A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The First Hundred Years

Happy birthday to Northbrae Community Church in Berkeley, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this weekend.
Northbrae was founded Feb. 7, 1914, when a handful of local families held a service in the living home of William and Mary Pressley at 1003 Mariposa Street. (The Sunday school was held in the garage.)
Services continued in various homes - and, for a while, in the Mason McDuffie Real Estate sales office  – until 1920 when, under the leadership of Northbrae's first minister, Frank Brush, the church building was erected at the corner of Los Angeles and The Alameda.
Though Northbrae was founded as a Presbyterian church, people were already calling it "Northbrae Community Church," reflecting the philosophy best expressed by Brush's successor, Laurance Cross: "This church will take into full membership a Jew, a Muslim, a Hindu – anyone who will promise to do good and be good." It officially became a non-denominational congregation in 1943.
Brush retired in 1924 and was succeeded by Cross, one of those larger-than-life characters who would be unbelievable if you read about him in a novel. He supported the teaching of evolution in the Scopes "monkey trial," preached racial tolerance to the John Birchers, and, as chairman of the Berkeley school board, cast the deciding vote to allow Paul Robeson to use the Berkeley Community Theater for a concert after San Francisco and Oakland turned him down.
From 1929 to 1939 he hosted a daily radio show, "Crosscuts From The Log O' Life," which was broadcast nationwide on NBC. And to top it all off, he served two terms as Mayor of Berkeley from 1947 to 1955.
When he died in 1966 he was a hard act to follow, but Northbrae found the perfect candidate: Craig Jessup, who had just been fired by his church in Alameda for supporting integrated housing. That would have been the kiss of death for most churches, but for Northbrae it was the highest possible recommendation.
He justified their confidence by drawing on his own experiences as a soldier in the Korean War to preach the virtues of peace, a timely message during the Vietnam War. After his retirement in 1977 he joined the Peace Corps and taught farming in New Guinea.
The fourth minister was Dave Sugarbaker. On his watch, Northbrae opened the doors to other denominations, where they could worship while they were building their own homes, including two Jewish congregations: Congregation Netivot Shalom and Kehilla Community Synagogue. He also conducted more than 1,000 weddings for couples who didn't have a church or whose church wouldn't marry them for whatever reason (ie. because they were gay or were marrying someone of a different faith).
After serving for 27 years he was succeeded in 2000 by Ron Sebring, who created the Rite of Passage program, a coming-of-age ritual for young people, like an ecumenical Bar Mitzvah.
Sebring retired in 2011 and was succeeded by a string of interim ministers until the current minister, Mike Burch, took over last year.
Northbrae will celebrate its centennial Saturday night with a banquet featuring Rev. Jessup's son, Craig Jr., as emcee. The next morning it will kick off its second hundred years with a service of celebration, and the public is cordially invited.
Northbrae might be short on dogma, but I have never met more Godly people. It's not easy to live up to Rev. Cross's admonition to "do good and be good," but these folks really try.
Happy birthday, Northbrae.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Friday Night's Allright

Oakland has suffered a lot of bad publicity lately because of the crime problem, but there's a lot more to the city than that.
For starters, it's home to one of the best street festivals in the Bay Area, one that happens not once a year but once a month!
It's called Oakland First Fridays, and the next one is coming up next week.
First Fridays grew out of Oakland Art Murmur, which began eight years ago as a free monthly stroll through the KONO (Koreatown/Northgate) and Uptown districts, featuring the many art galleries and mixed-use venues that have made Oakland one of the most artistically exciting cities in the country.
As Art Murmur became more popular and the parties spilled out onto the streets, attracting gourmet food trucks and artists selling their own creations, First Fridays became its own event, operating on a parallel track with Art Murmur.
Up to now, First Fridays has relied on volunteers, who have labored long and hard on what has been a labor of love. But toward the end of last year it became clear to the folks at the KONO Community Benefit District that they needed a pro to coordinate everything and take First Fridays to the next level.
The same thing happened back in the 1980s with the Solano Stroll in Berkeley/Albany. The Stroll had been chugging along just fine for on volunteer labor for 15 years, but in 1989 the Solano Avenue Business Association wisely hired event planner Lisa Bullwinkel to run the show, and that's when the Stoll really took off and became the iconic festival it is today.
To run First Fridays, KONO has hired event planner Sarah Kidder, an Uptown resident herself whose previous credits include the West Contra Costa County Unified School District's annual Ed Fund Excellence in Education banquet and last year's wildly successful Bark And Meow Around The Block street festival for the Berkeley Humane Society.
And she's pulling out all the stops to make this next First Friday the most fun ever. In addition to looking at all that glorious art, you can chow down on food from local culinary artisans, including real Dutch stroopwafels from The Stroopie Gourmet, handcrafted bagel dogs (a hot dog in a bagel instead of a bun) from Authentic Bagel Company, and Goat Rezala and Galawati Kebabs from Munch India, among many, many others.
Plus: live bands, street artists, performers, dancers, DJs and poets. It's really too much to take in during one evening, but that's OK: You can always come back for more next month.
The next First Friday will take place from 5 to 9 p.m. on Feb. 7 on Telegraph Avenue from West Grand to 27th Street. The main entrance is at West Grand and Telegraph, although you're welcome to enter via a side street.
Parking can be iffy, so come early if you drive or, better yet, take BART to the 19th street station and walk over to West Grand. You can also get there by taking the Broadway B free shuttle that runs from Jack London Square to Grand Avenue, stopping every two blocks along the way.
Oh yes: the crime problem? Not to worry. The Oakland police will be out in force, and so will lots of private security.
See you there!