Fruitvale Presbyterian Church Closes


by Monte McClain


Fruitvale Presbyterian Church (FVPC) is closing September 2. Begun in the early 1880s by a small group of folks led by Franklin Rhoda Jr. (hence the name of the local street) in a public building at the corner of Palmetto and School St., the genesis of what became FVPC was an effort to provide Sunday School for the children of this farming part of Oakland. Birthed from the supportive efforts of Brooklyn Presbyterian Church, FVPC was chartered in 1896 as an official congregation. Within 20 years time, FVPC surpassed its mother church in size and vitality and moved in 1927 to the corner of MacArthur Blvd. and Coolidge. How does the closing and death of FVPC impact the question of the identity of the part of Oakland described as District 4?

The Fruitvale Presbyterian Church congregation. Photo by Rachel Carey Photography.

Pastor, the Rev. Abby King Kaiser, defines the church as “a community of people that engage with God in order to engage with their community.” Over the past 116 years Fruitvale Presbyterian has been: a center for community, home to scout troops, the neighborhood pumpkin patch and Christmas Tree Lot, social dances and youth activities.

In collaboration with the city of Oakland in the 1960s, it housed one of the first Senior Centers. Social programs included Alameda County Food Bank food distributions, and holiday dinners, campaign debates, and active partnering with local nonprofits from the DIA, to the MacArthur Metro.

Since the construction of I-580, FVPC, like the Dimond District, has struggled with questions of identity, and civic cohesiveness. Now, with years of decreasing church membership, the church community has deemed to close the church doors with the hope of creating something new in the future.

The last months of the church are planned to celebrate the legacy of the church community. Certain community center activities and programs, such as the weekly Senior Center, recovery groups, exercise classes, and artist studios will continue past the closing of the worshipping community until the Presbytery, or regional church leadership, decides what to do with the building and property.

The decision to close the church stirred up strong emotions among church members and the larger community. Pastor Abby reflects, “If we close with intention, instead of settling for being victims of our future, then we can experience something different, a transformation of how we do life together.”

The task facing all of us—at Fruitvale Church and across District 4—is to keep up with the change around us and find ways to fill in the gaps as our institutions and communities change. The story of FVPC is a parable for the city. Its genesis was a reaction to the needs of the community in the 1880s. It was a process of seeing needs, identifying responses, and stepping out into a future that was built together. And it all happened thanks to an institution, Brooklyn Presbyterian Church­, which birthed this new church, and yet has since closed, died, and disappeared.

FVPC is celebrating its legacy at a community-wide service and reception scheduled for Saturday, September 1 at 2 p.m. at 2735 MacArthur Blvd. The final worship service will be Sunday, September 2 at 11 a.m. More information at www.fvpc.org or Pastor Abby’s blog: abbykk.com.

Monte McClain can be reached at www.montemcclain.com