166-year-old Oakland church looks to future with commemorative weekend 1 year after devastating fire

ByTim Johns KGO logo
Sunday, February 18, 2024
166-year-old Oakland church looks to future 1 year after fire
One year after the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Oakland suffered a devastating fire, their say they're ready to start rebuilding.

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- Monday marks one year to the day that the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Oakland went up in flames.

The church, which is commonly called FAME Oakland, is the East Bay's oldest Black church and has been a staple in the community for more than 160 years.

"This city knows us, and we know them. So it was pretty devastating when those flames went up," said Pastor Rodney Smith.

Pastor Smith tells ABC7 News one year on, FAME is finally ready to start rebuilding.

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

A witness describes what he saw before Oakland's first Black church, First African Methodist Episcopal Church, caught fire Sunday night.

And this weekend, they'll host a special three-day event to commemorate the fire and the church's future.

"Tomorrow, we're going to be doing community service at Prescott Elementary School. On Sunday, we're going to be celebrating our traditional worship service. And then on Monday everybody come out, we have an Emmy-award winning artist that is coming for our gospel concert," said Pastor Smith.

Even though the church burned last year, Pastor Smith says something extraordinary has happened since that time.

He says through these troubles, his community has grown stronger.

"I was really afraid that people would stop coming to church. The very opposite has happened, and we have seen more people since the church has burned than we did before," Pastor Smith said.

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

"The church is not the building, and that's the message, the church is what you do and how you love and how you serve," Pastor Rodney Smith said.

That sense of community and service is fundamental to what FAME Oakland stands for says Dolly Woodson, who was the first person to get the call that the building had caught fire.

Woodson tells me over the past 12 months, FAME has kept up worship services despite not having a permanent home.

"It's important that the community knows our mission is still alive. It's still viable. It's still going on. So the fact that that particular building on the corner of 37th and Telegraph is no longer functional, the work that we have to do in the community is still going to go on," Woodson said.

A vision echoed by Pastor Smith, who says the future for FAME is brighter than ever.

"We're going to build back. And we're going to build back bigger, stronger and better than ever."

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