The first Japanese arrived in Lodi in 1885. Since there was no Japanese community, as such, there seemed to have been no effort to establish any kind of a society or church for themselves. About 1890, however, more immigrants settled in this area and formed a Japanese community. At the turn of the century, Lodi had a Japanese population of about 50, including a few women. Two children were born in 1900 and one in 1901, but, unfortunately, these did not live through infancy. However, a need for some sort of religion was being felt, and about 1903, the people of Lodi individually became members or used the facilities of the Buddhist Church of Sacramento, that was the closest church. However, after the establishment of the Stockton Buddhist Church, the local citizenry associated themselves there from about 1907. When Stockton built a new church in 1924, most Lodi Buddhists became members of the Stockton church.
Because of the distance to Stockton (during the days of poor transportation), there were several attempts to organize the local church group, but were unsuccessful until April 1929. At that time through the efforts of K. Mizuno, K. Tamura, T. Nakagawa, S. Tsusaki, K. Utsunomiya, J. Hiramoto and T. Otani, to mention only a few, the Church was established. Rev. Kensei Nakamura was the first minister, serving from Aug. 1929, to Aug. 1932.
Immediately, with the organization of the Church, a Fujinkai was organized. In 1931, a Young Women’s Buddhist Association also came into existence. One year later, a Young Men’s Buddhist Association was organized with Isamu Sugimoto as its first president. By 1932, the full complement of Buddhist affiliates were operating.
NEW MINISTERS WELCOMED
Rev. Nakamura was succeeded by Rev. Koshun Sasaki in September 1932. He became a great favorite of the youth because he instituted many new programs to interest them. His programs included the expansion of the Sunday School, and he persuaded the Board to purchase a bus to transport students from outlying areas. His influence is still felt today judging from the number of active members. Until his departure in April 1935, he remained a great favorite with the young Buddhists.
The next minister was Rev. Kenshin Iwao, who served from April 1935 to May 1938. At that time he was still single and was known to be a golf enthusiast. He was well-liked for his frankness and honest opinions in all matters.
Rev. Shodo Hirota arrived as the fourth minister in June, 1938. In addition to the usual responsibilities and service to the members, Rev. Hirota and his wife made special efforts to interest the young people in the Church. Mrs. Hirota also spent many hours teaching and encouraging the youth to learn Japanese culture and arts. They were with the Church until October of 1939.
The fifth minister, Rev. Seikaku Mizutani, served from November, 1939, until the evacuation in May, 1942. Upon the return of the Japanese to Lodi, he continued to serve until his transfer to Walnut Grove in July, 1950. Rev. Mizutani’s warmth and quiet dignity were appreciated greatly by the members and everyone who came to know him. Even after his move to Walnut Grove, he maintained a close relationship with the members. After devoting 56 years of ministry in America, he passed away in 1972 in Walnut Grove.
After Rev. Mizutani left Lodi, there was a period of ten months that Lodi was without a regular minister. However, a longtime resident, Seijiro Masui, who in his later years returned to Japan and received a ministerial degree, served as interim minister. S. Masui had always been one of the most earnest members of the Church from its early years.
In May, 1951, Rev. Seimoku Kosaka arrived to serve the church. His coming began a surge of interest in church affairs by the older Nisei members. Rev. Kosaka built great enthusiasm among the young adults and culminated in the building of the new Church in 1955. Rev. Kosaka, in his quiet way, was the catalyst that brought about the successful construction of the new church complex. During his tenure, the operation of church matters, as well as other community affairs, passed from the Issei to the Nisei. Even after Rev. Kosaka’s return to Japan in March, 1955, the majority of the board members continue to be Nisei.
The seventh minister was Rev. Kakumin Fujinaga, who arrived in April, 1955 and served until January, 1960. During his stay, he put into practice many innovations in the Sunday School program that are standard in all churches today.
After Rev. Fujinaga, Lodi welcomed the arrival of Rev. Seijo Onoyama, who endeared himself with the members of the Church. Aided by Mrs. Onoyama, he gave great impetus to the Fujinkai, which had always been the most hard-working group of all the church affiliates. Rev. Onoyama served the church faithfully from February, 1960, until February, 1965, when failing eyesight forced him to retire.
