Oakland synagogue hosts congregation from FAME church destroyed by fire

ByCornell W. Barnard KGO logo
Monday, February 27, 2023
Oakland synagogue hosts congregation from church destroyed by fire
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Temple Beth Abraham in Oakland opened its doors to FAME just hours after learning a fire had destroyed the historic church.

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- In the East Bay, a struggling church congregation is rising from the ashes. Just one week after a fire destroyed Oakland's First African Methodist Episcopal Church or FAME, Sunday morning services resumed thanks to a nearby Jewish synagogue which opened its doors.

"We will rise from the ashes," said Pastor Rodney D. Smith.

RELATED: FAME Oakland church leaders work to reestablish feeding ministry after fire

Members of Oakland's First African Methodist Episcopal Church, or FAME, were back in the pews for Sunday worship, only this was a synagogue.

Temple Beth Abraham in Oakland opened its doors to FAME just hours after learning a fire had destroyed the historic church on Telegraph Avenue on Feb. 19.

"It's heartbreaking, but the fact we could make something happen and give them a place to pray is amazing," said Garrett Schwartz from Temple Beth Abraham.

"Sometimes we don't know why God allows certain things to happen but one thing is certain, we will rise again," said Pastor Smith.

Pastor Smith says FAME is Oakland's oldest African American church, dating back to the 1850's.

VIDEO:Witness describes what he saw before East Bay's oldest Black church caught fire

"Never in a million years did I think I'd be pastor of a church that burned down two years after I arrived. God must have chosen me to become part of the solution," Smith added.

Smith says that solution means rebuilding his church and making the ministry greater than it was before.

"Our focus will be how can we bring people together? How can we bring the city together? How can we use the tragedy to do something special," said the pastor.

As of Sunday, a GoFundMe account had raised almost $50,000 to help rebuild.

FAME parishioners were feeling blessed to be back together after a long and difficult week.

"It's not about be sad or depressed, it's about a new start, new aspiration, new hope to be greater than we were," said parishioner Njelela Kwamilela.

FAME's congregation is invited to return to the Temple again next Sunday. A cause of the church fire is still under investigation.

"We know we've got a long journey ahead, it's going to take all of us to get there," said Smith.

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