It was a cool, very damp December in 1913 when W.W. DeWhitt, and his wife and children, arrived in Sacramento, CA. The Church of God Reformation Movement was still a fledgling effort established by D.S. Warner in 1881. The focus of the movement was to call all Christians to unity under the cross of Christ and to a life of holiness under the banner of the Holy Spirit and the Bible. By the early 1900s, “flying messengers”, as traveling Church of God preachers were often called, were crisscrossing the country planting congregations. It was during this exciting time of growth that W.W. DeWhitt, and his wife, felt the call of God to establish a Church of God congregation in Sacramento.
Shortly after arriving, the DeWhitts distributed copies of the Gospel Trumpet (the national monthly publication of the Church of God) and started having meetings in their home on X Street in early 1914. The Word continued to spread through ongoing weekly meetings and a tent revival in 1915. God blessed the new work and numbers quickly outgrew the DeWhitt’s residence, forcing them into rented facilities through the 1920s. This continued until the congregation was able to acquire property at 18th Street & Burnett where the Homeland Chapel facility was built. The building was dedicated on January 31, 1932 and the First Church of God was formally incorporated that same year. The congregation remained at the Homeland Chapel location for twenty years until further growth required a final move to our current location on 58th Street where the first phase of the facilities were dedicated in 1954.
Over the years, there have been number of significant contributors to the work at First Church. From the earliest days with the DeWhitts, Amelia Sprock Giesser (mother to Don and Lorene Giesser) was heavily involved in helping distribute Gospel Trumpets, teaching Sunday School, and working with the National Women’s Missionary Society. Probably the most famous contributor to the work was Rev. A.L. Byers. Rev. Byers was a well-known pastor, historical writer, and composer/musician. He is credited with no less than 25 songs in the current Worship the Lord: Hymnal Church of God. He was also the author of the book Birth of a Reformation: The Life and Labors of D.S. Warner, chronicling the first 40 years of the movement. Another famous personage was Dwayne Bell, who became president of Arlington College, a Church of God school, which would later become part of Azusa Pacific University.
First Church has also been, and continues to be, very outward focused. During WW 1, the Women’s Missionary Society made bandages for the war effort. In WW 2, ten young men served in various branches and theaters of the military, three of whom gave their lives. First Church has also been heavily involved in local and international outreach efforts.
Locally, we have hosted an evangelistic radio program, worked with Union Gospel Mission in ministering to the homeless, maintained a thriving bus ministry, planted new ministries, and monetarily supported our youth attending Christian colleges. We have also provided consistent monetary support to both the state and national organizations of the Church of God.
Internationally, First Church has supported missionary and relief efforts around the world. Year after year, First Church, through the leadership of the Women’s Missionary Society and the modern day Missions Committee, has raised significant funds for use in mission efforts. Some of these efforts include missionaries on the field, support of children in third world countries, and the immigration of families and individuals to the U.S.
Currently, First Church is supporting the international efforts of the Shipleys who are involved with bible translation through Wycliffe Bible Translators, Church of God Missionaries Daniel & Christy Kihm in Holland, and Children of Promise. Domestically, we are supporting Jim & Debbie Rumelhart through Athletes In Action, Love, Inc. and the Alternatives Pregnancy Center.
In addition to funding mission efforts, First Church has been a source of direct ministry to the larger church and the world. First Church has always been source of pastors and missionaries. At last count, there have been 40+ sent out to serve in full or part time ministry. Additionally, some larger ministries also have their roots here at First Church. In the late 1990s, God called Arlene Campbell to minister to the local Ukrainian community. Eventually, this grew into an international effort of supporting a fledgling free Ukraine, just emerging from the USSR, with tons of clothing, medical supplies, and medical equipment. Another ministry that has its roots at First Church, though no longer associated with us directly, is the Bob and Rosalie Vierra Mexican Ministry. Over the past 8 years, this ministry has sought to minister to the poorest of the poor with clothing, equipment, and building projects in Mexico. They also have a significant outreach to local children through an annual VBS program to engage the local community with the gospel.
In short, God has been working through First Church to glorify Jesus Christ for 100 years! We give Him all the glory for what has been accomplished and we look forward to where He will lead us in the next 100 years. May we be found faithful for the path ahead! Amen!