I have been spending a great amount of time since coming to the church trying to discern where God is calling us to go as a congregation. It is interesting listening to the congregation and reading about the times when the church has been up and looking at the times that the church has been down. What I really found interesting was what happened when the first church building became uninhabitable, and they finally broke ground on this spot creating the new Westminster Presbyterian Church.
At the time this church was built, the congregation of the then Second Presbyterian Church was struggling. With a drop in attendance due to their facility and other reasons, the congregation was at a cross roads, and a vote was taken to close and disband, to merge back with the First Presbyterian Church which seeded the congregation many years before, or to rebuild. Obviously, they chose to move west and rebuild in the new up-and-coming Alameda community.
From its opening, Westminster Presbyterian was an anchor for the community. It was a place where people met; more importantly, it is where the community would worship. The tie to the community for this congregation defined our ministry and identity. Unfortunately, this identity began to wane, and the community began to change as well as the church. By the late 90’s the majority of members were driving to the church with almost all the members living outside the two-mile radius of the church. This remains the same today, though we are starting to see a change in this, as new members from the local community are being attracted to our church.
Having served rural, urban, and suburban churches, there is a unique identity that defines the congregation. While some may argue that we are not really urban, we are. Within the few blocks of our church, we have every social status and family situation you can think of. With a high density of Gay and Lesbian individuals and families, families with young children, Spanish-speaking households, and high density living, including three homeless shelters we do not have to look far to see the needs that are right in front of us.
Moreover, our community looks to us as an anchor. In recent community discussions on the future development of the Alameda, they speak of the Westminster Church being the western anchor of the developing community, with the new Whole Foods being the eastern anchor. While this is talk, it is interesting to hear that this is how the community views us. Nevertheless, this makes sense, as we are the meeting place for many of the groups and organizations. In fact, especially in the last few years, we have become a safe place for a lot of groups giving us the designation as the community center for many who live around us.
This is good, and bad, in that I have literally had conversations with people who knew everything about our church except for the fact that we were a church. The neighborhood around the church is becoming renewed with the majority of people moving in being attracted to the strong community within this neighborhood. As many of the close neighbors have moved out, young families have moved in and are looking forward to strengthening this neighborhood, and many in the community are looking at the church to be that anchor.
Some ask “what is our mission” as we look forward; maybe the best way is to look back and remember why we were created, to minister and worship God as a community, to be a refuge for people in search of faith, and most of all be connected to the needs of the people who are around us.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen