St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church in Oakland

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The soundtrack of Telegraph Avenue at 29th Street is composed of the roar of cars, trucks and the number 6 and 800 buses. There aren’t many passersby on this summery morning. A white car blaring hip hop music stops at the intersection, breaking the monotony of the traffic sounds. The driver stares to his left at a red wooden building: St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church. It’s closed. It’s 11 am on a Monday, and even God has a schedule.

Meanwhile, on the inside of this 126-year old building, a church worker is busy walking a couple through the building. “Let me show you something,” he tells them, pointing to a huge dining room. This exact spot hosted the first Black Panther Breakfast Program in January, 1969.

Today a billboard announces community lunches on every second and fourth Saturday. The dining room feels empty. A wooden piano and a US flag stand out. One can imagine the melodies that these walls have heard, the struggle that these walls have witnessed, the aromas of the lunches and breakfast served here. On this day, though, a small construction site in a nearby room brings noise and the smell of new furniture.

The church smells close and old. The walls silence the street sounds. The color red dresses the interior of the church as well. All the Bibles are prepared in an orderly way, waiting to be read during the next service on Sunday.

At the church’s door, someone has left a $1.89 Holy Bible, an “English Standard Version.” It is uncertain if it will make it into the church. For now, it remains outside next to an empty paint can filled with clothes. A white jacket and a red hat are on top.

The garden surrounding St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church is well maintained, despite some trash spread around. Green, yellow, pink and purple flowers flourish.  Handwritten plaques show that someone has taken the time to identify the plants: “Iceland Poppy,” “Azalea Rosy Red” and “Ruscus.” Inside this mini-garden sits a tiny wooden bench, ornamented with the figures of an elephant, a giraffe and a lion. A family of birds flies around the flowers and the bench, countering with their tweets the street melody of Telegraph and 29th.

Filed under: Politics

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