First Covenant Church (FCC) has a rich past - 130 years' worth of legacy. While it is easy to hang on to the past, it is not always best. Yet, appreciating our history and affirming our roots can also provide a foundation on which to build.
FCC began in 1886 as a small gathering with immigrant missionaries from Sweden, on their way to service in Alaska. The first charter was signed in 1887 by 14 people, with women outnumbering men nearly 2 to 1. The church has been housed in 9 locations throughout Oakland and been served by 16 pastors. It has been known by 5 different names: Swedish Emmanuel Church (1887), the Swedish Mission Church (1890), The Mission Covenant Church (1930), the Evangelical Covenant Church (late 1950's) and First Covenant Church (mid 1960's).
There is such a wealth of historical information available to us it is nearly impossible to distill into a concise format. We have elected to put forward the major threads or themes that appear again and again throughout the decades.
1. The Centrality of the Word of God - "where is it written?" or "what does the Bible say?" - these were common responses to the questions of life. God's Word is seen as the only perfect rule for faith, doctrine and conduct. The importance of strong Biblical preaching/teaching has always been a primary focus of the church. This emphasis continues today with our pastoral staff focus on Scripture and preaching the gospel.
2. Prayer - the members of the church devoted themselves to prayer. In addition to individual and small group prayer, weekly prayer meetings were held, and for many years, an entire week was given to prayer in January. "Concerts of Prayer" and neighborhood prayer walks have been conducted throughout the city.
Currently, a prayer team meets weekly at FCC and confidential prayer requests are covered by the diaconate and pastoral staff. From time to time focused prayer is undertaken for specific needs.
3. Missions - we are a mission-centric church - started by missionaries, supportive of missionaries and a sender of missionaries across the world. This has been true since the first years of the church and continues to the present day.
In addition to supporting numerous Covenant missionaries and missions programs, FCC is closely involved with work in Cambodia and India.
4. Youth and family ministry - we have always pursued a vibrant youth ministry - providing teaching, discipleship, training and fellowship for our youth. Strengthening and supporting families by engaging and encouraging the spiritual life of our youth is an ongoing goal.
Examples of this investment are seen in Treehouse Preschool and Kindergarten (est. 1975), middle-school, high school and college programs, Kids Camp, Rural Outreach, Camp Cov and Mission Springs Conference Center.
5. Worship and music - FCC has enjoyed and nurtured many fine musicians and composers over the years. Music is a wonderful expression of worship and an important part of our church. In the early years, there were string bands, choruses and choirs. Today we enjoy a great diversity of music. We are blessed with facilities that are suitable for concert venues as well as intimate gatherings.
Worship services incorporate pipe organ, piano, numerous acoustic, electric and percussion instruments, a sanctuary choir, chamber ensemble, kids choir, handbells, praise bands and many gifted musicians.
6. Lay Leadership - one of the great strengths of FCC has been the equipping and encouragement of our lay leaders. A focus on training up future leaders and helping them grow into the areas in which they are gifted by God and called by God to serve has provided strength and vitality to the congregation since its inception. The first deacon and deaconess corps was formed in 1920 and a Covenant Women's group began in 1930.
While we have excellent staff, who are needed and greatly depended upon, the majority of our ministries are conducted by volunteers. A myriad of ministries serving our congregation at all ages and stages and areas of need are ongoing.
In addition to these major "threads" there are certain characteristics that appeared throughout our history: We want to identify these as important to our future, because they are characteristics that are God-honoring.
1. Risk-taking/flexibility/stepping out in faith - from the very beginning there was a dependence upon the will of God, seeking His will and then stepping out in faith.
This was clearly exhibited each time the congregation made a change in location. Several members mortgaged their personal homes to raise funds for the purchase of land and building materials. Personal sacrifices were made for the benefit of God's work.
In the 1930's the church started a radio ministry, starting with 15-minute meditations and eventually expanding to include Sunday morning and evening services. A Swedish language program also aired.
For more than 30 years, services were conducted in Swedish, yet the leaders saw that in order to keep the youth engaged and in order to grow the congregation, it was time to incorporate English, and eventually to retire the use of the Swedish language in services.
