Parks Chapel occupied properties at 9th and Chester Streets, in what is known as West Oakland, starting in June 1920. At that time, Parks Chapel was the only AME Church in the Bay Area situated on a corner.
Parks Chapel has been distinguished by great success and sustained growth because its program is built with God-fearing church loving people, thoroughly indoctrinated with the principles of African Methodism. Although Parks Chapel suffered much under its burden of debt as a result of the depression prior to 1936, she recovered fully after that time to take her place among the leading churches on the Pacific Coast.
Parks Chapel and her Pastor stood in the vanguard of the challenging program of the war years. The Bishop’s program was to keep the church alive, improve and purchase property, help newcomers to become adjusted, fight for housing for “Our People,” work night and day with the nation and local war programs, and “ PREACH, PRAY AND WATCH” for the coming of peace.
The First Church that was located on Ninth and Chester streets, had an upper and lower sanctuary with a total seating capacity of 750. It was complete with a lounge, study, dining hall and kitchen. The parsonage, which was purchased in June 1945, for $6,000, and was paid in full by May 1947, was located seven blocks to the east of the church. The total value of all church owned property was $50,000. Civic, as well as religious organizations throughout Northern California consulted with Parks Chapel AME Church, Oakland, and her Pastor in all matters pertaining to public welfare.
A new two-story building with a thirty-five foot frontage on Chester Street was to be added to the structure. The addition was very much needed. The Sunday School of nearly 100 pupils had outgrown their quarters. The released time Bible School of 200 students, which met in two sections every Thursday, was growing in attendance. Room was needed for these two important groups.
A nursery for a day service, and a special service nursery for care of children during religious services was to be included. Space for a choir dressing room and Young People’s activities, plus a clinic and library was to complete the first floor arrangement.
A mezzanine floor gave more space for classrooms. The second floor opened into the main sanctuary with arrangements for closing when not in use. A study, rest rooms, rear exit, and a roomy corridor completed this floor. The structure was renovated at a cost of approximately $6500. Two hundred additional seats completed this much needed addition.
The released time Bible School was a very intricate example of how Parks Chapel, cooperating with the Oakland Council of Churches, provided a place for boys and girls in the fifth and sixth grades at Prescott School to receive interdenominational religious education. In the fall of 1944, the program of weekday religious education was put into effect in Oakland, and forty-eight protestant pupils were registered from the fifth and sixth grades of Prescott School. In 1946, the number increased to 200, with an average of 140 pupils in attendance each week. Under the direction of Mrs. Esther Meyers, supervising teacher of Weekday Religious Education of the Oakland Council of Churches, and others, the pupils were taught the life and teachings of Jesus, the many ways in which we worship God and how to live together as Christians.
In 1952, Parks Chapel’s membership outgrew its place of worship. This led to the acquisition of a new location at 724 – Fourteenth Street in Oakland, under the leadership of the late Rev. Lawrence Sylvester Odom. At this location, Parks Chapel served as a beacon light in the West Oakland Community. In 1965, a major shift in the Afro-American population from West to East Oakland, and the construction of the Grove-Shafter Freeway, made it necessary for the church to relocate. In 1969, under the leadership of Rev. M.L. Simmons, Parks Chapel relocated to its present dwelling place located at 476 – 34th Street, Oakland. Pastors who followed Rev. Simmons were Presiding Elder C.W. Love, Rev. J.R. Williams, Rev. Matthew Watley, Rev. P.A. Williams, and Rev. DeWitt Graham.
Under the leadership of Rev. Dewitt Graham, the food bank was instituted at Parks Chapel. The purpose was to provide supplemental food for the community in need. The program began by distributing commodities once a week, and grew to where the serving of hot, nutritionally balanced meals, were served once a week to the hungry and homeless. After the death of Rev. Graham, Presiding Elder R.A. Washington, who also served as the Episcopal Committee Chair, served as the interim Pastor until Rev. Booker T. Guyton, Sr. was appointed in 1986.
