History of the United Methodist Church in the Eastern Sieirra
In 1866, Captain John Devin and his wife, Annie, moved to Fort Independence. Captain Devin was the commander of the Fort until 1869. Meanwhile, Annie started a Sunday School for the local children, ordering full-color lithograph bible cards from New York to aid in her teaching. By 1871, a Methodist pastor was requested, and on October 26, 1871, the deed in trust was signed for the first property owned by the Methodist Church in the Eastern Sierra – the same property where our sanctuary stands today. We are grateful to a Jewish member of the Independence community, Isaac Harris, who donated this land for use as a place to worship God.
What are now three congregations (Big Pine, Bishop, and Independence) were once a single circuit of more than 11 locations (including mines, camps, tribes, and other rural communities) from Round Valley and Benton in the north to Cerro Gordo in the south.
Our first pastor, Rev. Orne, traveled a circuit the stretched from Round Valley all the way down to Keeler … first by foot, then by horseback, and later by a two-horse buggy. He visited each worship location once per month to preach and share the sacraments. During the rest of the month, lay persons worked together to care for one another and share God’s love and the Good News of Jesus Christ with their neighbors. It was truly a cooperative ministry that cared for all the people in the Eastern Sierra.
A few decades later, one pastor spent his “free time” building on to the old parsonage with his own two hands. Later, another pastor moved here from England, only to find the parsonage bare – not a stick of furniture! Within three days, the congregation had furnished the entire house for him and his family. When times were hard, pastors’ salaries were paid in chickens and eggs and honey. There were times during the Great Depression when the church had weekly offerings of $1 or $2. It was through the prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness of the committed big and small, that the Methodist communities in the Eastern Sierra were formed and nurtured – and they continue to share God’s love in meaningful ways today in much the same way.
After functioning as separate ministries for many years, the United Methodist congregations in the Eastern Sierra decided to return to our roots. Over the previous years, we have spent time discerning together how God is calling us to work intentionally and creatively with our sister churches in Big Pine and Bishop, in order to be more effective in mission and ministry with one another and be better stewards of the resources with which we have been entrusted. With hope and trust we laid the foundation for many more years of faithful, vital ministry, both here in Independence and throughout the Eastern Sierra, with a plan for moving forward in Shared Ministry.
The plan was shared, discussed, and unanimously approved by lay and clergy representatives of the Big Pine Community UMC, Bishop UMC, and Pioneer Memorial UMC at our shared church conference on Saturday, November 8, 2014.
In this way, we will continue to faithfully love and serve God and neighbor throughout the Eastern Sierra as we journey forward together into the bright future that God has in store for us. Working together, we will ensure that the ministry that our ancestors prepared and modeled for us will continue to flourish and thrive. The 150th anniversary of Methodist ministry in the Eastern Sierra was October 26, 2021, and we look forward to vital, meaningful ministry continuing for many more years!