Sanctuary

For a century this inner-city church has served as a refuge. But its most important mission has always been outside the walls.

The news hit him like a bolt of lightning, but Barry didn't stop. He walked out into the bright sun and stood blinking on the porch. He couldn't say that he'd loved his father; he'd been hit too hard, too often. It would be fifteen years, during which Barry became a father with a son of his own, before he would recognize what his father's death meant to him and be able to weep for the loss.

But on the day he heard the news, Barry buried the hurt and ran after his friends.

Before long the Three Stooges had graduated to burglary. To compensate for any guilty consciences, the boys played Robin Hood. If they took a crate of salmon or cases of candy bars from a boxcar on Blake Street, half the neighborhood would be eating fish and chocolate the next day.

Related Stories

More About

As his criminal activities increased, Barry felt torn between two worlds as distinct as downtown Denver and Five Points. At times he wondered where life was taking him, frightened that his current course was certain to lead to death or prison. Scared, he prayed to a God he wasn't sure he believed in. Other days, though, he saw that it was the tough guys, the guys with money and guns and reputations, who got respect. They didn't seem scared of anything--except maybe each other. Barry decided to be just like them.

He was off to a good start. At fifteen, Barry had been in and out of juvenile detention dozens of times. The cops would catch him, and as soon as the guards turned their backs, he'd be off and running back to the streets. Forty-three escapes--it had to be some kind of record.

Then one day in 1972, he heard that some teenage boys from a rival block had been messing with some of the local girls. For Barry, it was an opportunity to earn a rep. As night fell, he took a five-gallon can of gasoline over to a dance hall at 30th and Stout, where the rival teenagers were partying in an upstairs room. Quickly he poured the gasoline partway up the stairs, then lit a match and tossed it on the fuel. He was running out the door as the flames shot through the wooden structure.

That night, Barry was lucky. The teens in the dance hall were able to escape through an upstairs window; miraculously, no one was killed or seriously hurt--including Barry's sister who, unknown to him, had been among those partying in the room.

Barry was awakened by a flashlight in his eyes: the police. By the time he saw the judge, he'd had time to think about what could have happened that night, how close he'd come to killing someone and ruining his own life in the process. "You better lock me up tight, or I'll run," he told the judge.

The judge obliged Barry by sentencing him to two years at the Lookout Mountain state reformatory. When he finally arrived there, he was given a number that would follow him for the rest of his life. Number 74623. 74 was for 1974. He was the 623rd prisoner that year.

In 1935 the German Methodists offered the building at 25th and California to another immigrant congregation in need of larger facilities: the Japanese Methodist Episcopal Church.

The first Japanese Methodist mission in Denver had been formed just after the turn of the century by lay preacher Hamanosuke Shigeta, a restaurateur by trade, according to Andrew Cleary, who wrote a history of his church, Simpson United Methodist, in 1984. With an estimated 600 Japanese living in the city, Shigeta began by opening a Christian boardinghouse for "Japanese strangers," which soon developed into a house of worship.

The struggling Japanese congregation, which at one point numbered only three adults and ten children, bounced from location to location until it finally moved into a large house at 2801 Curtis Street in 1920. Services were held in the front two rooms--a living room and dining room--while the rest of the home served as the parsonage.

Fifteen years later the rapidly expanding congregation needed more space and agreed to purchase the church building at 25th and California. The Japanese were led into their new church by Reverend Seijiro Uemura, a short, portly pastor who'd arrived in Denver in 1929 with his wife and children, who by the time of the move numbered eight. Like William Velte before him, Uemura was a much-loved minister.

"He was a gregarious man," says his daughter, Maggie Cleary, who was eleven when the family moved to Denver from Portland. "A happy person, who read a lot...almost bookwormish, but he also loved being around people."

Some of Maggie's earliest memories are of accompanying her father to the rough waterfront of Portland, where he would stand on a box preaching. "I mostly just sat and watched," she recalls. "I could do that for hours. I loved him very much."

Her mother, Hana, was a "picture bride" from Japan. Well-educated in the arts at a school run by French-Canadian missionaries, she proved an enormous asset to her husband's services. Although based at the Denver church, the pastor's mission extended to Japanese communities from Wyoming to Nebraska to southern Colorado and included truck farmers and railroad workers.

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
6
 
7
 
8
 
9
 
10
 
11
 
12
 
13
 
14
 
15
 
16
 
17
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
Loading...