During the last century, many immigrants and displaced people moved to Berkeley from Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Germany. Many made their first attempts to organize into congregations by gathering according to language groups. The Finnish group became one of the first to organize and formed a church in 1906.
More Finnish carpenters came to rebuild San Francisco after the devastating earthquake and fires of 1906, and settled their families in the relative safety of Berkeley on the other side of the bay. Gradually Swedes, Germans and Danes came to run farms and dairies; and ship captains, sailors, and fishermen also joined the fray. Churches provided a lifeline for these communities.
Through both wartime and peacetime men and women worked hard to feed families and support their congregations. Three Lutheran congregations, St. Michael’s, Holy Trinity and Bethany; gathered and expanded in the Berkeley area. A fire at Bethany in 1930 devastated the original building, and a new two-story structure and development of surrounding property was undertaken.
A Finnish scholar, Rev. Dr. Toivo Jarjunpaa, played an instrumental role in establishing Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church and the establishment of Pacific Lutheran Seminary in Berkeley. In 1948, a joint campus ministry formed at the University of California, Berkeley.
All four congregations—Shepherd of the Hills, Bethany, St. Michael’s and Holy Trinity—were encouraged to merge in 1967 to share resources and consolidate because of the increasing migration to the suburbs.
This new congregation became Lutheran Church of the Cross. A specific Finnish language ministry continued in addition to regular worship in English.
Continued shifting demographics led to the demerger of Shepherd of the Hills, which continues to flourish as an independent congregation in the hills of Berkeley. Eventually, the property Holy Trinity and St. Michael's was sold and consolidated, and LCC began to operate in the building of the old Bethany Church.
LCC flourished during the middle of the century, hosting community activities, fellowship dinners, a large confirmation program, active womens circles and youth Luther Leagues. An afterschool tutoring program was started in the 60s for neighborhood children, and the first Narcotics Anonymous meeting in Northern California met at LCC in 1967. At one point the city of Berkeley used Kinell Hall for the North Berkeley Senior Center, and outreach to the community expanded even further as LCC became a regular meeting place, and hosted an adaptive school for disabled children as well as many 12-step meetings.
Currently, Berkeley Central Presbyterian Korean Congregation shares office and worship space. The Youth Emergency Assistance Hostel (YEAH!) began at LCC in 2001, under the guidance of Pastor Sarah Isakson, and continues to provide seasonal shelter services during the five coldest and wettest months as well as year-round case management for youth aged 18-25.
YEAH Youth Shelter: www.yeah-berkeley.org