Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
This two-story-high stained glass window on the north wall of the Madera United Methodist Church sanctuary depicts Jesus Christ and events surrounding his life.
Madera United Methodist Church members will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the consecration of their landmark building at 500 Sunset Ave. this weekend with two days of socializing.
Festivities include a potluck on Saturday and a special service on Sunday, as well as a bake sale and tributes to the 1950s.
Consecrated on Oct. 21, 1956, the church was opened for its first service on Aug. 5, 1956, after more than five years of planning, design, fund-raising and construction.
The consecration will be celebrated first on Saturday by a potluck, exhibits and sales of baked goods.
On Sunday, a commemorative service at 10:30 a.m. will be conducted by the Rev. Bert Roper, pastor of Madera United Methodist Church. That service will be followed by celebrating with birthday cake and ice cream in the social hall.
“Methodists love potlucks,” said Nancy Simpson, chair of the event. “They are one of the things we do best.”
Church members and members of the community are invited, Roper said.
Commemorative “bread slice” hand fans will be unveiled at the Sunday service to help people recall the hand-held fans church-goers once used before the days of air conditioning.
The first Methodist church in Madera was dedicated in September 1887 after three years of construction.
“It had the singular honor of being the first Protestant church in Madera,” according to a program published in 1956 for the commemoration of the present building. “From the beginning, it was not only the religious center of Protestant Madera, but it also served as the social center of the community.”
A second Methodist Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church, was erected in 1911. The two congregations eventually merged.
At the end of World War II, when Methodists who had been called to the armed services began to return to the city, the church began to grow, and “it became apparent that additional facilities would be necessary in order to adequately serve.”
On May 28, 1951, the church’s official board approved the purchase of approximately five acres as a site for a new building.
“The site was out in the country at the time,” writes Paul Janzen, in an essay about the construction of the new church. Janzen was a dairyman whose descendants still belong to the church and are active there.
One Saturday, some of the congregants had gone on a caravan tour, looking at sites, none of which was considered large enough or in a proper location. At the end of the tour, “we were very discouraged,” he writes. “The tour was over. We had found nothing suitable.
“As we headed back into town, the lead car stopped along Sunset, opposite where the front door of the church is now. Some of us got out and scrambled up the bank of the big Madera Irrigation District Canal that had weeds on it five feet tall. Hiding behind this was about five acres of land that none of us had ever noticed. The land was all in one piece, an abandoned vineyard on part of it. A big, deep hole was on the west end covering one-fourth of the property.
“The next day, we found out that it was owned by Mr. and Mrs. Frankie Dal Cerro, who lived on the extreme east end of the property. Yes, they had been thinking of selling. So far, they had offers of $20,000 and $25,000, but they felt uncomfortable with these offers, for they were from subdividers who would be building houses there.
“Their offer to us was that if we promised to build a church they would accept $15,000. We agreed to buy at that price. But when it went through escrow, the Dal Cerros asked that it show that we paid $15,000, but write the check for only $14,000. ‘You are good people, and we want to help you,’ they said.”
The Dal Cerros were Catholics.
“It would be over three years before we would even start to build.”
The architect for the church was Charles Darwin James, whose daughter, Kay Mayer, and her husband, Phil, still attend there. She remains active in ministry and music.
James built many churches in the San Joaquin Valley, Mayer said.
The general contractor was Harris Construction of Fresno. That firm two years ago remodeled the building on Falcon Drive that now serves as headquarters for the Madera County Sheriff’s Department.
At the time it was consecrated, Madera Methodist Church had some 300 children in Sunday School.
The sanctuary, at 5,842 square feet, had a capacity of 540 persons. The balance of the church building encompassed another 9,685 square feet. The top of the cross on the steeple is 72 feet above ground level.
The sanctuary is known for its stained glass windows, which are filled with symbols depicting “sermons in windows” in traditional religious art.
The Rev. Edgar H. Bradley was pastor at the time the church was consecrated by Bishop Donald Harvey Tippett.