Bearing Witness by Gale Williams

My family and I joined FUMC SM after we arrived in 1946 from our farm in Nebraska where we were Methodist. We attended church services at 4th and Arizona until we moved into our new church on 11th Street.

Some early memories include:

In the late ’40s, Mildred Stewart was superintendent of Sunday school classes and occasionally taught my class. In Junior High, I joined the MYF that met on Sunday Evenings in the basement.

When the families in the 50-50 Class had outings, we kids would be there, too, having fun. For example, once a year we went to China Town to feast on Chinese food. Other outings included church picnics.

I grew up listening to Kenny Carlson who always had a joke to illustrate his message. On Easter morning, we had 3 services with extra chairs down each outside aisle. And at times, he held Easter service in the civic auditorium that held over 2000.

In junior high MYF, we had Ralph and Marilyn Hedges as counselors. And in high school MYF we had Dick Rowe as counselor and Mildred Stewart as youth minister.

My mental picture of the ground breaking for our new church in 1952, at 11th and Washington shows church leaders, including Roy Naylor, Fred McNairy, Maurice Buerge and others, with shovels in hand. I even got to scoop a shovel of dirt with my father George after the main event.

Every Sunday, I sang in the younger choir that was the regular choir for the 9:00 AM Church service. Fred Swan brought great music to the service and always made our rehearsals fun along with preparing us to do well.

In addition, I sang and rehearsed with the Concert Chorale, a select group of singers under the direction of Fred Swan, for two hours every Sunday afternoon. We performed serious music and learned a lot about the classics and how hard work paid off to perform high quality performances. We performed for special events around town and we made life-long friends.

In the ’50s, we had square dances in the social hall and volleyball every week. Serving as President of the MYF leadership, I learned to plan, organize, coordinate and run MYF programs which provided useful life skills.

The FUMC-sponsored Boy Scout Troop 67 was a major part of my youth. Our Boy Scout Troop 67 met in an old converted house on 16th Street owned by FUMC on lots filled with big pine trees that were perfect for orienteering and other scouting skills. These very valuable lots were sold to help finance building our new church in 1952. After moving to 11th Street, we met in the basement room built and provided for our Troop 67, and that’s where I attained the Eagle Rank. I’ve actively supported scouting and served our church as the church and Troop Charter Organizational Representative for over 20 years.

On the way home from Lake Tahoe Church camp in 1956, I had a car accident that left me a quadriplegic. My faith in God gave me the strength and courage to face my new life with severe limitations. My friends at church gave me the support that carried me through these hard years of my youth.

After my accident, I went to Millie Stewart with my frustration of paralysis of most of my body saying, “What am I going to do now?” She said, “I have an idea for you.” She wanted me to give to others. She asked me to teach 7th grade Sunday School class. Reluctantly, I said OK and asked how many 7th graders I should expect. She said, “Oh about a dozen.”

On my first day of class, I was sitting in my wheelchair at the age of 19 watching the 7th graders come in and sit down. A dozen kids entered then another dozen entered — then there were 30 kids —then there 36 before they all arrived. They looked at me in dead silence not sure what to make of me. They turned out to be at good class and for 7th graders they listened, participated and learned about our faith and about a person in a wheelchair. But I think I learned as much as they did — I learned about myself and how to relate to others in spite of my severe limitations.

Mildred Stewart taught me that when you hit bottom, the answer is to give to others and it has proven to be true for me.

I was invited to help counsel the 7th to 9th grade UMYF on Sunday evenings where I worked with the perfect partner, Terry King, for nearly 5 years and we found great satisfaction helping young people mature through these challenging years. We usually had about 40 youth but on one summer Sunday evening we had 70 junior high students in our closing circle on the balcony over the social hall. I helped show the youth how my faith worked for me and in turn how their faith in God could help guide them through rough times. I built life-long friends with these students.

I served in numerous capacities over these 68 years in Santa Monica FUMC: Finance Committee, Audit subcommittee, Loans and Scholarships Committee Chair, Lay Leader, FUMC Board of Trustees Vice President, Methodist Foundation, and our Church’s BSA Charter Organizational Representative.

This Church has been central in my life; it has carried me through my most difficult life challenges and has given my extended family a major direction in their lives.

This article originally published August 2015 Sentinel – “Bearing Witness – Stories of believing and belong at First UMC Santa Monica”

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