Bethel AME in SF celebrates 160 years of service


If a computer class can double as a religious experience, then maybe the one at Bethel AMEChurch in San Francisco is it. "We're in the digital age. This is what everyone should be doing," Felton Cogill says. Everyone, of course, means anyone within the geographic or spiritual influence of the church. It's made no small difference to Dorothea Albert, who served the city of San Francisco as nurse for 37 years but never learned this stuff. " All I had to do was dictate to my secretary and now, I can do it myself alone," she says.

But the work of Bethel AME has been a larger matter. "In our generation, we were brought to church, alot, by our parents, and it's one of those things that sticks,"60-year member Lawrence Acker says. Bethel AME church has been at the same location in Western Addition since 1945. It has been in San Francisco since 1852. That is 160 years.

"I could have just simply told you that we come to church on Sunday morning and we leave, and we're gone and that's the end of it, but we don't. We're here seven days a week," Bobby Sisk says. If a church is its people, Sisk has more than a little history at Bethel AME and a place in a lineage.

Bethel AME will celebrate its 160th birthday this week and the work never stops. How many churches do you know that provide low-income, federally-subsidized housing for seniors, even for people who aren't congregation regulars, like 72-year-old Mineko King who says she goes to church every once in awhile. When asked if maybe she should go more often, she laughingly replied, "Probably," then pointed out that she is Buddhist.

It's just another example of a church practicing what it preaches, 160 years worth in this case, and still going, for the oldest African American church in San Francisco. "We're just one little cornerstone on the beach that you couldn't see from maybe 200 miles away, but we do exist and we do do our part to hold the beach," Acker says.

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