A NEW METHODIST CHURCH FOUNDED
In 1954 Palmdale was primarily a simple desert and rural community that depended on aerospace, ranching, and travelers passing through. At that time four aviation companies were involved in flight testing their supersonic aircraft over the skies of Antelope Valley. Tenth Street West was two beat-up lanes of pavement bordered on both sides by desert brush land. Thinking about future generations, a group of farsighted residents began discussing the growing need for a Methodist church in the small community of Palmdale.
In the spring of 1954 Dr. Fletcher Scharer, district superintendent of the San Bernardino District, visited Palmdale, arriving from San Bernardino on the Southern Pacific train. The local people met him at the depot and showed him what the community could offer a new church if it was established there. Following his visit, people who were interested in forming a church held several meetings in local homes to discuss the situation.
In May 1955 two carloads of residents went to Claremont to the home of Dr. Scharer to talk to him about acquiring a pastor for the fledging church. Also in June 1955 a number of interested residents from Palmdale attended the Annual Conference at Redlands. During this time, a general survey of area residents revealed a projected Methodist population of at least 150-175, and the survey results proved the need for a Palmdale church.
After discussing the location of the church and accepting the offer of a two-acre site by Joe and Ruth Hunt, the Church Extension Committee of the Southern California-Arizona Conference applied to the Committee of the Southern California Council of Churches for permission to allow the Methodists to enter the area. Before this time, North Antelope Valley had been assigned to the Methodists and the South Valley to the Presbyterians. This request to form a Methodist church was granted. When the initial planning started, the Palmdale area was in the San Bernardino District and later moved into the Tri-State District. At the Annual Conference of 1955 the area was placed in the Pasadena District.
Initially the church leaders started discussions with Dr. Scharer and Dr. Trotter; however, the actual administrative planning was finally completed with Dr. Will Hildebrand, District Superintendent of the Pasadena District, and Dr. Frank Williams, executive secretary of the Conference Board of Missions.
It was recognized by the Southern California-Arizona Conference at this time that a sustainable ministry in the southern part of the Antelope Valley was needed. The Lancaster United Methodist Church was already established 10 miles north of the First United Methodist Church of Palmdale’s location, but the Antelope Valley growth and new families related to the growing aerospace industry made this new ministry even more important.
In late November 1955, Rev. Gerad Kaye and his wife came from Arizona to meet with the nucleus of interested residents. Bishop Gerald Kennedy appointed him as minister, and the Kayes took up residence in Palmdale on December 6, 1955.
Pastor Kaye recalled, “The old timers recalled the many jackrabbits loose on the desert. Many people came from down below to participate in the sport of hunting them across the wide expanse of land. Laughingly, a warning was sent out to the hunters to be careful so as to not shoot an aircraft worker. We thought that the population of 10,000 was dense for its time.”
The first service of Palmdale Methodist Church occurred December 18, 1955, at the Hunt Construction Co. Mill on 10th Street West, north of the present church location. The mill interior was quickly turned into a sacred chamber where the minister celebrated the sacraments on a six-foot-long banquet table that was used as an altar and the communion set was placed on top of a band saw. Members donated hangings for the walls, rugs to cover the power tools and the concrete floor, folding chairs and a piano.
Sunday school classes were held in the mill office building, in cars, in station wagons, in buses and in everything that was available. Soon two worship services became necessary along with two Sunday school sessions.
After 22 days of extensive planning and calling, the church organization was formed on January 8, 1956, with 87 charter members. The charter members of the new First United Methodist Church of Palmdale chose the following scripture as their guiding light: “Make straight in the desert a highway for God.” Isaiah 40:3. It has continued to be an inspiration to the church family.