A Multi-Cultural Church Serving the People of the City

First Baptist Church of Oakland
and The Samaritan Neighborhood Center

534-22nd Street
Oakland, California 94612
Phone: (510) 832-4326 (Church);
(510) 832-4328 (Center)
FAX: (510) 832-0183

Rev. Nancy B. Smith, Pastor

Due to an aging and declining membership, on May 1, 2010,
the congregation of the First Baptist Church moved their worship service to the Lakeshore Avenue Baptist church
which meets at 10:00 at 3534 Lakeshore Avenue, near Mandana Avenue.
Nearly all of our members have joined the Lakeshore Avenue church.
Members of Lakeshore have joined Oakland First.

The Burmese Mission Baptist Church holds services in English at 11:00 AM in the church building.

The Samaritan Neighborhood Center remains at 534-22nd Street.

This web site will remain as an historical site.

The purpose of this church, a member of the American Baptist Churches, U.S.A., is to make known the good news of God's love in Jesus Christ through worship, the building of an inclusive and caring community of faith, and mission to the local and wider community.

Oakland First Baptist Church is an American Baptist Church. The American Baptist Churches ( ABC-USA ) is a main-line Baptist denomination numbering about 1.3 million in some 5,000 congregations with extensive overseas missions which outnumber the ABC itself both in numbers and congregations.

ABC shares an historic Baptist heritage which stresses soul liberty (individual freedom in biblical interpretation, theological issues, and matters of conscience), the autonomy of the local congregation, and the separation of Church and State as institutions. American Baptists, as compared to some other Baptist groups, are both evangelical and ecumenical and embrace diversity in theology, ethnic membership and style of worship.

The First Baptist Church regrets the action of the American Baptist Churches of the West whereby four churches were "disfellowshiped" over a matter of belief.


The Samaritan Neighborhood Center Service to the Community
Christian Education History of the Congregation
History of the Building The Julia Morgan Sanctuary
Weddings The Murray M. Harris Organ
The Stained Glass Windows Ministers
Recent Sermons
Location (Map) We would like to hear from you!

The Samaritan Neighborhood Center

Our after school Neighborhood Center provides a diverse program which seeks to meet the emotional, physical, educational, and social needs of children-at-risk from our neighboring community. The Center serves children and youth on a drop-in basis five afternoons each week beginning at 3:00 PM, and provides tutoring, educational incentive programs, life-choices youth clubs and recreation in our gymnasium. The youth are also given summer camp experiences and year-round field trip opportunities.

The Center began as an outreach program of the Church. A committed group of volunteers, made up of members of the Church, St. Francis de Sales Church, and from the community ran the Center. The original focus of the Center was to establish relationships with inner city youth by providing a safe place for recreation, where a "kid could be a kid". After some time the goals of the Center were developed to include educational and career objectives for the youth.

The Center started in 1982 with literally just a handful of kids. Since that time we have established trusting relationships with over 130 young people. The 130 are our "core group", yet we have ongoing contact with hundreds of young people! Over the years we have developed the basis for the above goals. However, due to limited time and resources we have not been able to achieve the level of commitment that we wish. With the additional support of Samaritan's Purse we believe we will be able to do that and more!

Samaritan's Purse joined an ongoing inner city church program with the skills and resources of an international organization in order to strengthen the positive results of the beneficiaries: the children, youth, and families of Oakland. Our support also includes several foundations Y&H Soda Foundation , Lowell Berry Foundation, Morris Stuhlsaft Foundation, Trio Foundation, Atmos Foundation, and the City of Oakland.

The goals of this partnership include:

Literacy training through tutoring and activities for self-expression which focus on reading, writing, listening, and computer use.

Mentoring through positive interaction with peers and adults. Regular programs of speakers with diverse backgrounds will stimulate and provide dialog with the children and youth.

Develop partner relationships with parents, schools and community. Encourage more parental participation in the child's life.

Teaching of moral standards based on Biblical principles.

About one hundred children were served each day during last Summer. We had to limit the number of younger children until we could get more volunteers to work with them.

The Center's preschool takes three and four year old children on workdays.

Confidential support groups exist to discuss and explore issues such as peer and family relationships, chemical dependency, violence, sexuality, career goals, and to have fun together.

Former Olympian, Marilyn King, runs the "Dare to Imagine" Club, a career counseling program, where children are taught to focus on the future through a series of goal achievements.

The Learning Center is open from 3 to 6 PM for homework, tutoring and computers. Recreation in the Gym is also available during those hours. Activities and the Game Room are available between 4 and 5:30 PM. The snack bar is open from 5:15 to 5:45 PM. Swimming at the YMCA is available on the last Friday of each month. We are pleased to have fifty students from the University of California, as part of the STEP program (Student Tutorial Endeavor Program, led by Chris Martinez and Salene Castaneda--see the featured article on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle for June 2, 1998 ) assisting on a regular basis with tutoring. We were honored with a visit on October 23, 1997 by Billy Graham and associates, along with the press.

