Places of Worship

Berkeley Buddhist Monastery – Institute for World Religions (formerly the Church of the Nazarene) 2304 McKinley Avenue


The original church on this site was built in 1898 after Dr. Phineas Bresee organized the Berkeley congregation in 1897 with Ernest Alexander Girvin, who became its first pastor.  At that time, the Berkeley Church was the “western base” for the Church of the Nazarene, meaning for the entire area west of the Mississippi.  As a point of interest, one characteristic of the Nazarene religious denomination is its full-body immersions for baptism.


The original Church appears to have consisted of one large chapel for Church services on the first floor, and the pastor’s living quarters above.  The back section of the building, housing a community hall was added by the Church in the 1950s.  There are some interior wooden walls that still appear to be original, such as can be seen in the monastery store.  Also, the old Nazarene baptismal immersion font is still preserved in the building.


The Berkeley Buddhist Monastery bought the building in 1994.  At the time, it was being leased from the Nazarene Church by a Christian rock music group based in Los Angeles called the “Set Free Christian Fellowship.”  This group practiced rock music at the Church and also provided some services to the homeless, such as showers, hot lunches cooked by neighbors and a clothing exchange.  The Church of the Nazarene wanted to keep the building because of its historical significance, but could not afford to do so.


The monastery currently holds regular public meditation sittings in the former Church chapel, which has been transformed today into a Buddhist devotional setting.[1]



Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue

1630 Bancroft Way


Congregation Beth Israel is the oldest traditional synagogue in the East Bay.  Today it is also the largest orthodox synagogue in Northern California. From 1915 to 1924 a small group of Berkeley Jews met for Friday night and holiday services in rented space above stores in the downtown area.  Most of those who attended were of modest means.  According to the history of Congregation Beth Israel (until 1959 the Berkeley Hebrew Center) on its website (, “the founders were immigrants to this country, nostalgic for the life they had left.  Although they had not been part of the leadership of the traditional Jewish community in Europe, they still brought with them a love of its customs.”  They were determined to create a permanent house of worship in Berkeley.  Finally, in 1924 the cornerstone was laid and work completed at Bancroft Way and Jefferson Street for the Berkeley Hebrew Center building.  Congregation Beth Israel was founded in 1959 when Saul J. Berman began serving as the community’s first rabbi.


In 1991, the Congregation was awarded a use permit by the City of Berkeley to remodel and add on to the existing building, which was badly in need of structural repairs.  Due to a lack of funds, the new Synagogue was not completed until 2005.  The architecture draws on the European and Russian roots of the founders.  It was dedicated on May 8, 2005.



Lutheran Church of the Cross (formerly Bethany Lutheran Church)

1744 University Avenue


The Lutheran Church has long had a presence in Berkeley.  First meeting in a vacant store at 1934 Bonita Avenue,             Bethany Lutheran Church was organized with 30 charter members in 1912.  For the first five years services were conducted strictly in Swedish.  With much of the construction work performed by members, a church was built on the present site and dedicated in 1914.  The total cost was $7,257.  In 1920, services in English were conducted on alternate Sundays.  A fire damaged much of the building in 1931 but it was repaired the following year.  The last services conducted in Swedish were in 1942.  In the late 1940s several lots to the east were purchased and added to the original property.  Bethany Hall was completed in 1949.  Facilities for meetings and food preparation are available for rent to non-profit groups. 


Space at the Lutheran Church of the Cross, a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, is shared at the University Avenue location with three other organizations: Options Recovery, New Spirit Community Church and Berkeley Central Korean Presbyterian Congregation.[2]  



St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church

1640 Addison Street


There were many Catholics among the early immigrants to what is now Berkeley.  Although they were mainly farmers, tradesmen and laborers, there were a number who owned large farms, including James McGee and Michael Curtis.  In the early years, the Catholic residents of Berkeley attended services at St. Mary’s of the Immaculate Conception in Oakland, but it was a long drive along the San Pablo Road to 7th and Jefferson Streets.  In 1869, Father Michael Gualco began a ministry on horseback, offering a makeshift mass for the Catholic farmers between Pinole and Berkeley.  By the early 1870s, he was celebrating mass at Michael Curtis’ farm above San Pablo, near what is now Curtis Street.  One of the farm buildings, known as “Ed Brennan’s Barn,” served as a chapel for the fledgling Berkeley Catholic community.[3]

Meanwhile, Mother Mary Teresa Comerford, of the Irish-based Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, had begun to search for land on which to erect a third California convent for her Order.  In March 1877, she accepted James McGee’s offer of 2.7 acres on the northwest corner of his farm.  St. Joseph’s Parish was established in 1879 by Archbishop Joseph Alemany, and Dr. P.M. Comerford, the brother of Mother Mary Teresa, was appointed the first pastor. 


