The founders of St. Paul’s began organizing their parish in 1861. City growth would divide the single parish of Old St. John’s at Broadway, with area east of Broadway belonging to the new St. Paul’s parish. They began with Sunday schools, when in 1861, 50% of children in Alameda County were not in school and child labor was legal. Chinese children were not allowed to attend public schools, so church members organized classes for all children and volunteered to teach Chinese children at the Good Samaritan Mission downtown.
In 1871, the founders bought property, a chapel, and a rectory, from the fledgling College of California at 12th and Webster Streets, as the college was moving to the country to become the University of California. As Oakland grew, the wooden church was literally picked up and moved twice up town.
In 1890, St. Paul's buildings were moved to the corner of Harrison Street and 14th Street, with Rev. Hobart Chetwood as the rector. In 1907, the vestry decided to sell the land at a profit and move to a new site at West Grand Avenue near Webster Street.
In 1912, they built the present English Gothic Revival-style building across from Lakeside Park, at the corner of Montecito and Bay Place. Designed by noted architect Benjamin Geer McDougall, the cornerstone was laid on January 25, 1912, and the building itself was dedicated with great ceremony upon opening.
From its inception, St. Paul’s members have actively served the community and the world. Through earthquakes, fires, epidemics and wars St. Paul’s was there to help. We served refugees from the 1906 earthquake and fires, who fled to the East Bay. We have clothed, fed, housed, and educated refugees from Poland, El Salvador, Cambodia, and Ethiopia, and in the 1980s were known as the "United Nations parish" of the Diocese.
In 1966, St. Paul’s was instrumental in founding Clausen House, a residential facility for adults with developmental disabilities. 1966 also marked the founding of the Episcopal Homes Foundation (now Covia) with the opening of St. Paul’s Towers, a Life Care senior residence, located across the street for the church on Montecito.
That same year, St. Paul’s House was built, It housed a succession of local private elementary schools. In 1975, the vestry founded St. Paul's Episcopal School as a mission of St. Paul's Church. An independent K-8 Episcopal School, St. Paul's School offers an outstanding K-8 program with a values-based mission of Academic Rigor, Diversity & Inclusion, Fearless Learning, Service & Stewardship, and Spirituality. It lives by the motto, A Private School with a Public Purpose.
Our Senior Food Co-op, founded in 1980, has grown to feed seniors all over the Bay Area and still provides fresh produce at cost to senior citizens and the disabled in the neighborhood every Thursday morning in the Parish Hall. Senior Resources provides outreach services to frail elders in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Monterey, San Francisco, Santa Clara, and Sonoma Counties.
The year 1989 signaled the beginning of a deeply challenging and tumultuous decade for St. Paul’s. In the summer of 1989, 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 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 rallied again and 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, Oakland Landmark #116, under Zoning Case #LM 92-200 - an honor the parish still holds dear. The retrofit was completed in 1998 at a cost of $1.8 million. Bishop William Swing led the Service of Re-dedication of church and parish buildings, on April 26, 1998.
During 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.
In Fall 2002, the St. Paul’s Choir began the service of Compline, “Prayers for the end of the day,”, that is sung on the fourth Sunday of every month. In 2005, Pacific Collegium, led by Christopher Kula, was designated Artist-in-Residence at St. Paul’s. This group specializes in performance of liturgical music in sacred settings, in worship services and concerts. The service of Evensong, initiated in 2006, is sung by Chapel College Men & Boys Ensemble, a program of Pacific Collegium Conservatory.
Father Eastwood retired in the middle of 2007. This led to a long discernment period overseen by a series of interim priests, among them the Rev. Anne Jensen whose guidance, kindness, and wisdom saw us through the most important aspects of search process. During the ensuing eighteen months, St. Paul’s continued to flourish. The southwest courtyard outside the choir room was dedicated after a ten-year effort thanks to the leadership of Richard Larson and the School’s Josh Stern. Continuing in its active social justice mission. St. Paul’s welcomed LGBTQ in our midst and strongly reaffirmed that St. Paul’s Episcopal Church was and remained committed to the spiritual empowerment of LGBTQ people. Throughout, the search committee worked diligently, and we all rejoiced when The Rev. Mauricio Wilson accepted the call to be our next rector. With hearty thanks to Anne Jensen, we welcomed the future. Our next era had begun.
Mauricio Wilson was born and raised in Costa Rica. He and his lovely family, wife Karla and daughters Kiandra and Kimaura, joined the St. Paul’s family in the Fall of 2009. Cottage dinners were held to allow Father Wilson to get to know the parishioners in small group settings. Our commitment to social justice continued unabated with such programs as the Giving Tree and Nets of the Crèche raising money to help needy children in Oakland and providing mosquito nets to needy villages in Africa. Deacon Carolyn Bolton came to us from St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church. Her energetic leadership in providing food for the needy through a new St. Paul’s food pantry--the Pantry of Hope—the Thursday Market and other programs inspired many parishioners to participate. She also initiated a knitting ministry for newborn babies at Oakland’s Highland Hospital. Father Christian Harding, a refugee from the savage Liberian civil war, and Anne Jensen who returned to us as a parishioner, both continue to serve as assisting priests.
St. Paul’s passion for diversity and inclusion continued during the decade. When the Episcopal church finally authorized a full marriage ceremony for LGBTQs, we were in the forefront of rejoicing and participating in this joyous advance in human rights. We were also blessed by the presence of Izabella Sempari who with the support and encouragement of St. Paul’s became the first transgender priest in the Episcopal Church. Social justice actions also included Paula Hawthorn’s splendid leadership in support of SAVE (Soldiers Against Violence Everywhere) in its campaign against gun violence in Oakland.
Parishioner inspired activities continued as Tom McGarrell organized the sale of donated CDs and orchestrated periodic “pop-up” garage sales in the southwest courtyard of the church—a fine way to raise a little money and to make ourselves visible to the local community. These modest initiatives provided welcome support for a church budget that consistently ran in the red despite the herculean efforts of a succession of active stewardship committees.
Worship continued to be a celebratory and beautiful liturgy. In 2017 Jeanette Dinwiddie Moore and others created the Prayers of the People ministry. Creators composed prayers that were used in the Sunday services. Fun continued as well as we celebrated Mardi Gras with a pancake supper and races as well as hearty singing of Christmas carols each year at Cookies and Carols.
On January 25, 2012 we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone for the present St. Paul’s Church. Less than a decade later, we celebrated the 150th anniversary of the founding of St. Paul’s itself.