On February 17, 1889 a small prayer group began to meet on a regular basis in the home of Mr. And Mrs. Henry Hommanger. The Hommangers resided at 759 Seventh Street. These faithful believers formed the small pool of members who formally founded Beth Eden Baptist Church as a mission of the American Baptist Churches (formerly the Northern Baptist Convention). In addition to the Hommangers, the other founders were: Mr. Sam- uel A. Jones, Mrs. E. A. Cole (church clerk), Mr. Henry Patterson and Mr. John Massengale (Sunday School Superintendent).
Beth Eden was founded April 20, 1890. Reverend George Gray, grandfather of the then Honorable Clinton W. White, Presiding Judge of the California State Court of Appeals First District, be- came the first pastor. Born in Mississippi, Rev. Gray served very briefly. He resigned prior to the end of 1890 ostensibly over a difference in the interpretation of church doctrine. There were three distinct groups in the early congregation at the time that Rev. Gray became pastor. Two were the more conservative fac- tions who believed in the reserved, quiet church service. The third, the more liberal faction, was more demonstrative in their approach to worship service.
Ever hastening forward, Beth Eden survived and flourished. Those members who left Beth Eden followed Rev. Gray who subsequently established Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church. Ebenezer operated from 1890 – 1894.
On October 15, 1891 Beth Eden filed its Articles of Incorporation with the State of California. Officially recognized by the State, the church continued its mission to preach the gospel and to save souls for Jesus Christ.
The second pastor of Beth Eden was Rev. Robert Alexander McQuinn. Building on the pioneering spirit of Rev. Gray, Rev. McQuinn developed a reputation as a civil rights activist and a champion of his people.
In an article published in “The Elevator,” the newspaper of the day, Rev. McQuinn was described as always ready to come to the defense of the colored people by taking his pen in hand and writing responses to attacks from any source, on the integrity of the black community. Interest in Beth Eden grew and the church’s membership increased. In 1894, Rev McQuinn re- signed and departed for the Eastern United States.
Beth Eden moved its location several times since its inception. The Church first used a site located on Seventh Street near where the Hommangers lived. Next, it moved to California Hall to hold its worship services. While renting California Hall, mem- bers were asked to contribute money toward the purchase of a permanent site. One thousand dollars was soon raised and Beth Eden bought a house at 169 Sixth Street. This house, which served as a chapel and parsonage, was the church’s lo- cation for the next eight years.
In 1895, Reverend James L. Allen was called to serve as the third pastor Beth Eden. He was from El Paso, Texas. Dur- ing the six years Rev. Allen served, Beth Eden continued its steady progress. He left Beth Eden in 1901 and relocated in Oregon. In 1917, he returned to the Bay Area and founded Allen Temple Baptist Church of Oakland. Although sixteen years had passed since Rev. Allen served at Beth Eden, the church’s reputation as “Mother Church” and oldest Black Baptist Church in Alameda County was strengthened because one of its pas- tors had formed another church after serving as pastor of Beth Eden.
In 1901 Beth Eden purchased a building from the Swedish Mission Congregational Church. Located on Filbert Street in West Oakland, this building served as the sanctuary and church until 1925.
From 1901 to 1907 there were a series of pastoral changes at Beth Eden. None of the pastors stayed longer than 3 years. John W. Dwelle served for six months during 1902; John Charles Colyar (Beth Eden’s only Caucasian min- ister) served from 1902 to 1903; John Allen was pastor in 1903, James Dennis was minister from 1903 to 1904, and Francis T. Walker served from 1904 to 1907. Rev. James A. Dennis, after leaving Beth Eden in 1904, continued the “Mother Church” tradition by becoming the pastor of the new North Oakland Baptist Church that was established in 1905.
A period of stability in the church’s leadership began in 1907, when Rev. Samuel W. Hawkins became pastor. Rev. Haw- kins served from 1907 until 1920. While he was pastor, Beth Eden witnessed the tragedy of World War I and the expanding oppression of Black people through the nation. In spite of these conditions the church remained intact and grew spiritu- ally. Its membership increased to one hundred and fifty. Rev. Hawkins remained pastor of Beth Eden until Rev. John Hub- bard was called to serve in 1921.