Services were held in a temporary chapel until 1883 when the first St. Joseph’s Church was dedicated.  The Church was a single-story, gable-roofed wooden Gothic Revival structure with narrow lancet windows and ornamental buttresses.  It was designed by the architect Bryan Clinch,[4] who also designed the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Joseph in San Jose (listed on the National Register of Historic Places), and the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Sacramento, which has been carefully restored.


By the turn of the twentieth century, “the broad central plains of Berkeley -- once large farms -- were beginning to sprout large frame houses as the old farms became subdivided”[5] and by 1906, in the aftermath of the earthquake, Berkeley’s Catholics were beginning to outgrow their pioneer church.   The new pastor, Father Francis X. Morrison, planned a much larger new church, stating that “Berkeley should boast of Catholic Church buildings better than the best.  Noble and dignified buildings are a sign of noble and dignified people.”[6]  


Frank T. Shea and John O. Lofquist of San Francisco, who designed many Catholic Churches in the Bay Area, were chosen as the architects.  The design is Classic Revival “with twin towers flanking a large triangular pediment.  Over the entry is a large rosette window.  The church spires were once the tallest in Berkeley and could be seen from a great distance…”[7]  It was the only Catholic Church in Berkeley until 1923.[8]   The Church (and the Site of Presentation High School) was designated Berkeley Landmark #164 in 1991.


In the early 1960s, as part of a large building program instituted by Father Patrick Galvan, the outside of the church was reconstructed at a cost of $250,000.  It was rededicated on October 30, 1966 under the title, St. Joseph the Workman.  “In having the title of the church changed Father Galvan in his wise and prudent way catered to the social trends prevalent in Berkeley, where there were many attacks upon authority, wealth and capital.  By emphasizing Joseph’s status as a carpenter, the church had a new appeal for many.”[9]


In 1973, Father Bill O’Donnell was assigned to St. Joseph’s and soon thereafter got the name changed to St. Joseph the Worker, to give equal honor to working women.  He remained there for thirty years, until the day he died as he was working on a sermon.  His legacy was the identification of St. Joseph the Worker Church as a gathering place for groups, movements and individuals that advocate justice for workers, refugees and the undocumented and the expression of solidarity with human rights struggles throughout the world.[10]


In recognition of the growing Latino population in Berkeley, the Church now holds a separate mass in Spanish, a tradition started by Father O’Donnell. The Eritrean Catholic Ge’ez Community, which is made up mainly of immigrants from the Sudan, holds a mass there on the first and second Sunday of each month.



The Bridge Assembly of God

2414 Martin Luther King Jr. Way


There had been a mortuary/funeral home* on this site for almost one hundred years when a Berkeley Assembly of God congregation moved to the location in 1984, at first renting the Bayview Chapel for Sunday services.  At that time, it shared the space with the existing mortuary.  The Church congregation purchased the building a short time later. The Bayview Chapel mortuary business continued to operate at the site (renting from the Church) until moving to a new location in 1991. At the same time, with a new pastor in place, the church was renamed the Lighthouse Assembly of God Church.  The Bridge Assembly of God Church was founded when the Lighthouse Assembly of God Church and the Hilltop Community Church (of the same denomination in Richmond) merged in 2008.[11]   



* This advertisement is from St. Joseph’s Monthly Record,

Berkeley, California, June, 1908, Vol. II, No.9.

[1]  Sources: Nazarene Church, California Northern District, 1866 Clayton Road, Ste 200, Concord; Berkeley Buddhist Monastery website (

[2]  Sources: Fifty Years at Bethany, 1912-1962; Lift High the Cross, Anniversary Celebration, 1992; Lutheran Church of the Cross (

[3]  Fr. Harry B. Morrison, History of Saint Joseph’s Parish, Berkeley, California, 1878-1979

[4]  It remained the parish church of St. Joseph’s until 1908 when the new St. Joseph’s Church was dedicated.  In 1913 it was torn down to make room for a new wing of the Presentation Convent.

[5]  Morrison

[6]  Morrison

[7]  Susan Dinkelspiel Cerny, Berkeley landmarks (Berkeley, 2001: Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association.

[8]  Morrison

[9]  Peter Thomas Conmy, A parochial and institutional history of the diocese of Oakland 1962-1972 (St. Francis Historical Society, 2000).

[10]  St Joseph the Worker website

[11]  Source: Gingi M. Fulcher of the Bridge Assembly of God Church

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