One of the moving spirits in the organizing of the Normal Heights Methodist Episcopal Church in 1913 was Mrs. A. J. Norton. Living on what is now Felton Street, she felt the need of a Methodist Church in the area to serve the twenty some Methodist families living here at that time. On November 9, 1913, the Normal Heights Episcopal Church was founded with five probationary and twenty-five full members. The Rev. D. W. Wilt was pastor. It met in a Club House at the corner of the current Mansfield and Adams Streets and later acquired that property. Pastors Carl M. Ross, George Cocking, E. M. Sutton and Burton Hamlin served the church during this time. Attendance at both Sunday School and church remained below 100.
During the early 1920’s the area began to grow rapidly and so did the church. Pastor H. H. Weyant served during 1920-1924 as attendance at Sunday School rose to 180 and church to 140. In 1924, Pastor Ray Willings Smith was assigned to build a new building. A leading church architect of the West Coast, Rolling Tuttle, was chosen. Renderings of the new plant were used on bulletins. Land was purchased at School and Mansfield Streets. Groundbreaking ceremonies were held on March 14, 1926. On September 19, 1926, the cornerstone laying occurred with worship in the new sanctuary. Building continued under the leadership of Pastor Ward W. Hull and was completed with Pastor Earl H. Haydock. The plant was dedicated on April 28, 1929 by Bishop Charles Wesley Burns.
Indebtedness on the building at the beginning of 1931 was $43,905. In 1931 Pastor C. H. M. Sutherland arrived and in 1932 asked that his salary be lowered from $3,000 to $2,400. In 1934, Pastor W. A. Jennings arrived to find a foreclosure notice on the door. With the help of District and National Church aid, the problem was resolved in a couple of years. In 1939 Pastor E. H. Longbrake arrived. The merger of three Methodist denominations that year created the Methodist Church.
Membership reached 703 during this decade. In December of 1941, the evening service was moved to 4:00 p.m. to avoid extending after nightfall. On July 20, 1943, a Homecoming and Mortgage Burning were held. Clyde S. Crowder came as the pastor that year. In 1948 Alexander Gray became the pastor. In 1949, the sanctuary was redecorated and the church painted. In October, the first issue of the Family Visitor was published. In December, Shuri Church in Okinawa was chosen as a special mission project.
In 1950 there were four choirs: Chancel, Chapel, Junior, and Cherub. In 1951 Stanley Courtney became the pastor. In 1953 clothing was collected and sent to Korea for people made homeless by the war. Due to the size of the Sunday School, it was decided to build an educational unit. During 1954 the Neeley Educational Building (now the Children’s Center) was built. It was dedicated January 20, 1955. Hubert L. Duncan was the pastor during July-September in 1954. Marshall Ketchum came as pastor in 1954. The lot at 4951 Mansfield was purchased in 1955 and the parsonage was built the next year. In November of 1956 it was dedicated to sponsor a Dutch-Indonesian refugee family and the Leydecker family arrived in February of 1957. The property on Hawley Boulevard and School Street was purchased in 1956. In 1959 Fred Heather became the pastor. During 1958-60, Edward Goodell served the church as the Associate Pastor.
In 1960 Russell Hetsler became the pastor. In July of 1961 Miss Mary Riddle came to set up a pilot program for Senior Citizens and Vera Schultz was hired as Director of Christian Education. In 1962 Thomas Dillard came to be the pastor. In 1964 the stained glass windows in the sanctuary were dedicated. In 1965 the shelves from the former Carter Hardward Stores were donated and installed in the Thrift Shop and a special offering was taken to aid victims of the Watts Riot in Los Angeles. In 1966 Mary Riddle left San Diego. Non-perishable food was collected for the Metro Good Neighbor Center each month. In 1968 the average attendance was 160, Lyman Ellis came to be the pastor, and the merger with the Evangelical United Brethren Church formed the United Methodist Church. In 1969 the Council on Ministries voted to investigate the cost and legal aspects of providing a Child Care Center for working parents.
Membership in 1970 was 370 and declined to 179 by 1979. During this decade, Sunday School attendance went from 68 to 17. In 1971 our church became a part of the Mid-Metro Parish including six churches. That year also saw the resumption of the playing of the chimes on Sunday. In 1977 Michael Reese-Cowan became the pastor.
In 1980 Burley Howe came to be the pastor. 1983 saw the first Adams Avenue Street Fair, the incorporation of the United Methodist Mid-City Parish with three churches participating (Normal Heights UMC, Park Boulevard UMC, and Wesley UMC), the merger of our church with Albright, and Misty Dunlap came as pastor. During her pastorate, a fire in the Children’s Center did a great deal of damage. That and other events including legal action brought the Children’s Center back under the church’s control and made it a central part of our ministry. In 1984 Dan Smitha came to be the pastor. A Sunday School was started with 3 teachers and 5 students. The Native-Americans started to gather at Normal Heights UMC during his pastorate. In 1989 Gwen Jones-Lurvey and John Lurvey became pastors. During their pastorate, the Eritrean Orthodox Coptic Church and Slavic Evangelical Church were invited to have their worship services at Normal Heights UMC.
In 1994 Timothy Tyner became the pastor. From October 1995, E. Rod Barr, with Ed Hoffman and Marie Wright as assistant pastors, served the church until Bob Lee Isip became the pastor in 1996. During 1997-98, Dr. Michael Williams served the church as the Associate Pastor. The School Annex was built in co-operation with Adams Avenue Business Association on the property of Hawley Boulevard and School Street in 1999. It has been used by John Adams Elementary School. In 2002 Yongwan Kim came to be the pastor. The Children’s Center has been a major ministry of the church. It provides preschool daycare, after school care, and summer program. Currently four congregations provide worship services (Normal Heights UMC, Eritrean Orthodox Coptic Church, Slavic Evangelical Church, and the Native-American Congregation) and other non-profit organizations such as City Moves, Eritrean Community Services, Creative Arts Consortium, and Fern Street Circus are sharing the church’s facilities. AA groups and Homework Nest for the Hispanic children are also providing services for the community.
These last ten years of our shared life in Normal Heights has been a time of both preparing for the future while also celebrating the past. While maintaining who we were in the past, we also began offering new events and groups like movie nights in the park and children play groups. In 2012, Nancy Palmer was hired to plan and organize these events so that the church would deepen its connections with the neighborhood. Rev. Brent Ross was then appointed as pastor here in 2013. The church continues to grow, change and stretch toward the future as we now are thinking and praying about where we will be in the next 100 years!