The Reverend John Paul Hubbard, Beth Eden’s 10th pastor, was from Clarksburg, West Virginia. Poet and Scholar he has the dis- tinction of serving Beth Eden longer than any other pastor in his- tory. Rev. Hubbard was pastor for 34 years from 1921 – 1955. Under his leadership, Beth Eden in 1925, moved to the site lo- cated at tenth and Magnolia Streets. The church building was purchased for $12,000.000 from the Swedish Baptist Church. In 1925 Beth Eden also purchased income property on Fourteenth Street. In the same year the “Chronicle” was first published, and it continues to the present as the church’s bulletin today.
The “Grand Opening” of the new church took place August 17th- 23rd, 1925 and was an exciting moment in Beth Eden’s history with a week of evening services. During these services the con- gregation reflected on the journey Beth Eden had traveled since its early beginnings. Five years later on November 24, 1930 while celebrating its 40th anniversary, Beth Eden completed pay- ment of the $12,000.00 and “burned its mortgage.” This was a year after the onset of the Great Depression.
During the last five years of the “Roaring Twenties” (1925-1930), Beth Eden had experienced what E. A. Daly publisher and editor of “The California Voice”, described “as the most outstanding pe- riod of achievement in the history of the church.” Some of the most significant achievements he listed were “...audience contri- butions collected while remaining seated... (previously the offer- ing was collected by the audience walking up to deposit the con- tributions).. Quarterly business meetings, adoption of the group system...(the identification of various groups of members within the church who would provide support for specific church pro- jects and activities)... Organization of the Junior Church, and ... establishment of the offering preceding the sermon.” The aver- age amount of contribution collected during 1929 was $500 per month.
Although the church prospered Beth Eden experienced a major tragedy. In the afternoon of January 24, 1939, a five-alarm fire engulfed sections of the church’s structure. The resilient mem- bership rebuilt the portion of the building partially destroyed by fire. A new Education wing to accommodate increased mem- bership and Sunday School attendance was added. In 1945, as a consequence of continuing membership growth, Beth Eden constructed other additions to the church. The cost was $60,000. In that same year (1945), World War ll ended and Beth Eden assisted the community in making the transition from wartime to the peace and prosperity which followed.
The Board of Christian Education organized by a young semi- nary student, Marcella Ford, Ph.D., is one of the major organs at Beth Eden. Since its inception in 1939, the Board has used various means to accomplish its mission of providing secular and religious education in all experiences to the church membership.
After Rev. Hubbard passed in 1955 a disagreement de- veloped over the selection of his successor. The disagreement resulted in a lawsuit filed by the Beth Eden Pulpit Selection Committee. Ultimately, as a result of a ruling by the Alameda County Superior Court, Rev. Alvin Chester Dones of Denver, Colorado, was confirmed by the congregation as Beth Eden’s eleventh pastor. The members of the Pulpit Selection Commit- tee, who believed Rev. Dones at 63 was too old to pastor, wrote another chapter in Beth Eden’s history as “Mother Church” by leaving in 1956 to form Church of the Good Shepherd in North Oakland.
Under Rev. Dones’ leadership, Beth Eden helped to pro- vide spiritual sustenance for the Oakland community. The pio- neer spirit that marked the church continued. More property was purchased and membership and committee involvement flourished. The most noteworthy accomplishment during this time was the formation of the Beth Eden Housing Corporation. (The Housing Corporation later built 54 units of affordable hous- ing for Oakland’s senior citizens). The church also hired an As- sistant Pastor to help the Pastor and to serve as the full-time Director of the influential Board of Christian Education.
As the walls of segregation were tumbling across the na- tion, cries of “Black Power” were soon to be heard in West Oak- land streets and throughout the world. The Vietnam War had many asking “Why?”, and a ferment of distrust swept through the nation following riots, civil unrest, and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and At- torney General Robert Kennedy. Throughout this period, Beth Eden, like a might army, remained a strong fortress of hope for the faithful seeking God’s grace.
During the upheavals of the 1960’s and early 1970’s, Beth Eden continued growing and standing on faith. While the “establishment” was being battered by change, and even as the sexual revolution was redefining male-female roles, men were landing on the moon, and the Vietnam War was ending, Beth Eden continued as a stabilizing influence in a community coping with these tremendous changes.
In 1971, the church selected its twelfth and present minister, Dr. Gillette O. James. He was 35 years old. Ironi- cally, some members who believed in 1956 that Rev. Dones was too old at the age of 63 to pastor, now objected to Rev. James because he was, at age 35, too young to serve.
