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St. Paul's History

Note: you may want to read our current onoine newsletter and check the "St. Paul's Archives."  Each month, we feature a new article on an aspect of St. Paul's church and building history.

Church History through the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989

St. Paul's Parish was organized in 1871; the cornerstone of the present building was laid on St. Paul's Day, 1912. The congregation has evolved over the years, seizing new opportunities for ministry and service.

In the early years of the twentieth century, St. Paul's helped in the founding of Church of Our Savior in Oakland, and St. John's in Montclair. In the 1960s, we were the official Diocesan sponsor of St. Paul's Towers, a retirement community and life-care facility. St. Paul's members also helped develop the renowned Clausen House, a residential treatment center for developmentally disabled adults. Since the 1960s, a significant ministry to refugees and immigrants has been pursued by St. Paul's Parish.

St. Paul's Episcopal School was founded as a mission of St. Paul's Chuch, in 1966.  The present school was reorganized and established in 1975.

1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake - Present

The year 1989 signaled the beginning of a traumatic phase for St. Paul’s. In the summer of that year, St. Paul’s twelfth rector, The Rev. Donald W. Seaton (1974-1991), was diagnosed with lung cancer. Months later, the entire Bay Area was rocked by the Loma Prieta earthquake. The quake closed the Bay Bridge, flattened sections of freeway, devastated large portions of downtown Oakland, and affected neighborhoods all over the Bay Area. Although the church suffered only minor damage from the quake and its aftershocks, the church and parish office buildings (along with 300 other buildings in Oakland) were subject to the City’s newly formed requirements for seismic strengthening. Faced with the choice of “retrofit or close,” the church began a nine year process of working with engineers and architects, City personnel, fundraisers, the community, and, finally, contractors.

During this time, Fr. Seaton retired, and an associate priest and two interim rectors served during a rector search. The successful conclusion of the search came with the call of the Rev. Dr. John H. Eastwood. Work on the seismic retrofit proceeded, with the rejection of an unsatisfactory engineering proposal, and the eventual development of a more acceptable plan. The congregation undertook a major fundraising effort to finance the repairs. A capital campaign brought forth significant support from the parish, St. Paul’s Episcopal School, the Diocese, local foundations, and others in the community. During the process, the building was declared a historic landmark by the City of Oakland. The retrofit was completed in 1998 at a cost of $1.8 million. After completion of construction, Bishop William Swing led the Service of Rededication of church and parish buildings, on April 26, 1998.

In the 1990s, St. Paul's Church became involved in faith-based community organizing, becoming a member of the Oakland Coalition of Congregations. Through annual and biennial gatherings, the parish contributed to services of improvement in the Oakland community. In 1994, when a Muslim mosque was bombed in the Holy Land, leaders of the interfaith groups in the city came together for an interfaith community service at St. Paul’s to celebrate solidarity and mourn the deaths that resulted from that tragedy.

In 2001, St. Paul’s began a two-year process of reflection and education to become a covenant congregation of Oasis, a Diocesan program that helps parishes, “through their own processes of conversation, conversion, and communion to become truly inclusive of lesbians and gay men of all ages.” This involved work by the Vestry and a Committee on Christian Inclusion, a series of parish-wide presentations and discussions during Lent. In 2002, the church adopted a formalized Statement of Inclusion.

In 2002, the parish resurrected the Friends of Music, a group of parishioners who seek to further the mission of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church by enhancing music for worship, and opening our doors to the greater community through music performances. Music groups that perform at St. Paul’s help the Friends of Music raise money that benefits music for the liturgy, funding professional singers at weekly services and musicians for special feast days.

The service of Compline was started by the choir in Fall, 2002. Attendance has grown to a group of 60-100, including many young people, the un-churched, and those from other faith traditions.

In 2005, Pacific Collegium was designated Artists-in-Residence at St. Paul’s. This group specializes in performing liturgical music in sacred settings, and performs in concerts and special services. In 2006, Friends of Music at St. Paul’s sponsored a weekend of Commemorative events for the 5th anniversary of 9/11: Artist-in-Residence Pacific Collegium performed a benefit concert in support of the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation, our choir sang a Requiem mass at the 10am service on 9/10, and a free Concert by the Choir of Caius College, Cambridge, England, was performed on 9/11. Hundreds attended this series of moving and beautiful events.