In October 1989, Parks Chapel suffered another set back when the Loma Prieta Earthquake devastated the entire San Francisco Bay Area, and stunned Parks Chapel. The beautiful, majestic sanctuary now looked like the Ruins of Rome. The Earthquake had completely collapsed the entire sanctuary and destroyed all of its pillars, pews and equipment. The entire church was thrown into shock because we were due to host the Annual Conference in August of 1990. However, as in the past, Parks Chapel, through much prayer and working in unity, was once again able to recover and rebuild our sanctuary, much like it was before. In May, 1990, the congregation, led by Bishop Vinton Randolph Anderson, marched back into our newly refurbished sanctuary to the tune of “We’re Marching to Zion.” In August of that year, we hosted the 1990 Annual Conference in grand style, under the leadership of Rev. Booker T. Guyton, Sr.
Under the guidance of Rev. Booker T. Guyton, Sr., and his vision and emphasis on the “Black Family,” Parks Chapel went forth to institute several programs focusing on Family Unity, and Community & Solidarity. Summit Hospital and other Community Organizations & Churches joined in partnership with Parks Chapel to unify and support our communities and its people in need. At the 1996 Annual Conference that was hosted by Parks Chapel AME Church, Rev. Guyton was elevated to the position of a Presiding Elder for the Oakland/San Jose District. Shortly after that conference, Bishop Vernon R. Byrd assigned the Parks Chapel Pastoral Seat to Rev. Andrew L. Simpson Jr..
Rev. Andrew Simpson’s leadership emphasized a vision of community involvement, youth participation, and increased local church participation across ecumenical lines. The depth of his knowledge of the AME Church inspired and motivated the Parks Chapel Congregation. Rev. Simpson will always be known for planting the seed of community involvement, organization, and the Word of God.
At Bishop Vernon R. Byrd’s Planning Meeting on October 18, 1999, we were blessed with the assignment of Rev. Donna E. Allen to Parks Chapel AME Church, Oakland.
Under the leadership of Rev. Donna E. Allen, and her vision with emphasis on quality participation, membership expansion, along with Community & Global Missions, we, as a united body, completed the task of installing a elevator and paying for this project without having to secure any loans, increased our membership, and reached out to the community by extending a helping hand and a listening ear. Pastor Allen raised the level of our compliance to God 100% through our faithful and regular attendance in church, Sunday School, Bible Study, Prayer Circles, meetings, workshops, prayer and fasting, and our Giving To God through Tithes and Offering. Pastor Allen’s vision for the church was to continue to grow through Conversion, Deliverance, and Strengthening.
In October 2004, God blessed us with a truly anointed ministerial team of Rev. Dr. Tyrone Hicks and his wife, Rev. Phyllis Hicks. His vision is to expand the kingdom of God through evangelism, to increase participation in Sunday School, Bible Study and Worship Services, in addition to being involved in the life of the community through economic development, enhancing education, committed to social justice and to encourage participation of all members in the political process.
At the California Annual Conference in October 2007, God once again blessed the Parks Chapel family with an anointed ministerial team of Rev. Benjamin Hollins and his wife, Rev. Annette Hollins. Through the commitment and perseverance of this team, new life has been regenerated into the church by our youth. Through the leadership of Pastor Hollins and “Rev. Ann” the youth and others from the community at large have regained a new excitement about their service to God and church.
On November 3, 2009, The Rt. Rev. Theodore Larry Kirkland, Sr. appointed the anointed Rev. E. Teresa Nelson….”Pastor T” to Parks Chapel. Pastor Nelson quotes “Where there is no vision the people will perish”….”For the harvest is plenteous but the laborers are few.” Pastor Nelson’s mission is to restore God’s church to the place of worship and prayer as God intended it to be. Through the movement of the Holy Spirit and the capitalization of the gifts and anointing of the children of God, we will see God’s excellence evolve. Pastor Nelson, with her vision and her infectious spirit has brought new life into the church and has set the momentum for us to grow as a church body.