The only foreign born pastor in the history of Beth Eden, Rev. James was born in 1935 in the West Indies on the Island of Dominica. He is the first son of the late Rev. Samuel James, and Ethelyn James. His father was police officer and Baptist minister. Rev. James graduated from the University of San Francisco along with his wife, Rosa, in 1968. He received his Masters degree in 1970 and his Doctoral degree in 1976 from Berkeley Baptist Divinity School (later named the American Baptist Seminary of the West). Under his practical and visionary leadership, en- hanced multinational background and tireless work, Beth Eden grew in size and stature Rev. James expressed his gratitude for the sup-port of his wife who is from the Bahamas. She served in Oakland as Principal of James Madison Middle School for 11 years and Principal of So- brante Elementary School for 3 years. She is in her 2nd year as Principal of Lafayette Elementary School, located in West Oakland. Dr. Rosa James, in demand as a speaker and leader of workshops, is by training a school psychologist, social worker, and educator. She holds a Doctorate degree in Education. They have one daughter, Jennifer Muhammad, a school teacher and urban housing consultant in Washington, D.C.
The mighty army of Beth Eden experienced tremendous growth throughout the thirty-one years Rev. James has been pastor. Under his ministry, the church maintains strong rela- tionships with other churches of different denominations and affiliations. In 1971, Rev. James began holding Thanksgiving Service with Taylor Memorial United Methodist Church, Rev. Thomas Grissom was the pastor. This fellowship expanded to include several other churches. Beth Eden, along with Bethle- hem Lutheran, Cooper AME Zion, and Antioch Baptist Church regularly share Easter Sunrise services together. Each year before Easter, Beth Eden participates in the Annual City Wide Revival.” During the revival, the choirs of the church provide special music. Rev. James in his capacity as Dean, First Vice President, or President-at-large of the Baptist Ministers Union, regularly introduces the evangelists who deliver the sermons during this event.
Beth Eden continues to fight the battles of Satan as she ac- commodates the Annual City Wide Revival and participates in several outreach Ministries through our Women’s Mission Soci- ety. At the same time, Beth Eden, under the guidance of Rev. James, serves as a leader in the training and support of the “Ministers-in-Training” program.
For these efforts, Beth Eden was awarded “Teaching Church of the Year” by American Baptist Seminary of the West. Some of the Minister-In-Training participants were: Reverends William Mayhew, Milton Harris, Ambrose Carroll, Ulysses Barton, Mi- chael J. Ross, Lori Taylor, Gilbert Richards, Bonita Kitt, and Isaiah Webster. Others who participated in the program and subsequently were called to serve as pastors are Reverends Ronald Johnson, Dwight Webster, Elston (Ricky) Perry, Mi- chael R. Mathews, and Michael J. Ross. Continuing to serve as the Assistant to the Pastor with distinction and dedication for some thirty-years is Rev. John Whitehead, whose main role and special ministry included Visitation of the Sick.
Indeed Beth Eden affirms the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 “Go ye therefore and teach all nations...” With this mission in mind, members of Beth Eden have traveled to for- eign countries, such as Haiti and Africa, to perform missionary work.
In 1982, a new sanctuary was built. The structure cost two million dollars and stands as a living testament to the foresight of Rev. James and the endurance and guiding influence of Beth Eden in a changing community. Beth Eden moved into the new sanctuary that same year.
With a vision firmly focused on the future, Rev. James in 1986 was able to persuade the congregation to support the ordina- tion of the first group of deacons under his leadership. The ma- jority of those ordained were under the age of forty. This was historic for Beth Eden. The church repeated this ceremony in 1997.
“Through Toils and Shares – A Preacher Testifies” was pub- lished by Rev. James in 1985. This autobiography is a spiritual reflection of his growth as a Christian minister. The publication of the book continued a tradition at Beth Eden for pastors to publish their writings. Rev. J. B. Hubbard during his ministry published a book of selected poems.
Beth Eden served as a center for membership to develop ideas and maintain interest and involvement in what is happen- ing in local and statewide politics. In 1986 the Honorable Tom Bradley who ran for Governor visited the church for support on election day. Rose Elizabeth Bird, when she ran for re-election as California Supreme Court chief Justice, addressed the Beth Eden congregation. The former City Manager of Oakland, Henry L. Gardner, and the former Mayor of Oakland, the Honor- able Lionel J. Wilson were guests of Beth Eden on many occa- sions. Mayor Lionel J. Wilson sought the counsel and advice of Dr. James on a regular basis. All school superintendents of Oakland in the past 30 years have also been guest speakers.
