Our church’s Centennial Celebration program describes the beginnings of the church as a Sunday School in 1877 on Clay, near 10th Street [CEL-1987]. According to Rev. Peter Lau, this is consistent with, or based on, recollections from life-long members Bertha Tong and Lum David Lee.
Subsequent research located several annual reports of the Methodist Episcopal Chinese Mission which provide updates on each mission. The report for year ending in September 1, 1881 refers to the start of a Sunday School led by Mr. W. H. Rouse held in the First Methodist Episcopal Church six years earlier. It also describes an evening school that had been in existence for three years earlier. At the time of the report, Mr. H.
W. Stowe had just been transferred from the San Francisco mission. By that time, the Mission building in Oakland had been “completed and dedicated free of debt some two years ago.” [RMECM-1881].
In 1882, Chan Hon Fan came to assist W. H. Stowe at the school. The school had been well attended, but there were increasing problems with helpers (some of whom had to be expelled) and students. Unfortunately, Chan Hon Fan would return to China the following year, leaving the Oakland Mission and the California missions in general short of Chinese helpers [RMECM-1882]. By the end of the year, the “rebellious element” was gone, but W. H. Stowe was alone and teaching a sparse class of 3 members and 4 probationers [RMECM-1883]. The Chinese school and class had dwindled to nothing, and the church leadership began outreach to the Japanese community by following year.[RMECM-1884].
The Oakland Mission was reorganized in 1887 [CACJ-1888]. It is unclear what occurred in the intervening years, but by 1890 conference reports paint a much rosier picture for the Oakland Church with one native unordained preacher, one foreign teacher, 13 members, and 6 probationers, 50 “adherents,” and an average worship attendance of 20 [ARMSMEC-1890]. As part of the reorganization Miss Kelsey and Woo Ming took charge of a still uncertain Mission and brought the mission back to a healthy state [ARMSMEC-1893]. That the mission was turned around with a woman in charge is a powerful reminder of the important role of women in the Oakland church's history.
It is thus through the grace of God that we celebrate the church's official founding in 1887.