Bethany Gospel Chapel, Oakland, CA

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San Francisco 1887

Donald Ross, with his associate James Goodfellow from Canada, arrived in San Francisco from Chicago on February 22, 1887, holding daily meetings in a Presbyterian church, with the first meeting on Sunday evening with over 800 people present, according to an 1887 letter thru his Chicago publication, "The Barley Cake". They had subsequent meetings in a Free Baptist Church, with Charles Montgomery preaching part of the time, then moving to a tent in a sand lot. Several were saved, among them some living in Montgomery’s hotel.

Charles Montgomery

Charles Montgomery was the founder of San Francisco Gospel Hall, which was then meeting on 866 Mission Street. Occupationally, Charles was employed as a bank director, real estate investor, and called a capitalist, in "The Morning Call", a San Francisco newspaper dated November 23, 1885. He had moved to San Francisco in 1862 from Ireland, of Brethren heritage, to work for his uncle's hotel business, whose religious affiliations are unclear except for some cultic references.

As early as 1873, Charles was in fellowship with an Exclusive Brethren meeting in the area, which was eventually a Grant Brethren meeting. More information can be gleaned in "Brethren by the Bay" by Robert H. Baylis, available thru Gospel Folio Press (see Sources section for website).

Charles also edited an evangelistic paper, "The Evangelist", as well as connection with "The Gospel Trumpet". No known copies exist of either, but one of them was a "weekly gospel paper, averaging 5,000 copies... circulated all over the city and elsewhere".

In 1889, Charles was listed as owner of the Bull & Grant Farm Implement Company, the president of the West Coast Steamship Company, owner of the Montgomery's Hotel, founder of the Bible Truth Depot, as well as connected to the John F. Myers & Co. His brother William, also in 1889, was in a joint venture with Charles as proprietors of the American Exchange Hotel. There was also a "Montgomery Chas. & Co" listed in conjunction with James West and John Elliott, at 118 Third and 41 Sixth as grocers and tea merchants. Later that year, he was forced to sell the grocery business, as well as the American Exchange Hotel due to investment in a swindler, but 1893 found Charles owning three hotels: Brooklyn Hotel, Montgomery's Hotel, and the Silver State Hotel.

In 1896, Montgomery is credited with introducing Harry Ironside to the Brethren, after Ironside benefited at the Salvation Army center in Oakland reading George Cutting's tract "Safety, Certainty and Enjoyment" and discovered that Montgomery was among the same Brethren as Cutting. After only two weeks in fellowship with the San Francisco Gospel Hall (now Parkside Gospel Chapel), Ironside was invited to address the meeting, while staying at Montgomery's Hotel. He preached on Isaiah 53, and they encouraged him to continue preaching and studying the Bible. When Ironside objected that he knew so little, they told him "God will give you more as you go on." In 1899, upon attending fourteen weeks of meetings by David Little, Ironside joined the Grant Exclusives for the next thirty years, while remaining friendly with the Open Brethren his entire life.

Oakland 1887

Later throughout the summer, Donald Ross and James Goodfellow moved their tent meetings to Oakland, where it was reported that "fifteen believers were baptized, and an assembly of about thirty was formed, their first meeting place being the canvas tent." Among the fifteen baptized included Mr. & Mrs. John McIntyre, who moved the assembly into a home for a time, and served as a leading elder for about sixty years. Others baptized included a Mr. & Mrs. Smith, of which, after Mrs. Smith died, Mr. Smith became the foster parent of Mrs. June Gibson.

Ross notes in one of his letters a near absence of young men in the tents, mostly "in drink or bent on mischief", although there's occasional testimony of being saved in a gold or quartz mine in the hills, as well as one is a nearby schoolhouse. He adds, "worldliness and gold hunting seem to be the prevailing pursuit of the pioneer classes, and success in filthy lucre accumulations, appears to be believed the triumph and crowning glory of all human life."

Dwight L. Moody visited San Francisco in 1889, as did George Mueller.

Early Days of Bethany

From the gospel tent into the home, afterwards, the Christians rented a storefront for a time, and in 1912 constructed the Bethany Gospel Hall in Oakland on San Pablo Avenue. This beautiful building graces the cover of the book "My People", written by Robert Baylis. In 1955, the assembly built the Bethany Gospel Chapel on Tompkins Avenue in Oakland. Upon finishing the construction, a unique calligraphy was gifted to the Chapel by C.J. Rolls.

Bay Area Conference 1887

October 26-30, 1887, the first Bay Area Conference was held at a rented hall at 899 Mission Street, San Francisco, and this conference, now convening at Thanksgiving time, has continued to this day. Preachers included Donald Munro, Donald Ross and Charles Montgomery. Christians were present from Oakland, San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Cruz, Placerville, as well as from New Zealand, England, Scotland and Canada.

In those early days, up to the 1930's, conference format was to begin with an open platform, and speakers ot come forward as led by the Spirit. Ross remarked in The Barley Cake, "in the absence of a humanly appointed chairman and a program, many were afraid of scenes of disorder and confusion. All so afraid were happily and agreeably disappointed."

Bay Area Conference 1888

Donald Munro returned, with his associate J.K. M'Ewen, first in Los Angeles, then in San Francisco. Two young men from the Midlands in England, Will Roberts and Jack Baylis were converted, while staying at Montgomery's Hotel, invited by the manager, Mrs. Wentworth. Roberts became president of Roberts Manufacturing Co., the largest lighting fixture and chandelier company on the West Coast, and a leading member in Oakland. Baylis' family continued in the assemblies for three generations, Jack living in Alameda.

Later Years

Bethany Gospel Chapel was ready to close in the mid-1980's and was approached by a South Korean assembly wanting to merge with them, which did for a number of years. Then a Romanian evangelical group emigrated after that, and rented the basement as Maranatha Gospel Chapel, with leaders including Simon Frone, Owen Lobos and Moses Neagu, eventually merging with Bethany with a few additional meetings available in Romanian.

At some juncture the South Korean group relocated, then the Romanian group dispersed, leaving four families, two families are twenty minutes away, and two other families over an hour away.

Meetings have ceased for a few years, and they elected to offer their building to other believers, and some families have moved to Community Bible Chapel in nearby Hayward.

Since 2017, a church of Ethiopians of an evangelical brethren-like manner in their home country, but more of an anointed nature since emigrating, has been renting the building, and hopes are to donate the building eventually.

Who's Who


Market Street Gospel Hall, Oakland 1931

In December 1931, Mrs. Englebretson Stenson started a Bible reading in her home on Myrtle Street, later known as the Market Street Gospel Hall. Last headed up by Ed Baylis, and closed in the 1950's.

Dublin Canyon Gospel Hall 1933

Opened in 1933, chiefly through efforts of some sisters who desired their children to have a Sunday School, several Bethany Hall brethren giving initial help, and many saved in that district. Bill McConnell particularly credited, as well as Willie Brown, who was an active speaker.

Fairhaven Bible Chapel, San Leandro 1954

In 1951, a group of 22 people Bethany Hall were concerned of the lack of a good evangelical testimony in East Oakland, which had grown significantly during the war. A lot was purchased late in 1951, Jack Davies drew up the plans for a building, and construction was done primarily by the group themselves. Services commenced on Easter Sunday, 1952. to build the Castlemont Bible Chapel at 90th Avenue and Thermal Street in the Castlemont district of Oakland. About 25 men and women formed the initial fellowship. An auditorium seating about 200 with a lot of Sunday school rooms was ample for many years of progress. Within seven years this grew to 175. One year forty-two people were baptized.

This assembly is now known as Fairhaven Bible Chapel in San Leandro, with new building built around 1960, and occupied by 1962. Founders included Ben & Hettie Warner, Allen & Evelyn Jones, Jean & June Gibson, Sam & Lillian Gattey, Jack K. Young, Jack & Mary Ellen Davison, Paul & Adele Harper, Jack & Mae Copeland, Doug Kerr, Lillian McPherson, Shirley McPherson, and John & Mary Lou Gray. Initial leaders were Ben Warner, Jean Gibson, and Mr. & Mrs. Allen Jones. Other founders included Charles Armstrong, Mr. & Mrs. Kent Bolter, Ann & Judith Field, Mr. & Mrs. Keith Harrower, Mr. & Mrs. George T. Raust, Mr. & Mrs. Clarence Richardson, Mrs. Ben Warner, and Mrs. Edna Welch, and eventually joined by Jack & Florence Davies.

Alameda Gospel Chapel 1970

The Alameda Gospel Chapel hived off from Bethany Gospel Chapel about 1970, the result of a Sunday School outreach in that area. Fairhaven Bible Chapel also played a role in starting this and three other assemblies: the San Lorenzo Bible Chapel, the Santa Rosa Assembly, and the Valley Bible Church in Pleasanton.

Calvary Bible Chapel, Fremont 1982

In early 1982, four men at Fairhaven Bible Chapel in San Leandro were praying about planting a new assembly in San Lorenzo, CA. These men were Rick Belles, Scott Clark, Howard Ormsbey, and Tony Payne. Simultaneously, two men attending Bethany Gospel Chapel, Carl Knott and Don Robertson, were praying about starting an assembly in Castro Valley. William MacDonald, with knowledge of both groups, recommended the two groups merging to plant one assembly.

After a church-planting seminar in the Spring of 1982 at Fairhaven, Bill had remarked during his message, "Perhaps the reason older men do not plant new assemblies is because younger men never invite them to do so." This inspired Don Robertson to invite Bill to join their church-planting team. With the joint blessing of both Fairhaven and Bethany, the seven men and their families planted what is now Calvary Bible Chapel, the first week of October 1982. They initially held meetings in the homes of neighboring families Howard and Kathie Ormbsby, and Scott and Cathy Clark, in San Lorenzo. They presently meet at 32701 Falcon Drive in nearby Fremont.