The plight of Black children who have been removed from their biological families and placed in foster care has al- ways been a major concern of Beth Eden. In 1986, recognizing the problem of low adoption rate for Black children by Black families, the church provided office space for the creation of the Black Adoption Placement and Research Center (BAPRC). BAPRC is a non profit adoption agency geared to the specific needs of the Black Community. It was founded by Cynthia B. Turner and Alice Washington; Cynthia B. Turner attends Church By The Side of the Road, and Alice Washington is a member of Beth Eden. Because of program expansion, the Agency has moved to a larger facility. However, the BAPRC maintains a connection with Beth Eden by having a member of the church serve on its Board of Directors.
The church assumed responsibility for other social service pro- jects. A Hot Meals Program for the needy was started in 1988. SHARE, a discount food program started in 1989. A Clothing Give-Away project has been in existence for many years, and a Boy Scout Troop, which plays an important role in the develop- ment of young males was revived in 1988. A Girl Scout Troop was also revived in 1995.
Historically, Beth Eden always recognized that education of the children of the City of Oakland is everyone’s responsibil- ity. In 1988 acting through its Board of Christian Education, the church established the Positive Impact Tutorial program, a 501 C. (3) tax exempt organization. This program provided tutorial services to students who wanted to improve their academic skills. Positive Impact was preceded by a strong Volunteer Tu- torial Program (1979-1985), developed and staffed by members of the BCE. That earlier tutorial program was eventually funded by the State and Federal Governments at $50,000 per year, and three years later, at $100,000 per year for the next three years. Using those funds, Beth Eden was able to employ 20 older youth (college students and others) as tutors. The schools which benefited most from this program were Cole Ele- mentary, Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary, and Lowell Middle schools. In addition to this program, Beth Eden has for many years served as an informal advisor to the Oakland Unified School District Board of Education. During the summer of 1989 and following the highly publicized problems encountered by the School District, Beth Eden hosted strategy sessions and in- vited the community leaders who attended to devise a plan to help the School District better serve its students.
Beth Eden survived the Civil Rights Movement of the 60’s and the devastation and destruction of two major earthquakes, one in 1906 and one in 1989. Beth Eden, along with other churches and agencies established the West Oakland Community Earth- quake Disaster Relief Community which addressed the needs of its people, and the community at large.
Serving as chairman of this committee, Pastor James was recognized by Mayor Lionel Wilson for his outstanding ser- vices. The following year, Dr. James was named by the Mayor to a five member Citizens Advisory Committee in charge of distributing earthquake relief funds to victims. Other contributions include Food Share Program, the well Baby Clinic, hosting of the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools and a sponsor of the Billy Graham Crusade in Octo- ber 1997. It was surely celebration time on April 20, 1997, when the author of the book “Journey to Justice,” the ac- claimed Attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. (whose father was one of Beth Eden earlier deacons) came to speak for Youth Emphasis Day.
These last few years have been very busy for Beth Eden’s Youth Department. They have been involved in many uplifting activities. They presented a Martin Luther King Jr., tribute to the residents of Bay View Nursing Home in Ala- meda; performed several praise dances; conducted worship services for the homeless at CitiTEAM’s Ministry each third Friday of the month, and provided them with “care packages” for Thanksgiving. In addition, the Youth Department formed a youth choir, organized a talent show; and attended the Na- tional Baptist Youth and Young Adult Convention in Fresno. December 1998 Where Michael Ross Jr., took first place in the oratorical contest in his division.
Beth Eden has moved forward from its birth on April 20, 1890 to the present times. It has been guided by distinguished generals who held a banner of victory and gladly served - -not as members of the Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, or the Gulf War, but as commissioners in Gods army, standing true to our God.
We dully build our rich legacy as Beth Eden serves a multi-cultural congregation. In addition, our web page on the internet, and e-mail affords us the ability to spread God’s mes- sage beyond our local and regional communities. This new mode of communication of the 90’s assisted in expanding Beth Eden’s ministry throughout the nation and the world and represents the true spirit of Christ’s commission that we go into all the world and preach the Gospel. As the new millennium of the 2000’s ushered forth, the church remained steadfast in its dedication of service to our Lord.
In 1940 under the pastorate of Dr. John P. Hubbard the Rev. William Anderson Harris, Sr., organized the Beth Eden Baptist Church Junior Choir. An amazing debut and celebration was held on the third Sunday, April 21, that same year. The initial membership of 47 grew to 110 members by November. Since the choir filled the loft and overflowed onto the ministerial plat- form up to the podium, the choir was divided into two sections: the Junior choir with 80 members and the Juvenile Choir with 30 members. In 1942 the Junior Choir was renamed the Youth Choir.
