Santa Cruz County History - Religion & Spirituality

Santa Cruz Spirituality: Christian Endeavor Societies
by Paul Tutwiler

Santa Cruz Sentinel-News reporter Ernest Otto's posthumous column, "Old Santa Cruz," on January 29, 1956 stated that the Santa Cruz Chinese and Japanese Christian Endeavor Societies were the first of their kind in the country.

General background

The story behind Otto's assertion starts in Portland, Maine, in 1881, when the first Christian Endeavor Society was organized by Congregationalist Pastor Francis E. Clark. Clark's purpose was to encourage religious fervor and to bolster the capacity of leadership among the youth of his congregation. The pledge he devised was not negative, to swear off this or that, but positive, to accomplish good. A shortened version of the original pledge, still in use, is, "Trusting in the Lord, Jesus Christ, for strength, I promise Him that I will try to do whatever He would like to have me do; that I will pray to Him and read the Bible everyday, and that, just so far as I know how, throughout my whole life I will try to lead a Christian life." (The original text of the pledge is in Frank Otis Erb, The Development of the Young People's Movement, p. 53. The current version quoted here is from 2007.)

Local Christian Endeavor Societies harnessed the imagination and energy of the young people of the congregation. In particular, they typically had numerous committees, such as Devotional, Social, Temperance, Missionary, Sunday-school, Visiting, Flower, Good Citizenship, and Literature. (George W. Mead, Modern Methods in Church Work, p. 119) Furthermore,

The Society of Christian Endeavor in addition to the regular work of the committees does a vast amount of missionary and philanthropic work. Among the sailors and light-house keepers, Bibles, helpful literature, and comfort bags are annually distributed. Some societies have opened parlors for men and boys; others do active work in the hotels in distributing invitations to the meeting of the Society and other services of the church; others have instituted savings-banks; still others have opened newspaper exchanges for the interchange of religious reading. Some societies band themselves into 'working circles' to help in the general work of the church. (Mead, Modern Methods, p. 120)

The Christian Endeavor Society was not the only generically Protestant church youth group to flourish in the late 1800s. There were also temperance groups, the YMCA, the Epworth League, the Baptist Young People's Union, and others. Christian Endeavor, however, stood out because of its general appeal to many denominations and the genius of its founder in promoting it. (Erb, The Development of the Young People's Movement, pp. 52-87)

This Christian Endeavor phenomenon did not just grow, it exploded: by 1895 it had 2,473,740 members in 41,229 local societies! (1)

The annual conference of 1897 was held in San Francisco. Francis E. Clark himself in his book, World Wide Endeavor, reports that when its organizers told the railroads that 10,000 people would come over the plains and mountains in their trains, the railroads responded that 5,000 would be enough to justify special rates. Clark goes on to say that nearly 40,000 rode those trains, and that total attendance was about 300,000. (Clark, World Wide Endeavor, Chapter LXIII, pp. 549-561, "California '97.") Amos Wells, however, in Expert Endeavor, states that "nearly 30,000 delegates attended, half of them from the East." (Amos Wells, Expert Endeavor, p. 19) Perhaps there is merely imprecision in one or the other of these counts of people coming from the East, and there may have been great numbers of non-delegate Californians in attendance.

In Santa Cruz

According to the "ORIGINAL HISTORY," of the Santa Cruz First Congregational Church, the first Christian Endeavor Society in Santa Cruz was organized on January 22, 1887 in the First Congregational Church. (The "ORIGINAL HISTORY" of the Santa Cruz Congregational Church, written in 1897, is reprinted on page 35 and following of A Century of Christian Witness. The fact cited here is on p. 40. On pages 115 and 116 A Century of Christian Witness adds numerous details about the Christian Endeavor Society of the Santa Cruz Congregational Church, such as the names of prominent members. It relates, too, that "the 15th Annual Convention of the California Christian Endeavor Union was held in our church in 1902, [June 25-29]")

The "ORIGINAL HISTORY" adds that the Christian Endeavor Society of this church organized societies in Soquel, Bonny Doon, and Highland. (A Century of Christian Witness, p. 40) I have no further details about these societies except that in the Soquel Congregational Church the Christian Endeavor Society was active around 1890 and continued active at least through 1932; (The Story of the Little White Church in the Vale; Soquel Congregational Church. Not paginated.) and in 1894 "Ten of the Endeavorers from the Congregational church of this city [Santa Cruz] went to Bonny Doon Sunday morning and held service for the purpose of organizing a Christian Endeavor society." (Santa Cruz Surf, July 10, 1894) Lastly, the title of an unidentified local newspaper clipping of April 26, 1929 states that "Christian Endeavor Society of Felton [probably associated with the Presbyterian church] Holds Annual Election." There must be a great deal of information in church archives about Christian Endeavor Society activity in Santa Cruz from the 1890s through the middle of the twentieth century.

