Biography / Administrative History
Scope and Content
Title: Berkeley Free Church Collection,
Date (inclusive): 1959-1976
Accession number: GTU 89-5-016
Shelf location: 2/E/2-2/F/3
Berkeley Free Church
Collection Size: 31 boxes; 24 Linear Feet;
199 online items
Graduate Theological Union.
Abstract: The Berkeley Free Church (South Campus Community Ministry), 1967-1972, Richard York, Pastor, operated a service ministry to
the Berkeley, CA, Telegraph Ave. area transients, runaways and hippies. Services included a referral switchboard, counseling,
health care, crash pads, and free food. Support came from area merchants, local churches, and the Episcopal and Presbyterian
denominations. The Church and its clergy were involved in all the radical and social justice issues of the late 60's including
local Berkeley issues, campus riots, and People's Park; peace and draft resistance issues of the Vietnam War; and radical
church renewal in the mainline Protestant denominations.
Selected digitized images from this collection.
Collection is open for research, except for 3 items and interviews captured on audio tapes by Harlan Stelmach for his dissertation.
Access restricted until 2025.
Copyright has not been assigned to The Graduate Theological Union. All requests for
permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the
Archivist. Permission for publication is given on behalf of The Graduate Theological
Union as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply
permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.
[Identification of item], Berkeley Free Church Collection, GTU 89-5-016, The Graduate
Theological Union Archives, Berkeley, CA.
Church renewal--United States--History--Sources--20th century
Berkeley (Calif.)--Church history--Sources
Telegraph Ave. (Berkeley, Calif.)
People's Park (Berkeley, Calif.)--History--Sources
Hippies--United States--Societies, etc.--Directories
Berkeley Free Church--Information services
Referral centers (Information services)--California--Berkeley
Draft Resisters--United States
Vietnamese Conflict, 1961-1975--Draft Resisters
Vietnamese Conflict, 1961-1975--Protest Movements--United States
Vietnamese Conflict, 1961-1975--Conscientious objectors--United States
Conscientious objectors--United States
United States--Race relations--History--20th century
Episcopal Church--History--Sources--20th century
Episcopal Church--Diocese of California--History--Sources--20th century
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)--History--Sources--20th century
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)--Presbytery of San Francisco--History--Sources--20th century
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)--Synod of the Golden Gate--History--Sources--20th century
Fredericksburg (Va.), Battle of, 1862
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Personal narratives
Names As Subjects
York, Richard L.
Brown, John Pairman
Brown, Emily Waymouth
Nugent, Anthony O.
Stelmach, Harlan Douglas Anthony
Smith, Otto Joseph Mitchell, 1917-
Biography / Administrative History
is not dead.
- God is bread.
- The bread is rising.
- Bread means revolution.
- God means revolution.
- Murder is
- Revolution is love.
- Win with love.
- The radical Jesus is winning.
- The world is coming to a
- The whole world is watching.
- Organize for a new
- Wash off your brother's blood.
- Burn out the mark of the
- Join the freedom meal.
- Plant the people's park.
- The asphalt church is marching.
- The guerrilla church is
- The submarine church is surfacing.
- The war is
- The war is over.
- The war is over.
Liberated Zone is at hand.
- Richard L. York, 1968
By the mid-1960s, Berkeley, California had become a center of the "hippie" culture
drawing large numbers of transient youth to the area called South Campus, especially
Telegraph Ave. A small group of area merchants and clergy of local churches, interested
in reconciliation and conflict resolution, conceived the idea of ministry to the needs of
The South Campus Community Ministry was incorporated in May 1967. Richard
L. York, recent graduate of the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, and soon to be
ordained in the Episcopal Church, was hired as Director. The SCCM quickly emerged as both
an alternative social service agency and a "Free Church" as it was called by the kids on
the street ("free" designating "hippie").
The Free Church worked out of a house in the
South Campus area which was also where York and his family lived. In the early months,
with minimal staff, particularly Glee Bishop, and some volunteers, the Free Church began
its ministry by reacting to the immediate needs of the street people. From this grew
services such as: a switchboard; counseling and crisis intervention for problems and
issues such as runaways, the draft, problems with drugs, and more; providing crash pads;
and providing free meals. Eventually, the Free Church helped develop "spin off" projects
which took over these services, such as the Berkeley Runaway Center, the Berkeley Free
Clinic, and the Berkeley Emergency Food Project.
