Other Articles about Universalism on the Pacific Coast
This church is AKA "Oakland Universalist Church". It incorporated in 1884 in Oakland, California, but died its first death in 1905. In 1916, the Oakland Universalist Church was revived . Asa Mayo Bradley covers the history until 1905 in his "Pacific Coast Universalism". The Unitarians were also active in Oakland, California, and were much more successful but that story is not covered here.
The church was founded in about 1883 by Rev. S. Goodenough, owner of a 50 acre fruit ranch in Santa Clara, CA. Previously in 1883, he had tried without much success, to revive the failed Universalist Church in San Francisco. A woman at the San Francisco church (before it failed) had observed that a significant number of attendees were to be seen coming over to San Francisco from Oakland across the bay, on the ferry-boat. So why not start a church in Oakland?
Goodenough did so. They rented a church in Oakland on the corner of Broadway and ?, known as the Hamilton Church. In 1886 they purchased a vacant lot and completed building a church there in 1888. The building construction cost $6500 and was free of debt, but not for long. In the early 1890s, they borrowed money for a pipe organ and interior modifications and also hired a music director. In 1894 the pastor resigned, with the church in debt by $1,200 and the building needing repairs. Ironically, shortly before he resigned, he gave a grand sermon about the Pullman Strike. See sermon text. A woman, Lizzie N. Shaw, became the new minister and managed to get the building in good shape and pay off the debt. But she remained as minister only for a short time until 1896. Her health was deteriorating and she she died in 1901.
In Sept. 1896, the Rev. E. E. Hammond became minister. He identified himself as a Spiritualist (believes in ghosts, etc.) which resulted in a petition from the majority of the contributing members that he refrain from preaching spiritualism while a minister there. He agreed to this but the congregation decreased in size and he was later dismissed as the minister. Spiritualism was at an earlier date somewhat common in the Universalist movement. See Universalist Spiritualism
Miss Lizzie Shaw returned to try to revive the church before she died, but it was no use. She asked for financial help from the Universalist General Convention (national organization) but no funds were available. Finally, 3 years later, perhaps 1904 (after Miss Shaw was dead), $600 was given to the church. They paid off their bills but the church was about dead. The church was definitely dead in 1905 when the property was sold by the General Convention (at a loss) for only $4050
After over 10 years of death, the church, with the same name (First ...) was started up again in Jan. 1916. In 1924 the Rev. Bernard C. Ruggles was the minister. Was he the founder in 1916?
Ruggles resigned as minister about 1936 and was replaced by Horton Colbert in May 1936. In 1938-9 they had 60 members but no church school was operating. However, a young people's group of 19-25 year-olds met twice monthly with 6-18 in attendance. One year later, membership had dropped to 50 and the young people's group had disappeared. The round number of members reported, 60 and 50, imply that they were merely rough estimates. The Rev. Colbert resigned in 1940 (was he forced to resign ?). Later, he became the minister of the Universalist Church in Riverside, California.
Ruggles hand wrote a dismal but upbeat report about the state of
the church, to the California Univ. Convention on May 1941. Its
opening paragraph reads:
"On Dec. 8, 1940 at the earnest request of Dr. Robt. Cummins, General Superintendent, the trustees of the Oakland Universalist Church invited me to supply the pulpit. This I had offered to do without compensation - realizing the financial condition of the Church. Things were at a low ebb. The trustees were frankly hopeless of the situation, ready to resign and close up. This I could not believe was necessary. I realized their feelings however were natural after so many months in which they had carried on pastorless and with little hope that the General Convention could supply a new pastor with the entire salary practically being provided by them. Their devotion, the loyalty and the personal generosity of the local board deserves our hearty commendation for carrying on for so long under such unpromising circumstances. The Rev. Horton Colbert, consecrated and self sacrificing with heroic faith had done all he could but somehow the growth and progress he richly deserved did not come. So he resigned early in Sept. 1940."
The minister who wrote the above failed to sign his name, but it's likely Ruggles as he refers to himself as the ex-pastor who had resigned his ministry about 1936. In the rest of his report, he states that he had increased Sunday attendance from 12-14 to over 30. He apparently also was occupied marrying many couples at "Harmony House" (a wedding chapel?) and persuaded some of the couples he married to attend the church. At the Easter service, 125 attended (but most were not members).
This First Universalist Church in Oakland California somehow survived to merge with the Unitarians in the early 1960s. The Universalist Church was located at 491 ? Ave. (1953). Its last minister, Bernard Ruggles ??, continued to be its minister when he became very old but a younger minister was needed for growth. The Unitarians that they merged with had their own church in Oakland and likely had more members. The church's real property was sold in the late 1960s.
After the failure of the San Francisco Church in the early 1880s, Oakland remained the sole Universalist Church in Northern California. Except that The First Unitarian Church of San Jose (at 160 N. Third St.) joined the California Universalist Convention and became (at least in name) a joint Unitarian Universalist church well before the merger.