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".

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."

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.

California Conference 1887-present

In October 1887, the first California Conference was held in San Francisco, and this conference, now convening at Thanksgiving time, has continued to this day.

Commendations

  • William Spees
  • William Deans
  • Ruth Johnson
  • Fred and Jenny Kosin
  • William MacDonald
  • Clifford Beggs

Hives

Fairhaven Bible Chapel

In April 1954, a group left Bethany Gospel Hall 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. This assembly is now known as Fairhaven Bible Chapel in San Leandro, built in 1959, and occupied by 1962.

Alameda Gospel Chapel

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.

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.

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.

Correspondents/Elders

  • Simon Frone 1989-present
  • Moses Neagu (d. 2016?)
  • Owen Lobos (relocated)
  • Thomas Jensen Hill (1906-2007)

Sources