Berkeley/Oakland Shalom Team Commissioned at Epworth UMC

By Dr. Michael Christensen

On Pentecost Sunday 2014, at Epworth United Methodist Church in Berkeley, national trainers Fred Smith and Michael Christensen commissioned nine new Ministers of Shalom. Jim Bergdoll (urban planning consultant), Dr. Karen Harber (clinical psychologist), Dr. Alan Kimber (retired UMC minister), Rosemary Kimber (education specialist), Al Kueffner (community organizer), Caryn Pellegrino (conflict transformation specialist), Michele Robbins (local UMC pastor), Maxim Schrogin (Torah teacher and community organizer), Dr. Douglas Smith (professor of computer science), and Becky Wheat (education consultant) each shared their passion for community work and received their Certificate of Completion from Drew University for 42-hours of Shalom Training in Asset Based Community Development.

“One of the distinctive qualities of this shalom team,” according to Michael Christensen, International Director of Communities of Shalom, “is the array of professional competencies and community development experience on this team.”   Indeed six of the nine members of the Berkeley/Oakland Shalom Team traveled with Dr. Christensen last January to Uganda to help him and Pastor Moses train over 100 Muslim and Christian coffee farmers in Jinja in the principles and strategies of SHALOM. (See previous news about Pastor Moses and Uganda Communities of Shalom).

 

According to National Shalom Trainer Fredrick Douglas Smith,“the Berkeley-Oakland Shalom team is well-equipped to take on the Stattuck Ave Shalom Zone project in Oakland.”

The Shattuck Avenue United Methodist Church is in the transitioning Bushrod neighborhood of North Oakland. It was closed last year as a local congregation with the hope of being re-purposed as a community ministry center.  The former church building is on the corner of Shattuck Avenue and 63rd Street in North Oakland, just one block from a busy intersection with Alcatraz Avenue and the border of the City of Berkeley.

The beautiful old building sits unused and quickly deteriorating most of the time, worship having discontinued in 2013.  An active small martial arts program rents the gymnasium over the fellowship hall, and several different twelve-step groups rent space for meetings weekly.

For more information on the proposed Shattuck Ave Shalom Zone, see Shalom Blog:

photo 3New proposals are in process for working with the surrounding community to establish viable uses for the building as a ministry site or community center. The first step is to understand the assets and needs currently in the community, and some are summarized below.  The process involves having formal meetings with neighborhood leaders and community stakeholders to surface creative ideas and build consensus.

A preliminary survey of the community’s current assets over the last few months reveals some interesting possibilities.  For visioning purposes, the boundaries of the Shalom Zone may be designated as Alcatraz Avenue on the north, Martin Luther King Jr. Way on the West, Telegraph Avenue or Colby Street on the East, and the Highway 24 overpass and 55th Street at the South.

The Church is a couple of blocks from the busy neighborhood Bushrod Recreation Center and sports fields operated by the City of Oakland.  There are several community gardens in the neighborhood, and food security was a common problem prompting the church congregation to operate a hot meal program and a food pantry in the building for many years.  There may be only one other food pantry program still operating in this area, at the small Baptist Church on Shattuck Ave.

This area is in the midst of a major network of urban agriculture in Berkeley and North Oakland, and a South Berkeley farmers market operates every Tuesday just to the west.  A Whole Foods grocery store exists about a half mile to the north on Telegraph Avenue, and a convenience store is a block north on Shattuck, and another one is near the southern part of the neighborhood at the corner of 55th and Shattuck.

Although there are many sports programs in the neighborhood, a coach at the recreation center (Jimmy) told the group on its prayer walk that he felt there was a need for other youth programs as alternatives.

photo 2The Sankofa Academy on Shattuck Avenue is a public school with grades K-8 serving this neighborhood from its site between the Rec Center and the church.  More discussions with Rec center and school staff are needed to determine whether Bushrod has capacity for more programs or there is a need for more space in the area.

The sanctuary space at Shattuck church is very beautiful, having been completely renovated approximately five years ago, and could be used for performances or various gatherings.  Shattuck UMC had annually held a popular African Fashion Show, and the lead organizer still lives in the neighborhood.  There is a large East African population in the area, with an Eritrean café on Shattuck within this zone.

There is a large Senior Center on the western edge of the zone at Martin Luther King, with many programs, but the senior population is growing.  On the prayer walk one neighborhood resident shared that she thought there would be a need for computer literacy resources for elders.

photo 4Coincidentally there are anecdotally many younger neighborhood residents working in the high-tech/computer industry, and many tech-savvy U.C. Berkeley alumni and students connected with the nearby campus who constitute a significant asset.  In order to use the building well for seniors, some improvements would be needed.

The church building and fellowship hall were made wheelchair accessible with ramps, but interior hallways and bathrooms are narrow.  There were many elderly members of Shattuck UMC when it discontinued but only a couple seems to still live in the immediate neighborhood.  Veneta Jones was the Lay Leader and long-time church leader, and is a retired nurse living a couple of blocks away.

This Shalom Zone is surrounded by three major hospitals, yet there don’t appear to be any formal health services within its borders.  About two blocks to the north on Shattuck is a Medical Marijuana Healing Center, with many programs.

A medical professional office is on Alcatraz to the west.  Alta Bates Medical Center is about a half mile northeast, near Telegraph Avenue.  Children’s Hospital is just a few blocks to the southwest on Martin Luther King, and Kaiser Oakland is about two miles to the southeast.  These hospitals all have a mission and a vested interest in finding ways to enhance health services to the local population, and should be included in a more thorough neighborhood assessment.

photo 5Some ideas for using the church building that came up during the Shalom training process include these: The plan would be to offer this space to the neighborhood and see what they want or feel passionate about providing.  For example, a multi-purpose community/ arts/coffee house.

Programs for youth and elders could be combined to allow the youth to teach the elders things like computer literacy and elders to share skills in music, art, or other areas.   If some type of neighborhood-serving café and food program were possible, the free hot meal program could be re-established linking up to the many local food resources, and waste could be composted to use in the community gardens.

Green industries are popular and much needed, and the headquarters of the nonprofit Grid Alternatives is only a mile to the west.  They provide free installation of solar panels and various training programs, and should be consulted for ideas about building uses and rehab.

photo 1Any retrofit of the building would be more popular and marketable if it was as environmentally sustainable as possible.  Rebuilding Together Oakland is a nonprofit with offices on Alcatraz near this site, and they could be recruited to help coordinate some of the building rehab in a “community barn-raising” type of plan as a way to get community buy-in to the project.

The process for implementing a Shattuck Avenue Shalom center should involve extensive discussion with community leaders.  The North Oakland Voters Alliance appears to be the broadest and most organized resident organization for the Bushrod neighborhood, but they have not yet been officially consulted.

The recently elected City Council representative for North Oakland, Dan Kalb, is an environmental advocate with a desire to promote clean-tech jobs and community development.  Some type of “Request for Proposals” could be formulated and circulated to solicit community-based entrepreneurs and leaders to see how they would use the building in a sustainable manner – community-wise, environmentally, and financially.

Some staffing from the UMC or the community could coordinate the building programs and management, and promote a vision of mission-oriented purpose consistent with the goals of the United Methodist Church.

[Prepared by Communities of Shalom Training Group: Trainees:  Jim Bergdoll, Jr., Karen Harber, Alan Kimber, Rosemary Kimber, Albert Kueffner, Caryn Pelegrino, Michele Robbins, Maxim Schrogin, Doug Smith, and Rebecca Wheat; Trainers:  Rev. Michael Christensen and Rev. Dr. Frederick Douglas Smith.]

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