Wesley United Methodist Church thrives still in San Jose's Japantown
SAN JOSE, Calif. - Wesley United Methodist Church is one of the oldest churches in the South Bay founded by Japanese immigrants. It was established over 125 years ago and is still thriving in San Jose today.
Wesley has grown over time and withstood the test of time. Established in 1895 and founded by Japanese immigrants, the church served as a foundation for what would become San Jose's Japantown, one of three remaining Japantowns in the country.
"I am standing on the shoulders of many, many people who have sacrificed a lot to build up this church," said Pastor John Oda, from Wesley United Methodist Church.
Oda has been senior pastor for less than a year, but he says the legacy of the church and its role in the community is why Wesley has continued to thrive.
"I don’t think they thought about whether this church would be here 125 years later, but I do believe that their intent was to establish something that was going to be long-lasting," Oda said.
Wesley United Methodist Church in San Jose was founded by Japanese immigrants more than 125 years ago. The church is still thriving today.
Wesley started with a small chapel which over the years has been restored and remodeled. The building still has its original framing and stained-glass windows. Now the church has a second sanctuary with space for a choir and praise and worship team, a Fellowship Hall and an Education building.
"I started coming to Wesley because my grandma came here. This space provides different meanings for me. It’s a part of my history, part of my roots. It’s a chance to reconnect with my culture. I’m 4th generation Japanese so I don’t speak the language. I’ve never been to Japan but just being a part of this community has allowed me to love the food and have great friendships and connections with people," said Kelli Martines, Director Of Administration at Wesley.
While presented in English, services at Wesley still include some prayers and songs performed in Japanese. Every fourth Sunday of the month, the church offers service spoken only in Japanese. Director of Administration Kelli Martinez says remembering the foundation of the church has helped them remain focused on serving the community, especially during the pandemic.
"We started this compassion ministry with doing a lot of food distribution, which started off putting together a lot of bags with donated cans from our church members and handing those out in the parking lot. Now we partner with 2nd Harvest Food Bank, and we go every week to St. James Park and we take food there," Martines said.
With about 650 members, Oda says Wesley also prides itself on the diversity of its membership, welcoming people from all walks of life including the LGBTQ+ community.
"I think because we’re in this Japanese American community we really are accepting. The legacy of the internment camp really taught us, and it was very, very hard, but it really taught us a lot, and it’s left a mark of what it feels like to be outcast, to be on the fringes of society and not welcomed by people," Oda said.
Welcoming everyone to Wesley United Methodist Church includes people from all over the world who tune in to services via their YouTube Channel and streaming online. Still gathering as a congregation in San Jose’s Japantown is the glue that keeps them together.
"I think that embracing the differences and the different people here, we’ve just stayed very connected," Martines said.