As the services grew, and the
ministry expanded, so did support from such agencies as the Episcopal Church and the
Presbyterian Church. Anthony Nugent, a Presbyterian minister, and John Pairman Brown,
"Theologian in Residence", an Episcopal minister, were added to the staff, and the
volunteer pool expanded to include both people from the street, and well-meaning church
people who wanted to help.
The ministers of the Free Church continued to move in radical
directions both theologically and politically, locally and nationally, participating in
all the radical and social justice issues of the time: peace issues including Vietnam
protests, draft resistance, and conscientious objectors; student protests, both at the
University of California, Berkeley, and the local seminaries, particularly Pacific School
of Religion; race issues, particularly the Black Panthers; Berkeley city issues involving
social services, the police, housing, and riots; and People's Park. The staff were also
involved in issues of radical church renewal, locally doing alternative liturgies for the
Free Church and general South Campus community, and nationally confronting established
churches and denominations.
During this period, too, the Free Church, especially
John Pairman Brown and Emily Brown, was involved in the Free Church Publications. This
included various books published by John Pairman Brown, manuals and handbooks on the
switchboard and collective ideas, a yearly calendar, and "Win With Love: A Directory of
the Liberated Church in America".
Stelmach describes the tensions inherent in the
work of the Free Church and its leadership: "It seems clear that from the start there
existed two models for the ministry that came to be called the 'Berkeley Free Church.'
First, there was the social service and reconciliation model. The second was the rapidly
emerging alternative church and advocacy model. These two models, though not inherently
or theoretically irreconcilable, were constantly in tension with each other. . . . [T]he
Free Church would move in the direction of an alternative church--a church that advocated
the perceived rights, needs and values of its [hippie] constituency over against an
established society and church that were increasingly coming under attack from this
constituency. Therefore, the Free Church always had two constituencies for whom, or two
bases from which, it operated: the church and the world or religion and political action.
. . . The tensions...which defined the Free Church's constituencies and base in the
oppositional youth (hippie) culture's politics and life styles, for the sake of church
renewal, is the basis for understanding the evolution of the Free Church from a hippie
church to a political cult." (Stelmach, Harlan D.A. The Cult of Liberation: The Berkeley
Free Church and the Radical Church Movement , Pg. 18)
By 1970, controversies and
difficulties began to emerge. The staff split over styles, directions, and emphases for
the ministry which culminated in Anthony Nugent resigning and setting up the separate
Submarine Church. The more politically involved the staff became, the more controversial
the ministry became to its more conservative supporting constituency in the established
churches and denominations. The Free Church experienced increased police harassment,
negative media, and eroding support.
Throughout 1971-72, the continued and growing
contradictions, political, theological, and organizational, resulted in a fragmented
ministry lacking in cohesion, definition, direction, and effectiveness. There was a
growing disparity between the Board of Directors and the Switchboard people, by now the
only service left, as the Switchboard staff moved toward a collective model. This caused
more tension between the ideas of the Free Church as alternative church or as political
It is now early 1972: "The nature of the transient youth in the youth
ghetto, to which the Free Church was 'called' to serve from its inception as SCCM, still
continued to be lower class, less educated, and older young adults. It was not a group
from which the Free Church desired to recruit its lower level staff or volunteers. These
older youths were basically free floating transients. But perhaps out of tradition, some
altruism, some continued notion of conflict resolution, or maybe because they were funded
to do 'corporal acts of mercy,' the Free Church still made efforts to serve the
transients by its switchboard or its rejuvenated food program. One of the last programs
the Free Church 'spun off' was its free food program . . . However, by late 1971 the
transients were only the 'objects' of the service ministry. The motivation was 'charity'
not self liberation. Therefore, the Free Church's paternalism plus the nature of the
street transient helped to reimpose the clientele relationship in the social service
ministry." (Stelmach, Pg. 283)
There is a breakdown of the Left and the radicals
generally. At the Free Church, there is a further breakdown of the organization, staff
relations, and personal lives. The Browns resign from the staff, and York continues as
the only remaining staff person. The switchboard is closed. York entered a period of
evaluation and the attempted development of a new direction for the ministry.
