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Inventory of the Berkeley Free Church Collection, 1959-1976
GTU 89-5-016  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Access Points
  • Biography / Administrative History
  • Scope and Content
  • Arrangement
  • Custodial History
  • Separation Note

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Berkeley Free Church Collection,
    Date (inclusive): 1959-1976
    Accession number: GTU 89-5-016
    Shelf location: 2/E/2-2/F/3
    Creator: Berkeley Free Church
    Collection Size: 31 boxes; 24 Linear Feet; 199 online items
    Repository: The Graduate Theological Union.
    Berkeley, California
    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.
    Language: English.
    Selected digitized images from this collection.

    Administrative Information


    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.

    Publication Rights

    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.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Berkeley Free Church Collection, GTU 89-5-016, The Graduate Theological Union Archives, Berkeley, CA.

    Access Points


    Non-institutional churches--California--Berkeley--History--Sources
    Interdenominational cooperation--California--Berkeley
    Clergy--Political activity
    Church renewal--United States--History--Sources--20th century
    Berkeley (Calif.)--Church history--Sources
    Berkeley (Calif.)--History--Sources
    Berkeley (Calif.)--Newspapers
    Public Relations--Police--California--Berkeley
    Telegraph Ave. (Berkeley, Calif.)
    People's Park (Berkeley, Calif.)--History--Sources
    Radicalism--United States--History--Sources
    Hippies--California--San Francisco--Haight-Ashbury
    Hippies--Religious life
    Hippies--United States--Societies, etc.--Directories
    Berkeley Free Church--Information services
    Referral centers (Information services)--California--Berkeley
    Ecumenical liturgies
    Liturgical adaptation
    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
    Peace--Religious aspects
    United States--Race relations--History--20th century
    Weddings--United States
    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
    Jennings, Raymond
    Buteyn, Donald
    Davis, Esther
    Smith, Otto Joseph Mitchell, 1917-
    March, Robert
    Yandell, James

    Biography / Administrative History

    For an extensive history and analysis of the Berkeley Free Church, 1967-72, and the people involved in it, please see (link is to full manuscript): Stelmach, Harlan D.A., The Cult of Liberation: The Berkeley Free Church and the Radical Church Movement, 1967-72   (Berkeley, CA: Graduate Theological Union Dissertation, 1977) Call number: BX9999 .B4F7, v. 1-2. What follows is a short description based on the dissertation.
    • God is not dead.
    • God is bread.
    • The bread is rising.
    • Bread means revolution.
    • God means revolution.
    • Murder is no revolution.
    • Revolution is love.
    • Win with love.
    • The radical Jesus is winning.
    • The world is coming to a beginning.
    • The whole world is watching.
    • Organize for a new world.
    • Wash off your brother's blood.
    • Burn out the mark of the Beast.
    • Join the freedom meal.
    • Plant the people's park.
    • The asphalt church is marching.
    • The guerrilla church is recruiting.
    • The submarine church is surfacing.
    • The war is over.
    • The war is over.
    • The war is over.
    • The 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 these persons.
    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 service agency.
    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.
    In 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, Radical Religion: 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.
    Material on 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, The Liberated Zone: A Guide to Christian Resistance   (Richmond, VA: John Knox Press, 1969): BR85 .B837, Rare. Brown, John Pairman, Planet On Strike  (New York: Seabury Press, 1970): BR121.2 .B78, Rare. Brown, John Pairman and York, Richard L., The Covenant of Peace: A Liberation Prayer Book   (New York: Morehouse-Barlow Co., 1971): BV176 . B47, Rare .


    Arrangement follows the order created by Harlan Stelmach while he was working on his dissertation.

    Custodial History

    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.

    Separation Note

    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 Newsletters, 1972-73.