Here's a brief summary of our story as a church in the larger story of Oakland and what God is doing in the world.
In Celebration of the continuing Witness and Mission of
College Avenue Presbyterian Church
Of Oakland, CA
August 21, 1890 – TO THE PRESENT
The First United Presbyterian Church of Oakland was organized as a mission church on August 21, 1890, the culmination of a conversation begun in 1888 in the home of Duncan MacMillan (eventual building contractor for architect Julia Morgan) in the Township of Fruitvale. The Mac-Millan family along with others had been attending Second United Presbyterian Church in San Francisco. Increasingly these families felt motivated to found a United Presbyterian Church in Oakland. These founding families first met in homes, inviting guest pastors to lead them in worship until formally organized as a church in 1890, with 27 charter members.
The Rev. Charles Hanna, of Monmouth, Illinois, was call-ed as the first pastor. In January of 1891 a loan of $6000 was obtained from the Board of Church Extension for the pur-chase of a church lot at 18th & Castro Streets. In April of 1891 the congregation moved from the Harrison Street building (belonging to the Baptist denomination, located on Harrison between 4th & 5th Streets, to a hall in the new YMCA at 12th & Clay Streets).
Dr. M.M. Gibson, of First United Presbyterian, San Francisco, preached the inaugural sermon at the launching of this new congregation on August 21, 1890, now meeting temporarily in a Baptist Church, taking his text from Acts 11:23,
“(Barnabas) Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and
exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord.” [KJV]
The founding Pastor, the Rev. Charles Hanna, impressed the congregation as, “a remarkable man,” for being a 25yr. old, a recent graduate of Xenia Seminary, now appointed as a missionary to the village of Oakland, California as his first “call.” He led those first participants from their house gatherings into a formalized congregation with charter membership and elected leadership. His stay would be short—from September 1890 to December 1890--due to accepting a call from a church in Philadelphia that would begin in January 1891. In addition, he married upon leaving Oakland. The Oakland congregation was shocked to learn just 4 months later that Pastor Hanna had died of some “dreadful disease.”
During the month of April 1894 the congregation met in five different places as the new sanctuary was being constructed under the supervision of building contractor and Ruling Elder, Duncan C. MacMillan.
On the first Sabbath of June 1894, June 3rd, the new church building was dedicated and named the Hanna Memorial Church in honor of its founding pastor. This name continued to appear until 1933. The founding pastor’s father, the Rev. T.H. Hanna, D.D., gave the concluding Dedicatory Prayer at this Service.
On June 24, 1913, Dr. James Francis Ross, of Los Angeles, came to pastor Hanna Memorial Church. During his pastorate a new lot was bought in the Claremont-Rockridge District on College Avenue at Harwood. Construction began even before the Castro Street property had been sold. Julia Morgan was contracted for the architectural design, implemented by her building contractor, Duncan MacMillan. The premise for moving to the new location was motivated by the insight that downtown Oakland was heavily churched, and that a church can do the most good in a residential area, and that the people who need a church most are not the ones who will travel to a downtown church, Since Oakland was expanding Northward and Eastward the College Avenue property was negotiated in 1913. The congregation moved from the down-town location into the present facility on September 23, 1917, eventually followed by a Service of Dedication on November 4th, 1917.
The congregation became self-supporting by April 1, 1927. Begun as a mission church it would take 36 years to become a self-sustaining church. During that time the Board of Church Extension and Home Miss-ions spent $23,307, not including the amount that they would later put into the Sunday School addition (1938) and the gym (1943). It is estimated that approximately $50,000 would never be paid back to the de-
In 1937 the Rev. G. Raymond White was called from Bellaire, Ohio. During his pastorate the church would experience additional growth in numbers as well as in plant expansion. In 1938 a Sunday School wing would be added to the church’s south side, a two-story structure, costing around $30,000. In 1943-44, a gymnasium was constructed on the church’s north side, made possible through the efforts of E.M. Walters and other trustees. A service Center ministry to service men during the WWII years saw an outreach to over 7,000 men in uniform, bedded and boarded at the church by members. Through the lay involvement in this ministry, letters were written to and received from fathers and mothers of men in the service from every state in the Union. Ms. Naomi Van Cleave served as the Director and Hostess of the Center.
