One Hundred Years of Evangelism: Reedley Full Gospel Celebrates 100 Years

Mar 30, 2013 | 2013 Articles, Hometown History, Jim Bulls, Ministry Musings, Reedley News

by Jim Bulls

In the early 1900s, a great Pentecostal movement started in the Azuza Street Church in Los Angeles, and those called to God set forth on a mission of revivals throughout the United States.

Pastor Lovejoy chose Reedley as a place to start an Open Door Mission ministry. The fledgling congregation first met in the newly rebuilt Reedley Hotel (it had burned in the great fire of 1910 in 1913. By 1917, the congregation had purchased their first church home on E Street, where all were welcome. As the congregation grew in the 1920s, they worshipped at the Reedley Opera House while major renovations were taking place on E Street. No sooner had they moved back into their church building, when they realized the church was still too small. The congregation purchased a lot on the corner of 12th and E Streets to build a new tabernacle.

Open Door Mission--The original Open Door Mission on E Street is now home to the Seventh Day Adventist Church.

The Full Gospel Tabernacle was one of the few churches in the 1920s that accepted women into the clergy. The following women, Sisters Cuba Hill, Irene Watson, and Edna Goodwin all filled the pulpit during the late 1920s.

Sister Goodwin was a famous evangelist, who traveled the United States with her revival tent. Her associate pastor was her husband Carl. During the Goodwin’s stay in Reedley, the church at 12th and E Streets was consecrated, and they aligned with the Assemblies of God. It wasn’t long before the Full Gospel Tabernacle was considered one of Reedley’s major churches.

1st FGT--Home of the first Full Gospel Tabernacle, 12th & E Streets; now home to Fellowship United Methodist Church.

A new parsonage was completed in 1937, and Pastor A.K. Drake and wife moved in. They led the flock from 1937 through 1951. During World War II, 36 gallant young men from the congregation were called into active duty to serve their country. During the war years, Pastor Drake led his congregation in daily prayers and all of those servicemen returned home safely.

Following the war years, the congregation was once again experiencing growing pains and they began searching for a new church home. As it happened, the earthquake codes for California school buildings had recently made the General Grant Junior High School unsafe for school children. A new school was built just south of the original building on East Avenue. The Full Gospel congregation offered to buy the old school building for their tabernacle. This was accomplished in 1953. Finally, the congregation had a building big enough for their growing program.

Full Gospel Tabernacle now

In 1957, Pastor Long and family came to Reedley. Under his leadership, the church mortgage was burned in 1960, the fellowship hall was built in 1963, and the sanctuary was air conditioned.

Under the leadership of the next pastor, Melvin Harrell, the ministry of the Full Gospel Tabernacle began to expand. The annual production of the Passion Play and regular church services were aired over Radio KRDU. The Bartsch ranch was used as a non-denominational outreach known as the Reedley Youth Ranch. A crafts woodshop, art studio and ceramic classes soon followed. Little folks could ride the Happy Day Express. A senior program known as the Prime Timers was also formed.

In the late 1970s, after a succession of pastors, a conflict on church government surfaced and 70 members of the congregation left to form the Community Christian Fellowship Church.

In 1985, Rev. Harrell returned to right the ship (so to speak) and many of his outreach programs were reinstated or revamped and new life was breathed back into the Youth Ranch. The number of youngsters participating in the program reached 450.

For their 100th birthday, the church has been refurbished and painted inside and out. The building has never looked as good as it does today. The Tabernacle is as beautiful inside as it is on the outside. Architecturally, it is as grand as St. Anthony’s down the street, or the First Mennonite Church across town.

The Seventh Day Adventists now meet in the first Open Door Mission building on E Street. The Japanese congregation of the Fellowship United Methodist Church worships in the first Tabernacle on 12th and E streets.

Beginning Easter Sunday, March 31 the Full Gospel Tabernacle Centennial Celebration opens with the conclusion of the film “Journey From Darkness to Light.” On Sunday, April 7, special guest Barry McGuire will at the 10:30 a.m. service. Many years ago, McGuire was saved during a Reedley church revival; he left rock and roll to become a gospel singer. The 6 p.m. service will feature 100 Years of Gospel Music. On Saturday, April 13 the Youth Ranch Reunion will start at 4 p.m. with a ranch supper and country gospel fiddler Dee Johnson and the Baloney Creek Band.

The grand finale will take place on Sunday, April 14, with former pastors, staff, missionaries and guests gathering together to share their reflections and God’s blessings, followed by a BBQ luncheon. Additional information on the centennial activities can be found at

From a United Methodist down the street, I just want to thank the Full Gospel Tabernacle for their Christian outreach, their involvement in the community and for their good people: the friends and classmates I grew up with, the teachers, school custodians and cooks, the folks who worked for the City, Salwassers, our local packing companies and those who have willingly served their country. Happy 100th Birthday and God Bless you all.

For more local and California history articles be sure and check out our Hometown History section.

Jim Bulls is a contributor to our Hometown History section, being a charter member of the Reedley Historical Society; he also restores vintage cars.


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