Returning to Ernest Otto's statement about the Chinese and Japanese Christian Endeavor Societies, one finds additional information from Rev. Clark about the 1897 conference in San Francisco:

A few lines should be devoted to the State meetings held on Saturday night, July 11. Gracious and delightful receptions were accorded to many State delegations by their hospitable hosts of the different churches of San Francisco. Owing to the large Chinese and Japanese population of San Francisco the Endeavorers of these two nationalities held separate rallies which were of very great interest and entirely unique, I believe, in the annals of Christian Endeavor conventions in America. (Clark, World Wide Endeavor, p. 559)

From Rev. Clark's account it is clear that there were some, perhaps numerous, Chinese and Japanese Christian Endeavor Societies in San Francisco in 1897.

From the "ORIGINAL HISTORY" section and subsequent pages of A Century of Christian Witness, we know, too, that the Santa Cruz Congregational Chinese Mission was established in 1881, that as of 1897 it had its own church in Chinatown, that 29 Chinese had been received into it by 1897, and that by 1892 it had a Christian Endeavor Society. (A Century of Christian Witness, pp. 39-40 and 211-212) In 1896 the Santa Cruz Congregational Japanese Mission was organized and, in the same year, 1896, it had a Christian Endeavor Society of its own. By 1897 seven Japanese had been received into the Japanese Mission, although it does not seem that it had a separate church structure for itself. (A Century of Christian Witness, pp. 39-40 and 211-212)

The "ORIGINAL HISTORY" states unequivocally that the Chinese and Japanese Christian Endeavor Societies founded in Santa Cruz were the first of their kind in the United States. Ernest Otto, a member of the committee which wrote the "ORIGINAL HISTORY," clerk of the church from 1893 to 1950, was the same Ernest Otto who later wrote about it for the newspaper.

The Congregational Chinese Mission membership suffered decline over the years, and its mission church building was torn down in 1920. (Sandy Lydon, Chinese Gold. Capitola, California: Capitola Book Company, 1985, p. 439)

A Christian Endeavor Society in a Japanese congregation was established in 1923 in the Watsonville Westview Presbyterian Church, where it flourished until World War II. This congregation, which began in 1898 as a Methodist mission and became the Watsonville Japanese Presbyterian Church in 1909, is still active. (Westview Presbyterian Church: 90th Anniversary. 1898-1988. Watsonville, evidently 1988, pp. 3,4,5,22)


  1. Francis Clark, World Wide Endeavor, pp. 524-525.
    Although there are many secondary sources concerning the development of the Christian Endeavor movement, I have not been able to locate a comprehensive historical study of it. For the early years, Francis Clark's own World Wide Endeavor is rich in details that put the society in a positive light, but it ends in 1897. Amos R. Wells's Expert Endeavor is also useful for facts about the society up to 1911. I was not able to find a copy of Worldwide Christian Endeavor by Arno Pagel, copyright 1981, which is cited on the website of Christian Endeavor Pennsylvania.


A Century of Christian Witness: History of First Congregational Church Santa Cruz, California. Santa Cruz: First Congregational Church, 1963.

Christian Endeavor Pennsylvania. Christian Endeavor — Mid Atlantic. 2007.

Clark, Francis E. World Wide Endeavor: The story of the Young People's Society of Christian Endeavor from the beginning in all lands. Oakland, California: Occidental Publishing Company, c. 1897.

Endeavor: The Youth-Led Ministry Movement. Christian Endeavor International. 2007.

Erb, Frank Otis. The Development of the Young People's Movement. Diss. University of Chicago. University of Chicago Press, 1917.

Mead, George W. Modern Methods in Church Work: The Gospel Renaissance. New York: Dodd, Mead and Co., 1897.

The Story of the Little White Church in the Vale; Soquel Congregational Church. Soquel, 1964.

Wells, Amos R. Expert Endeavor; A Text-book of Christian Endeavor Methods and Principles. Boston and Chicago: United Society of Christian Endeavor, 1911.

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