Earle Lord’s longtime devotion to practicing his faith at the Congregational Church of the Messiah in Westchester can be traced to a special “deal” he made decades ago.
Lord, 85, a Westchester resident since 1950, had not actively attended services at the Westchester church in its early days, as had his wife, Marjorie, and family.
But that all changed when Marjorie became ill several years later and Lord worried that he could possibly lose her. It was then, he remembers, that he looked to a higher power and promised God that if Marjorie got well, he would make sure he went to church to practice his faith regularly.
“At that time I said, if she ever got out of the hospital, I was going to go with her to church,” Lord remembers. “I’ve been to church ever since.”
The couple has now been married for 62 years.
In his decades of attending the Congregational Church of the Messiah, at 7300 Manchester Ave. in Westchester, Earle Lord, who served as a church deacon for 14 years, said the church has been a special place for him and his family.
“It has been wonderful for me,” Lord said.
Earle and Marjorie Lord are two of the longtime congregation members who have looked back on their years at the church as it celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.
The Congregational Church of the Messiah was founded in Arlington Heights in 1907 and was moved to its current site at the corner of Manchester Avenue and Rayford Drive in Westchester in 1954.
The church is a charter member of the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches and Cal-West, the Association of Congregational Christian Churches and Ministers of California and Neighboring States.
Congregation members have recognized the 100-year milestone with services throughout the year, but they marked the anniversary Sunday, May 20th, with a special reunion worship service and buffet luncheon at the church.
Former congregation members and their family and friends were invited to share in the celebration, as well as representatives from the City of Los Angeles and the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches.
Program activities included the signing of the church Covenant by present members and the reopening of the cornerstone, which contains items, including old pictures and the church directory.
As the church observes its 100th anniversary, minister David L. Gray says it allows current members to pay tribute to the people who have been part of the church’s history over the years.
“We’re obviously being reminded that we stand on the shoulders of a whole lot of people who came before us,” said Gray, a Westchester resident who has served as church minister since 1996.
The Rev. Stanley Ross Fisher served as the first minister of the Congregational Church of the Messiah when it was founded on June 27th, 1907. When the church was relocated to its current Westchester site in 1954, Harry Butman began serving as minister, a position he held until 1978.
Early worship was conducted outdoors at a site on 91st Street until the church was completed. Over the years, new structures were added, including the first church school building in 1956, Arlington Hall in 1962 and the Oratorium in 1964.
The congregation currently has about 112 members, far less than the 800 to 1,000 members who attended in the mid-1950s and 1960s, Gray said. Gray and some longtime church members attribute the drop to changes in community demographics, as well as the many families that moved away from the Westchester community during the expansion of Los Angeles International Airport.
Earle Lord noted that he would like to see more people coming to the church, which welcomed five new members at the anniversary service May 20th.
“I wish the church would grow more,” Lord said.
While longtime church members say they have witnessed many different changes occur in their community through the years, they are pleased to see that the church has remained stable and are proud to see it turn 100.
“We’re pleased to be able to hang in there,” said Marianne Lindsay, who has been a church member since 1955.
“I think it’s pretty wonderful, considering we’re a small church,” Helen Peterson said of the anniversary. She has been a church member since 1962.
In addition to offering a place of worship to the various church members, the Congregational Church of the Messiah has also made its facilities available for a number of community functions. Approximately 15 community groups hold meetings at the church, Gray said. The minister says a main factor in keeping congregation members attending throughout the years is that the church “continues to serve the spiritual needs of the people.”
“We are a traditional church so they know what to count on,” Gray said.
For some members, the church has been an influence not only for fulfilling religious needs but for helping to build close relationships among the congregation.
“It has been a family,” Marjorie Lord said.
“We’re very good friends in the church and I think that’s one of the things that have appealed to the people who’ve stayed on for years and years,” Peterson said.