Click here to go to the center's web site.

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Service to the Community

Volunteers from our church were vitally involved in implementing the "brown bag" emergency food program, and our congregation was a major financial supporter of both this ministry and the Project Safety Net Hot Lunch Program serving West Oakland. 

For over thirty years, our church had sponsored the First Baptist Senior Activity Center, each Tuesday from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm. This vital ministry served older adults from throughout Oakland, provided them with opportunities to engage in various arts and crafts activities, discussion groups on contemporary issues, informative presentations, as well as the enjoyment of a nutritious hot meal provided by Bay Area Community Services. It was the oldest senior center in Oakland. 

On the first Sunday of each month, we conduct a communion service for homebound residents of the Piedmont Gardens retirement home . This well-attended service is at 2:30 PM on the third floor of Garden Terrace.

The Women's Missionary Society, through their White Cross program, provides articles of clothing, bedding, and other items to needy in mission fields throughout the world, including those in Haiti, North India, Zaire, Burma, the Phillippines, the Tahoe Indian Parish, and our own Samaritan Neighborhood Center.

The Church supports the Oakland Coalition of Congregations (OCC), The Northern California Ecumenical Council, Bay Area Community Services, The Seafarers Ministry of the Golden Gate (the monthly board meeting occurs on occasional Saturdays at 9:30 AM at the Center at the end of 7th Street in the Port of Oakland ), The American Baptist Seminary of the West , University of Redlands , Linfield College , and Bacone University.

The church had hosted the Western Regional Office of Habitat for Humanity . It also had hosted the Lao Family Community that provided classes in English and Citizenship for recent Southwest Asian immigrants and other immigrants. The Seafarers Ministry of the Golden Gate, the continuation of the Scandinavian Seaman's Mission, offers supportive services to seamen passing though our ports from all over the world.

The First Unitarian Church of Oakland met in our facilities for three years while theirs was being seismically retrofitted. We also hosted the South Berkeley Community Church and the Church Without Walls.

Currently we host the Oakland Burmese Mission Baptist Church who meet at 1:00 PM on Sundays.  This active group works hard to welcome new refugees.  They have also done an amazing amount of work to upgrade our facilities.

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Sunday 2:00 PM Communion at Piedmont Gardens Garden Terrace skilled nursing (1st Sunday of Month)

The year 2004 was the 150th anniversary of the First Baptist Church and the 100th anniversary of the present church building.

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The Music Program

Our Sanctuary Choir did offer participants the opportunity to use and develop their musical gifts in a meaningful way as they contributed vitally to our weekly worship services and special music programs. We occasionally combined with other choirs to perform larger significant works. During the Christmas season, we typically performed at nearby retirement homes. Youth were encouraged to develop their musical talents through participation in our Youth Choir.

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History of the Congregation

The First Baptist Church of Oakland was organized on December 7, 1854--the same year that the City was incorporated as a community of 750 people. Shortly thereafter, the small church of six members (including two carpenters) completed the first church building of any protestant group in Oakland.

Construction of a large church, seating 750 members, was started in July, 1868 at the corner of 14th and Brush. Deacon N. J. Thompson was near the top of the steeple when the great earthquake of 1868 occurred; he yelled down to his companions to stop the foolishness: shaking the steeple! This church burned down in 1902.

The Free Baptist church, whose 81 members merged with the First Baptist church in May, 1910, was organized by S. P. Meads in 1884, just two blocks from the present location of the First Baptist Church.

Dr. E. H. Gray, pastor from 1882-1888, had been chaplain of the United States Senate, and he had officiated at the funeral of Abraham Lincoln in the East room of the White house.

Chinese Mothers' Club

Earl Warren family

During World War II, sleeping quarters and breakfast in the church were provided for 50 to 75 servicemen.

Following the war, the Church resettled six refugee families from eastern Europe, a total of 28 persons and one family from China. Most of these had spent time in various internment camps. Jobs were found, furniture and household furnishings given, houses rented, transportation provided, but most of all, these new friends and future citizens were welcomed with warm Christian friendliness, a fitting example of practical Christian living and of a church meeting some of the pressing needs of the world. In later years, refugee families from Cuba, from Vietnam, and from Argentina were resettled, the Argentineans in cooperation with the Cathedral of St. Francis de Sales. It is worth noting that American Baptist churches resettled more refuges than any other denomination.

