to four. Gene Elmore, the minister at North Downey, continued as pulpit minister for the new congregation.

In 1982, the congregation (located in Maywood) merged with the North Downey church. At that time two more elders were added, Ray Floyd and Owen Burgess. There were a number of Hearing impaired families that became part of the North Downey Church because of the merger. Bob Anderson, the minister for the Deaf at Maywood, worked in the same capacity in North Downey. Shortly thereafter, Bob moved to Lubbock Texas, to assist in training Deaf preachers at the Sunset School of Preaching. You can see that good things are still happening because of the long association with Bob Anderson. Hugh Tinsley, the hearing minister at the Maywood church, became the minister of benevolence at North Downey. Hugh subsequently left, moving north to Riverdale, California where he worked with the church in that area until his death a few years later.

At the conclusion of the Maywood merger, the membership at North Downey numbered 232. The elders were: John Forrister, Howard Romkee, Wiley Robinson, Ray Floyd and Owen Burgess. The deacons were: Bryan Collins, James Bayless, Bud Hasper, and Jim Scott. The ministers were: Gene Elmore, John Belle Isle, Hank Wiser (Boron) and Clarence May (Kauai Hawaii). A short time later, Clarence May returned from Kauai and left Danny Sagadraca as minister for the work there. North Downey continued to support Danny for a number of years.

Gene Elmore moved to Florida to work with the church there. David Morehead became the pulpit minister for the church at North Downey for the next seven years.

In time, John Forrister moved to Texas, Wiley Robinson moved to the Riverside area, and Howard Romkee passed away, which reduced the eldership to just two. Later, Clarence May came back and served as pulpit minister, and later as an elder. Ray Floyd moved to Tehachapi, and a while later, Clarence May moved to Idaho, which in effect eliminated the eldership. We believe that the eldership must be composed of at least two men.

A few years ago, David Morehead returned to the North Downey church after working several years to get his doctorate in psychology. Dr. David Morehead continues to minister to the congregation at North Downey and many of his fine sermons can be listened to on our website at the sermon tab.

Many here believe that the Church of Christ at North Downey can trace its roots back to the biblical scripture found in Acts 2:38. Modern churches of Christ have their historical roots in the Restoration Movement, which was a converging of Christians across denominational lines in search of a return to a hypothesized original, "pre-denominational" Christianity. Participants in this movement sought to base doctrine and practice on the Bible alone, rather than recognizing the traditional councils and denominational hierarchies that had come to define Christianity since the first century A.D.

Members of the churches of Christ believe that Jesus founded only one church, that the current divisions among Christians do not express God's will, and that the only basis for restoring Christian unity is the Bible. We identify simply as "Christians", without other religious or denominational identification.