The Power of Faith in the Life of the City
by Christopher Burke
Faith is a strange and powerful force.
It is at once tender and terrifying in the truest sense of the word, able to uplift the humblest heart and uproot the mightiest mountain. Some call it the assurance of things hoped for; others declare it man's greatest treasure. And while many reduce faith to mere wishful thinking, no force can match its unceasing engine of human resilience.
In the latter half of the 19th Century, driven and diverse communities of people began to populate the emerging urban centers of California’s west coast. With this unprecedented influx of various people groups came a complex network of faith-fueled practices. Anglo-Americans seeking new horizons brought with them a desire for religious pluralism and diverse expressions of faith. Asian immigrants, who had come west with the promise of prosperity, desired the cultural connection their religious traditions had always afforded them. And with new proclamations of freedom still fresh in their hearts, African Americans saw California’s coast as a place to build new lives of purpose and faith.
In Oakland’s growing urban center, this convergence of faith and community flourished. Among the various churches established in those years, several laid foundations that would last for more than a century.
Emerging from the conservative Presbyterians who so greatly influenced early American California came a small group committed to religious liberalism and social justice. In 1869, this group began meeting formally and in 1882, they became the First Unitarian Church of Oakland. For nearly one hundred and fifty years, First Unitarian Church has proved to be a sustaining presence for the city of Oakland, speaking for the oppressed, caring for the needy, and offering hope through mutual and abiding faith.
Beth Eden Baptist church began as a small prayer meeting on 7th street in Oakland, 1889. Within a generation, it became a bastion of hope for the growing Black population of Oakland, building into the life of the city with tireless service and Christian love. Now entering its one hundred and twenty fourth year, it remains the oldest and most influential African American church in the county, and continues to build upon its firm foundation of faith that sacrificially serves the city.
At the turn of the century, a young group of Japanese immigrants living in Oakland’s growing Chinatown sought to secure the survival of their cultural heritage by rooting their community in the faith of their fathers. In 1903, with the aid of the established Buddhist church in San Francisco, the Buddhist Church of Oakland was formed. Their journey has taken them through the deepest of valleys into the 21st Century as a sanctuary for Oakland’s Japanese American population and a beacon of surviving faith to the City.
Wherever a community roots itself down, the power of faith is always near. One could say that community and faith are inseparable, for faith is always present where people live and life is always vibrant where faith is active. The power of faith in the life of the city is not simply that faith will endure, but that that the city itself will remain firmly established and full of life.
First Unitarian Church of Oakland
First Unitarian: Vision 2012 (Audio)
Beth Eden Baptist Church
Beth Eden: Fanny Jackson Choppin Club
Black Adoption Placement and Research Center
Buddhist Church of Oakland
Oakland North: Buddhist Church of Oakland
Flicker Gallery: Oakland Obon Festival 2010
Flicker Gallery: Oakland Obon Festival 2013
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