September 1972, York took a sabbatical, and the Free Church, for all practical purposes,
ceased to exist. The energy and optimism York expresses in the poem above gives way to
the pain expressed here: "The solitude and doubt which invades all of human existence
began to be experienced as a depressing reality by many of us who were working in the
Movement (secular and religious) in the late 60's. We do not need, except in our
ceremonies, to recite again the litany of witnesses: assassinated, murdered, immolated,
gassed, shot, imprisoned, napalmed, beaten. All of us bear scars, on our bodies or in our
souls, of lost vision, dashed instant-revolution hopes, smashed stardom, soul poverty and
powerlessness. . . . The 'Free Church/Submarine Church/Liberated Church Movement' was
real, as real as was the secular movement of the 60's, but certainly not separate from
it. And that in part is our problem. . . . [i]n fact the Movement and the Radical Church
are two fountains from the same source. . . . Both have suffered from a kind of 'movement
eschatology', in which we lived, talked and acted as though the revolution would be over
tomorrow, just after this one last street demonstration. . . . For the radical church
movement, it was fed additionally by a theological eschatology, which was not thought
through deeply enough. . . . We ran like lemmings into the maw of the World Pig,
expecting that we would choke it and kill it overnight, and instead it began to chew us
to bits as our ripped hopes and bodies evidence." (Richard L. York,
Vol. 1 no. 1 (Winter 1973) pgs. 23-25.)
Scope and Content
The collection consists of working files, correspondence, records, minutes, flyers, pamphlets, posters, newspapers and clippings,
and published material. Also included are files of the Submarine Church, a group which broke off from the Berkeley Free Church.
There are some personal family files from the pastor Richard York, including a set of letters from a Civil War Union soldier
describing the Battle of Fredericksburg. There is a great deal of duplication in this collection, the
same material being found under more than one files series. Much duplicated material can
be found under the Richard L. York Files and the Berkeley Free Church Files.
People's Park, 1969 can be found in: Box 3, ff 46-49;
Box 6, ff 19-27; Box 10; Box 15, ff 27-43; Box 16, ff 1-2; Box 27; Small Collections Box
3, ff4 (3/A/2); and Small Collections Folio 1 (3/C/4).
Books in the GTU Rare Book Collection (links go to digital version on Internet Archive):
Brown, John Pairman,
Zone: A Guide to Christian Resistance
(Richmond, VA: John Knox Press, 1969): BR85
Brown, John Pairman,
Planet On Strike
York: Seabury Press, 1970): BR121.2 .B78, Rare.
Brown, John Pairman and
York, Richard L.,
The Covenant of Peace: A Liberation Prayer Book
York: Morehouse-Barlow Co., 1971): BV176 . B47, Rare .
Arrangement follows the order created by Harlan Stelmach while he was working on his dissertation.
This collection went from Richard L. York to Harlan Stelmach for Stelmach to research for
his GTU dissertation,
The Cult of Liberation. Stelmach writes in his Preface: "I
realized the Free Church story needed to be told as one example of how religion and
politics had been combined. I proposed this to York and he agreed to give me access to
his personal archives. After six months spent in organizing the archives, my research
began in earnest." (pg. vi.) The order of the collection comes, therefore, from
Stelmach's organization of the files for his research. He also did many of the file
folder headings. Throughout the files, there are red pencil underlinings and circles made
by Stelmach in the course of his research. After completion of the dissertation, the
collection then went to the Community for Religious Research and Education, Berkeley,
California, a GTU student related group of which Stelmach was a part. This was the
organization which published
Radical Religion, a journal that "grew out of
the ashes of the Berkeley Free Church." In the end notes for the dissertation, Stelmach
sites all material from this collection as "CRRE Historical Archives" indicating that the
depository of the material in the Community for Religious Research and Education. When
the CRRE ceased to function, around 1977, the collection was transferred to the DataCenter, a
non-profit interest research library and information center, in Oakland, California. The
DataCenter held the collection as received in its original containers until deeded to the
GTU Archives in 1989.
Given to the Oakland History Room, Oakland, CA Public Library: 1 ft. of material,
1965-66, on the Peralta Villa housing development, the Peralta Improvement League, the
Lockwood Improvement League, and discrimination in the Oakland public schools, and
newsletters, "Flatlands", and "Lockwood Ledger".
Given to the DataCenter, Oakland, CA: 2 in., Christian Anti-Communism Crusade