Landmark Church Evolves to Serve a Varied Flock

The building may be old, but the spirit of Grace Brethren Church is evergreen — on display over and over and over again every Sunday.
Services at the Mission Revival-style structure at 920 Fremont Ave. are held in English, Mandarin Chinese and Spanish, and each service has its own pastor.
“Each service is styled to the needs of that community,” said the Rev. Terry Daniels, senior pastor. “They love to rock the place in the Spanish service, so we’ve invested in bigger speakers. The Mandarin service is more classical and uses a piano. The English service is accompanied by guitar and drums.
“We’ve learned to share, and each of the services is authentic to its congregation.”
The English service at 9 a.m. can attract 40 people on a good day. There are 30-35 at a Chinese service and 80-100 at the service conducted in Spanish.
“Our building is in constant use most of the day, with three services, and hosting 15 12-step programs during the week. The only problem is we don’t have a parking lot,” Daniels said. “I remember seeing pictures of people pulling up in horse and buggy.”
Horse and buggy?
That’s right. Daniels said that the building may be one of the oldest surviving church buildings in town. It was moved to its current location at Fremont and El Centro in 1907 from Pasadena. At that time, it was a Presbyterian church, and that congregation moved to another location in 1922.
The building was later used by a series of Pentecostal churches before being bought by Grace Brethren in 1944.
The city has designated the building as a city landmark building. Daniels, who has been with the congregation for 42 years, admits there are a lot of things that are borrowed (including the pews from the original church) and broken (including what was once a lovely organ). The stained glass windows were brought from the sites of two former churches.
“Some people love it and some hate it,” Daniels said of the church building. “I love it for its intimacy.”
The annex could have been a World War II barrack that was moved to the site, and Daniels said that historical architects have told him that the building could even be of World War I vintage.
“There are lots of questions about the building and lots of myths. Some of them have been answered and some have not,” he said.
Daniels added, however, that despite the historical credentials, the emphasis at Grace is on people, and not so much on buildings.
“We can be called Bible church, free church, evangelical church,” he said. “We don’t make as big a deal of buildings as some other churches. You can be your own ministry and we’ll help you to do it.
“We call people to personal relationships with God. Our ministries are spiritual, with staff incidental.”
The congregation reaches out into the community, which is why it hosts so many help groups, including Alcoholics Anonymous, as well as working with Door of Hope, a family shelter in Pasadena.
“We are all priests. We carry the church with us. We practice Christianity in the street. We take our faith out in the community. That is the conviction that makes the evangelical community what it is,” Daniels said.
While a group of musicians played their guitars and beat out a rhythm on the drum, one South Pasadena resident who has been coming off and on to the church for 30 years said it was the pastor’s sermons that draw her to Grace Brethren.
“He stays true to the Bible and makes it applicable to your life,” said the woman, who preferred to remain anonymous. “You don’t have to be a formal member. It’s more inclusive than most churches. You don’t have to be baptized.”
Another woman noted that people were so nice. “When I come, I get a warm welcome,” she said.
Betty Turner, who has been attending for six years, defined the church as “united.”
“We all love each other. If a newcomer arrives, we make sure to make them feel welcome,” she said.
One Chinese woman, on her way to worship noted that they it’s a “tiny congregation” but that Daniels is welcoming.
Daniels loves to see all of the congregations come together for one service on Pentecost, 50 days after Easter.
“It’s hard to teach, but it’s great to celebrate,” he smiled. “It is a highlight of the year.”