Fulfilling the dream or following the vision seen by Rev. ‘Pops’ Harris was certainly manifested by God through the Junior, Youth and Juvenile Choirs. Pops was a man of God with high standards and a big heart of love for all. He happily enjoyed giving of his leadership talents and musical skill to others. He was not only an exemplary musician but also fathered his flock of young singers with godly teachings and guidance through their teen years. Mentoring was a highpoint in his ministry as he encouraged and tutored interested and talented members to take leadership roles in the music department. The choir was a profound arena where Pops developed a viable and historic singing aggregation in the Beth Eden Church. Moreover, the lives of youth were developed through learning the art of singing, the skill of reading music and the appreciation of perform- ing notable liturgical works of music. Service renderings included anthems, spirituals, hymns, cantata and musical drama productions.
On of the highest and most acclaimed Youth Choir production was on December 29, 1950. The choir performed the sacred cantata, ‘Esther, The Beautiful Queen,” at the Oakland Audito- rium Theater. Roles in that performance included Arnetta Jack- son Bartlow as Queen Esther, William M. Stoudamire as Ahasu- erus the king, and Rheudell H. Carpenter as Haman. The pro- gram comments of Dr. John P. Hubbard speak to the attainable spiritual level of youth. He had truly supported the vision and dream manifestation of a youth choir: The main purpose of the life of Beth Eden Baptist Church is to serve the community In the very highest capacity. This includes the cultural development in every department of human life. In sponsoring Esther, we hope to more intensely enshrine the nobil- ity of self-sacrifice. This sacrifice is possible in the physical, moral and spiritual life of the individual. Selflessness is basic in the attainable goal of youth. Youth can worthily afford to take pattern from the life here portrayed. J.P. Hubbard, Minister 12/29/1950
Service renderings of the youth choir included Christmas carol- ing, fellowshipping with other churches, singing at Oak Knoll Na- val Hospital and at Veterans Hospital in Livermore. The regular socializing, carpool and bus ride sharing, annual Song Request Teas and Alum Rock barbecue outings were a few of the experi- ences that served to bond the love among members. The heart of Pops Harris guided the outreach of the choir further than Beth Eden walls. From 1941 through the war’s end GI’s were wel- comed to sing in the choir. One GI played the organ occasion- ally. The youth choir was a refuge and home away from home for these men.
The tutelage of choral music directing was fervently taught to many talented youth choir members by Pops. A few of the direc- tors guided were Sonny Brock, Lucella Thomas and Rheudell H. Carpenter. Mr. Carpenter had joined the choir in 1942 and served as assistant director under Pops. The directorship as passed to Mr. Carpenter in 1956. Mr. Carpenter served as an excellent and devoted director; he maintained high standards and continued the legacy of teaching and mentoring that he had acquired though his father, Rev. A. L. Carpenter and then through Pops. He broadened the choir exposure by doing per- formances outside the Bay Area (Fresno, Visalia), along with continuing established events. The repertoire exposure for the choir was impeccably maintained and he expanded the scope with innovative music and his own arrangements. His inspiration guided the development of the directing talents of Deacon Willie C. Archie, Mrs. Carol Gibson, Deacon Roderick Marshall, Rev. Johnny Brown, Jr., Mrs. Louise Harris, Mrs. Alma Jean Nunsuch, and others. The faithful ministry of Deacon Carpenter heralded for 28 years. He retired in December 1984. Mrs. Leila Mack, the original accompanist, faithfully served the youth choir on the pi- ano and organ for 46 years. Mrs. Alma Golden was the pianist fro over 15 years. Other dedicated musicians who have accom- panied the Youth Choir include: Ms. Lois Dessalle, Mrs. Elver- netaa Henderson, Mrs. Vallie Towns and others.
There have been several singing aggregations formed as out- growths of the Youth Choir. The Harris Quartet and The Beth Eden Four were male quartets. The Melodetts I and Melodetts II were female groups. The Young Adult Fellowship Ensemble was organized in 1974 under the directorship of Deacon Willie C. Archie.
We encourage the church to embrace people of different races and theological viewpoints. We believe strongly in the old hymns of the church; spirituals which maintain and keep us conscious and appreciative of our heritage while also utilizing current music which speaks to the younger generation.
We provide education and scholarships for youth while also we providing affordable housing for seniors in the neighborhood around the Church.