AAPI Heritage: Wesley United Methodist Church thrives still in San Jose's Japantown

May 18, 2023 | by Admin

AAPI Heritage: Wesley United Methodist Church thrives still in San Jose's Japantown

Wesley UMC pastor John Oda with one of the church's newest members.

Editor's note: This story by LaMonica Peters was first posted on KTVU, San Jose regional Fox affiliate on May 16.

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 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.   

Click here to read the full story and watch the video produced by KTVU.