For thirty years, the church had had very close relations with the Cathedral of St. Francis de Sales, holding regular joint celebrations, working together on community projects, such as the operation of the Neighborhood Center, and participating for ten years in a joint Baptist-Catholic Sunday School.  Classes were typically taught in our facility by teams of a Baptist layperson and a Roman Catholic nun, using American Baptist materials.  For a number of months after the Loma Prieta Earthquake, our church served as the cathedral for the Diocese of Oakland.

As part of the preparation for the celebration of our 100 th anniversary in 1954 (when I was a freshman in physics at UC), Mrs. Esther Thomas wrote a history of the church; that work is now being digitized and will be available here shortly. Meanwhile, in anticipation of our forthcoming 150th anniversary, I am collecting the history of the last 50 years-- This will be available here as it is being written .

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History of the Building

Following the burning of the church at 14th and Brush, the congregation made the daring move to the present location at the outskirts of the city. The construction of the Romanesque Revival building was started in 1903, shortly after the previous church burned to the ground. The dimensions and layout of the octagonal sanctuary are very similar to those of the cathedral of Aachen, Germany , designed by Charlemagne in the 8th Century. The church, with the exception of the sanctuary, was finished in time for Easter services in 1904. The auditorium portion of the building had not been completed, being delayed until the members could afford a really fine sanctuary. It was the most severely damaged building in the East Bay as a result of the 1906 earthquake. That great earthquake seemed to completely dash the hopes of the members, but aid poured in from the East, and the church was rebuilt and completed.

Access for wheel chairs is provided for the sanctuary, chapel, bathroom, and main dining room.

We had completed the architectural and engineering design for a seismic retrofit and have completed about one half of the total project. This innovative design makes minimum impact on either the visual or acoustic qualities of the building and accomplishes the necessary strengthening at about half the cost of conventional approaches.

During the last week of July, 1997, the Church hosted ATL productions who were filming  scenes from the movie, " What Dreams May Come ", directed by Vincent Ward and staring Robin Williams , Annabella Sciorra , and Cuba Gooding, Jr. The movie is about a 45 year old pediatrician who dies suddenly but is unable to accept separation from his wife. It delves into various spiritual questions such as what is you, what happens after death, and what would you do if you were separated from your loved one forever. It also touches on reconciliation and atonement. There were 200 extras and 100 members of the crew, along with several dozen huge trucks and trailers. The scenes filmed in the church occur about 15 minutes into the movie.

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Click here for a wide angle color view taken by Gary Nakamoto
Click here for a high resolution picture of the sanctuary (~1MB)

The Julia Morgan Sanctuary

The sanctuary was the first large scale commission for the now famous architect, Julia Morgan, who had recently graduated from the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. She, whose family home was diagonally across the corner from the former location of the church and who had grown up in the church as a Sunday School pupil and teacher, was well known to the trustees and awarded the design contract on Jan. 21, 1906. A vote of the church on her design was scheduled for April 18, 1906, but the great earthquake occurred on that morning. Historically, Baptist meeting houses have been plain and simple, with an absolute minimum of symbolism. This is not the case here! Her design is of a modified old English type with open timbered roof of redwood that is so characteristic of later Julia Morgan works. The fine craftsmanship was done by Swedish carpenters. Extensive carvings, such as the trefoils representing the trinity and quatrefoils representing the four evangelists, are to be seen throughout the church. The implementation of her design resulted in one of the most beautiful sanctuaries anywhere.

Following the earthquake, she was hired to direct the restoration of the towers and the wrecked portion of the church. She continued to be deeply involved in ever detail of the furnishing of the church.

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The First Baptist Church is particularly beautiful place for weddings. The sanctuary can seat as many as 1100, including the balcony. The main floor will seat 700.

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The Murray M. Harris Organ

Starting with a grant of $2,500 from Andrew Carnegie, Murray Harris of Los Angeles, one of the great organ builders in the United States, was hired to build the organ. This was the second Murray-Harris organ for the Church; the first had been installed in the previous building just months before it burned down. Murray M. Harris was one of the great organ builders in this country, perhaps the greatest at the turn of the century, though he was active for only a short time. He had built the organ for the St. Louis Exposition, which became the famous Wanamaker organ of Philadelphia . The resulting 1907 instrument, a sister organ to that in the Stanford University Memorial Church at that time, is one of the finest organs in the Western United States and one of the very few remaining Harris organs..

It was electrified around 1924 and further remodeled in 1944, with the console being moved to its present location, at a cost of $6000. A new Austin all-electric console was installed in 1959. The organ was recently renovated and revoiced by Charles McManus of the McManus Organ Company. The organ contains chimes and 2821 pipes, organized as 43 voices in 48 ranks and is in excellent shape today.