In November 1947 the Rev. Lloyd O. Gaut was called to become the next pastor. During his pastorate a new and larger two-story manse was purchased on Harwood Avenue, needed for his family The church continued to expand. Youth activities increased, requiring adding an Asst. Pastor to lead this program. A full-time church secretary also would be hired during this period. At its peak (1960 approx.) church membership topped 500 with an equal number of participants in the Sunday School. With this crush of people, the gym was divided into sections for class space, and even some stores on College Avenue were utilized for additional classroom space. Due to this need for additional facilities, excavation under the sanctuary was begun in 1958, providing needed space for large group activities (at a cost of $50,000). Another out-standing feature of the College Avenue Church during those years was the young adult fellowship group known as “Lighthouse” for young marrieds, formed in 1946, Sheridan Atkinson being it’s dynamic teacher.
In 1958 the United Presbyterians would merge with the larger Northern Presbyterian denomination to form the United Presbyterian Church of America, later to merge with the Southern Presbyterians in 1983 (who had severed ties with the Northern Church in 1867) to form the current Presbyterian Church USA [PCUSA].
Following the beginning exit of the post WWII families to the suburbs in the 1960’s accelerating in the 1970’s, coupled with the abandonment of many businesses along College Avenue, demographic changes ensued as younger families with children moved away for better schools, etc. College Avenue Presbyterian Church would be impacted by this regional and neighborhood phenomenon. The congregation would reflect these dynamics as it proportionately grew older. The time of transition from the post-WWII/Baby Boomer era to the changing environment was in high gear. This change would require new vision, new imagination, new attitudes, and new skills. The Rev. Everett Hezmall was installed as pastor on January 1970, a pastor who took seriously the church’s Mission Study, as well as assessing the changes in the neighborhood as well as the congregation. He concluded that the church could respond to two critical needs, given the changing demographics: an outreach to seniors, and to pre-school parents. Thus two ministries developed in the early 70’s which would grow and last for years: the Senior Activity Center (launched by Patt Schroeder in 1971) and the Sesame Street Parents Co-op. Over time 200+ seniors would participate weekly in the Senior Activity Center (having started with 19 church members), as the pre-
school parent-participant Sesame Street Program grew, as well.
Following the 4 year pastorate of Rev. Hezmall, Rev. Bill Beatty would follow, aware of the reality of the “moving stream” in Rockridge, where ministry would need to be seen as directed toward people in transit-ion who questioned the relevancy of the church. The church would need to see itself as a laboratory for the movement of God. The tendrils of this laboratory would connect CAPC to the surrounding retail and residential communities, to churches and ministries in Oakland which were cross-cultural alongside of concerns for economic development, public education, in addition to international participation, from Guatemala to Nigeria, to Village N. India, Thailand, China and Northern Ireland. All of these focuses (in addition to many more) were nurtured in the spiritual/theological context of calling folk to a love for God, Self, and neighbor fueled by emphasizing God’s love for them, in Christ, where empathy for others is generated.
With the call of our current pastor, the Rev. Monte McClain, comes the Spirit’s further work of fashioning the current congregation to respond to today’s population and issues, that bridges can continue to be built to those whom our Lord is calling to “drop those nets” that keep us from participating in the movement of God, where we’re called to be transformed to “the heart and mind of God,” “Whose thoughts are not our thoughts and Whose ways are not our ways” (Isaiah 55:8-9) calling us “who see and don’t see, and who hear yet don’t hear” in order that we might “perceive and be healed” (Isaiah 6:9-10). Paul would additionally remind us in II Corinthians 5:16-6:2 [Contemporary English Version, 2006]:
“We are careful not to judge people by what they seem to be, though we once judged Christ in this way. Anyone who belongs to Christ is a new person. The past is forgotten, and everything is new.
God has done it all! He sent Christ to make peace between himself and us, and he has given us the work of making peace between himself and others.
What we mean is that God was in Christ, offering peace and forgiveness to the people of this
world. And he has given us the work of sharing his message about peace. We were sent to speak
for Christ, and God is begging you to listen to our message. We speak for Christ and sincerely ask you to make peace with God. Christ never sinned! But God treated him as a sinner, so Christ could make us acceptable to God.
We work together with God, and we beg you to make good use of God’s gift of undeserved grace. In the Scriptures God says, ‘When the time came, I listened to you, and when you needed help, I came to you.’ That time has come. This is the day for you to be saved.”
May we the congregation of College Avenue Presbyterian strive to live-out the essence of this new creation, where we are called to begin living even “now as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10.)