With the assignment of Rev. Akira Ono, the ninth minister, the Church had its first and, thus far, its only English-speaking minister. He established immediate rapport with the young, and greatly increased interest in Buddhism amongst them. Rev. Ono served from March, 1965, to August, 1971.
Rev. Seikan Fukuma, the tenth and present minister, arrived in September, 1971, from the Fresno Betsuin, where his work with choral groups was outstanding. With his advent, interest in the church choral group was intensified, much to the gratification of the church members.
CONSTRUCTION OF NEW CHURCH
During the period of Rev. Kosaka’s stay, coinciding with the visit of Lord Abbot Kosho Ohtani, a Young Adult Buddhist Association (YABA) was organized. Realizing the insufficiency of the old remodeled lumber mill, that had served the membership for almost 25 years, they began a movement to finance a new building program. With youthful enthusiasm, the YABA persuaded the members to make equal pledges payable in five yearly installments. Along with other fund-raising projects, the group soon realized a sum of nearly $20,000. This was felt sufficient to embark on the building plans. Because the old church was in dire need of major repairs, it was decided to start construction immediately. With great vigor, more than two-thirds of the members completed their pledges in two years. Thus the membership was able to finish the Church Complex, which included a minister’s residence, owing only about $20,000 out of a total expenditure of $80,000. The membership quickly paid the balance in two years. This was indeed a triumph for the younger members.
During the late 50’s, with the increase in enrollment of the Sunday School students, space became a problem, and a movement was started to build an annex to the Church with adequate classrooms and utility rooms that could be used by affiliated groups. Again, a pledge system was initiated to finance the project. The project was brought to fulfillment in 1964, when the Annex Building was dedicated.
In order to have sufficient land for further expansion, the Church purchased a 170 x 200 foot lot directly across the street in 1969. At the present time, this is being used as a supplementary parking lot, but plans have been made to pave and fence the lot. The space will also be used for a playground and for the Obon Festival.
In 1971, after the arrival of Rev. Fukuma, it was decided to allow the minister and his family a more normal family life. A residence was purchased, that is located away from the Church.
On November 24, 1973, the Church held one of the most memorable events in its history. The statue of Amida Buddha, acquired from Japan, was enshrined on this day with a day-long dedication program.
The enshrinement of the beautiful statue was highlighted by a special ceremony performed by the ministers and the colorful Chigo procession of 32 boys and girls ranging in ages from 1 to 10 wearing the traditional chigo costumes. This was only the third time that the Lodi Buddhist Church had the Chigo procession.
The Church was honored by the presence of Bishop Kenryu Tsuji who delivered sermons in English and Japanese. He was accompanied by Mrs. Tsuji. Ministers and their wives and official representatives from all Northern California District churches were also in attendance.
Especially heart-warming to the Lodi members was the return of the ministers who formerly served the Lodi church. They were: Rev. Akira Ono, Rev. and Mrs. Seijo Onoyama, Rev. and Mrs. Kakumin Fujinaga, Rev. Seimoku Kosaka, and Mrs. Seikaku Mizutani.
During the Dedication Service, there was also a special offering of light by representatives of the affiliated organizations with Honorary Advisors, Shinkuro Ishida and Rinkichi Tamura, representing the church. The choir under the direction of Rev. Fukuma sang a special number “Mihotoke wa Hohoemite.” Toshimatsu Tsutaoka was chairman of the service.
Of particular significance was the participation of the other elderly Issei Honorary Advisors, including Kaichi Sakoda, Kumakichi Kagawa, Tamotsu Ouye, Ichiji Ito, Teruichi Iwamiya and Toshimatsu Tsutaoka.
The day’s program was successfully concluded with a large banquet followed by a very happy entertainment program. Approximately 375 people attended.
Lodi is distinct in that the great majority of the Japanese population are Buddhists. Of the 275 families, only a limited number are of other religious faiths. However, a very friendly relationship is enjoyed among these groups.
As to the future of the Church, it seems to be in very good hands. The younger Nisei are a dedicated group of Buddhists, and a still younger group is ready to fill in the spaces that may be vacated. The time may soon come when the present facilities become inadequate, but with such able and dynamic leadership among the Nisei and upcoming Sansei, the Church should flourish for a long time.
Reproduced by BCA 75-year History (1974).
Photo of 1954 church dedication and 1934 church members, from BCA 75-year History (1974).