Click here to hear Scott Christiansen play the Toccata from Widor's 5th Organ Symphony

Click here for the organ's specifications

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The Stained Glass Windows

The lovely stained glass windows were given as memorials throughout the years up to 1925. Each window is enclosed in a framework of living and sometimes fruit-bearing grape vines. The large circle is a symbol of God, the One without beginning or ending. Lettered scrolls describe the central theme. Five different forms of crosses are represented: Passion Cross (sharp point), Cross Patee (broad footed), Greek Cross (arms of equal length), St. Andrews Cross (national cross of Scotland), Budded Cross (ends terminating in trefoil design). Another representation is the Nimbus (cloud) used only for the Deity. Six different stars with four to nine points are used, each having its own symbolic meaning.

Most of the windows were crafted by the California Art Glass Company of San Francisco. Their proprietor and president was William Schroeder, who was born in New Orleans in 1851. He studied art-glass work under the best artists in Hamburg, Berlin, Dresden and Vienna. His company was awarded the gold medal for "their superior work over all others" at the 1894 Midwinter Fair and also received the gold medal in the 1900 Paris exhibition for The Chinese Dragon and Cupid and Psyche, works wrought in glass. Their work was unsurpassed in either the United States or Europe. The 25 glass workers created windows for buildings all over the Pacific Rim (Japan, China, Hawaii) and in the United States, using materials imported from the East and from Abroad.


Click here for a high-resolution picture of the North Upper window group .
Click here for a high-resolution picture of the East Upper window group.
Click here for a high-resolution picture of the South Upper window group.
Click here for a high-resolution picture of the North Lower window group.
Click here for a high-resolution picture of the East Lower window group.
Click here for a high-resolution picture of the South Lower window group .
Click here for a high resolution picture of the South East tower windows.

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Rev. Nancy B. Smith

Rev. Steven K. Reimer
Associate Pastor
Exec. Director,
Samaritan Neighborhood Center    

Chris Nordwall
Organist/ Choir Director

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Sermons by Nancy B. Smith

A Child Shall Lead Them (5/22/05)
Re Membering (5/29/2005)
It's A Mystery, or This Walk of Faith is a Complex Business (6/5/05)

Sermons by Laura B. Keller

LauraListen to the August 20 2006 service (highly compressd: 8.5 MB) "Sophia's Calling"

Sermons by Andrew Meckstroff

A Charge to Keep (9/28/98)
A Grandmother's Faith (10/4//98)
Come & See What God Has Done (10/11/98)
Be Merciful... (10/18/98)
The Pouring Out (10/25/98)
Will All the Saints Please Come In? (11/1/98)
A Few Choice Blessings (11/8/98)
Hope in Hard Times (11/15/98)
For Whom Are You Thankful? (11/22/98)
WAKE UP!!! (11/29/98)
What kind of animal ARE you? (12/6/98)
That Blooming Desert (12/13/98)
The Gifting (1/3/99)
No Partiality (1/10/99)
A Walk in the Sun (1/24/99)
Let It Shine (2/7/99)
Been to the Mountaintop (2/14/99)
The Temptations (2/21/99)
So Loved the World (2/28/98)

Sermons by Dale Edmondson

Taking the Bible Seriously but Not Literally (11/9/2003)
Our Heritage: Four Fragile Freedoms (11/16/2003)
Martin! (01/18/2004)

Sermons by Maxwell Vines

The Kingdom, Though Often Hidden, is a Never-Ending Presence (11/28/2004)
Blessed by our Past--Hope for our Future (12/5/2004)
Light for the Dark Places (12/12/2004)
A Signpost of Hope (12/19/2004)
The Threat of the Dark Side is Overcome (12/26/2004)
God's Word for all Peoples (1/9/2005)
Celebrating a Healthy Non-conformity (7/2/2006)

Sermons by James Chuck

Seing Jesus in a New Light (2/6/2005)
Three Truths to Live By (2/13/2005)
Growing Old--Being Reborn (02/20/2005)

Sermons by Paul Nagano

CROWN OR CROSS?--Courage to Be (3/20/2005)
What you are to be You are Now Becoming (4/3/2005)
Love as Creative Transformation (4/10/2005)
Creating God's Community (4/17/2005)
Beyond Chaos to Creation--Heaven on Earth (4/24/2005)

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Location (Map)

The church is well served by public transit. The downtown Oakland exit to the Grove-Shafter Freeway (Highway 24) leads directly to the block where the church is located. The 19th Street BART Station is just three blocks to the South. Frequent busses pass by the church along Telegraph and also one block away on Broadway.

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We would like to hear from you! Please send mail if you would like to receive the weekly new bulletin, "The First Baptist Herald" or you would like more information about the Church or the Samaritan Center.
You can sign our guest book: You can view our guest book:
write us

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Contact the pastor by e-mail to "pastor at ofbc dot net" (use symbols for "at" and "dot")

Send comments to "fbc at meads dot cc" (use symbols for "at" and "dot") (Dr. Philip F. Meads, Jr.)