As the congregation becomes more culturally diverse, fewer "old-country" traditions are observed. A great deal of grace has been exhibited, both in giving up and in continuing to honor cultural traditions of the past. The annual Christmas Smorgasbord is one of the few that remain. FCC also celebrates an International Dinner, where the foods, music and costumes of many cultures are enjoyed together.
In 2005, FCC welcomed a Cambodian congregation into our fellowship, incorporating their pastor into our pastoral staff and including them in our faith community.
2. Facing Adversity - the church has come through many challenges, many societal issues and some natural/physical challenges. In each case, adjustments were made and the church found ways to reach out, to serve and to stand fast.
- competition from false teaching/famous tent-evangelist (1889-90?)
- the 1906 earthquake brought an influx of people seeking refuge from San Francisco
- 1911 exodus of Swedish families to the San Joachin Valley
- World War I - 17 young men from the church gave military service (all returned)
- the Depression/economic upheaval
- World War II - 100 young people entered military service; the church also
provided meals/beds/hospitality to many visiting servicemen
- 1960's cultural revolution/anti-war demonstrations
- 1989 earthquake
- 1991 Oakland Hills fire
3. Connecting/creating community - in the early years, the church community sought connection among other Swedish immigrants, creating a faith community in a new place. They continued to make connections and create community, eventually expanding out of their safe spaces into new places and new groups of people. Sunday Schools were planted throughout the East Bay in several neighborhoods, as far afield as Lafayette, Antioch and Pittsburg.
Community is created within the church today through focused ministry (youth, men, women) and through connection groups, Bible study and targeted support groups.
We continue to look outward into the larger community, as God leads, to find more places where we can serve and bring His light to our world. In some cases, individuals have launched out to start something new; in other cases, the church has stepped out to partner with others. We have been involved in church planting and supporting ministries such as Faith Network, New Day for Children, Serve Oakland, among others.
4. Encouraging Vision - FCC has a tradition of honoring the vision/calling of its people. When a vision for ministry is expressed, the leadership prayerfully consider whether it is in keeping with Scripture, with our articles of faith and its suitability within the church body and existing ministries. If so, the church encourages the development of gifts and willingness to serve. Our Stephen Ministry program is a good example.
5. Denominational Connection - FCC is part of the Pacific Southwest Conference and the Evangelical Covenant Church.
FCC participates in the regional conference activities and in the mid-winter and annual meetings of the denomination. All of our pastors are ordained by the denomination following completion of course requirements and licensing.
In years past, FCC participated in gatherings of area Covenant churches, retreats and events at Mission Springs Conference Center. Mission Springs was started by Bay Area Covenanters who built vacation cabins in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Over the years, the Covenant invested in property and the campground/conference center became a destination for Covenanters from around the region. While a number of FCC member families still maintain cabins there, and the annual all-church retreat is held there, the interaction and inter-connection among members of other area churches is not as active as in earlier days.
Excerpt from Livsrön - J L Lindquist - The Oakland Years (1886)
Twenty-Five Years Remembered 1887-1912, Swedish Mission Church,
Axel G. Samuelson, Anniversary publication, re-issued 2012
God of the Past, Our Times are in Thy Hand A Chronicle of the Circling Years
75th Anniversary Publication, 1962
90th Anniversary Banquet presentation, First Covenant Church, Oakland, California
Including Decade by Decade Summaries, 1887-1977
Roots -- Anchors or Wings? Jim Holst, 1985
Mobilizing for Harvest in the 90's, First Covenant Church, Master Plan 1989-1994
June 1989, Revision June 1990
Ministry Planning Group, First Covenant Church, September 1997
Ambassador's Presentation, Jim Holst, November 2007
First Covenant Church Profile for Lead Pastor Search, April 30, 2015
Audio Transcript, April 5, 2017
Stan Olson, Jim Holst, Steve Olsen, Nancy Olsen, Joan Sweetman, Ruth Hamilton
Some Features I Recall Regarding the Characteristics of FCC in Earlier Years,
Stan Olson, April 2017
Questions for the future:
Where can we be of service in new ways?
How can we better train up new leaders?
How can we reach out to our local community?
What ministries should be re-instituted?
How can we create new connections?
- inter-generational - adopt grandparents - tech training
- common experience - special needs - grief - caregiving
- common interest - cooking - art - literature - theater
- telling stories/filming
- talent shows
- hymn sings
- game nights/craft nights