In Harmony with Nature and Music: First Methodist Church of Point Richmond, California

Crown and Cross (stained glass detail, First United Methdist Church, Point Richmond, CA, copyright Laurie Snyder, 2011).

Crown and Cross (stained glass detail, First United Methodist Church, Point Richmond, California, copyright Laurie Snyder, 2011-present).

What do Bluegrass musicians and Methodists have in common? Well, in Point Richmond, California, they thrill to a good tune, and love sharing their music with the community.

Travelers and other new attendees who enter the church often do so quietly, but frequently end up taking the opposite approach on the way out, buoyed by their experience, humming tunes they’ve just learned and longing for more of the same.

The congregants at the First United Methodist Church of Point Richmond are a welcoming body. Active in and beyond their surrounding community, they infuse services at the church with their own talents as participants in FUMC’s Joyful Noise Choir, and also support the local arts scene as hosts of the popular San Francisco Bay Area concert series, Point Richmond Acoustic. A versatile group, the FUMC choir has been known to set the stage for moments of mindfulness with its rendition of In the Stillness of This Hour while, at other times, they’ve brought folks to their feet, actively engaging audiences to clap along and groove with This Joy I Have.

Dan Damon, Sleepy Time Down South (CD cover, photo provided, copyright Dan Damon).

Dan Damon, Sleepy Time Down South (CD cover, photo provided, copyright Dan Damon).

A major reason for the church’s success is that their leader, the Rev. Dan, Damon is also an accomplished musician. A pianist and composer, Rev. Damon serves on the church music faculty at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. In addition, he’s a San Francisco Bay Area recording artist whose blues albums and hymn collections are beloved by a worldwide fan base.

Three of his hymn collections have been released by Hope Publishing: Faith Will Sing (1993), The Sound of Welcome (1998), and in 2007, Fields of Mercy. And his growing body of CDs includes: Sleepy Time Down South (2002), like a child (2005), and the lovely Traveler Unknown: A Live Concert of Carols, Hymns, and Spirituals, which was recorded by the Dan Damon Quintet in 2009.

When meeting Rev. Damon, the immediate impression is that he’s warm, approachable and very down to earth. His followers, in fact, will tell you that you’re almost as likely to catching him “playing the blues on the piano in San Francisco Bay Area clubs on Saturday nights as you are hearing him preach the gospel on Sunday mornings.” He’s a regular guy just trying to make the world a bit kinder and more compassionate.

Together, he and his flock continue to write chapter after chapter of a remarkable story. From little ones just taking their first forays into spirituality all the way up to those in their 90s who have remained vital thanks to the fellowship they’ve found at FUMC, congregants have grown as they’ve embraced their pastor’s vision of a musical ministry – a ministry bringing people together from all walks of life, from across the Bay Area, in an atmosphere of fun and toe-tapping fellowship.

Something Special Going On

Flower Power (stained glass detail, First United Methodist Church, Point Richmond, CA, copyright Laurie Snyder, 2011).

Flower Power (stained glass detail, First United Methodist Church, Point Richmond, California, copyright Laurie Snyder, 2011-present).

When one arrives at First United Methodist on a Sunday morning, one immediately notices that there is something truly special going on. This is no mega church offering a dazzling light show, backed by a choir the size of a small country.

This is a community – a welcoming, affirming community that has opened its hearts, minds, and arms to all.

Flowers and flowering shrubs burst forth from the church’s gardens in happy testament that this church is for those who are seeking a positive, joyful way of being in touch with their natural world, their neighbors, and their maker. Church members treat each other and visitors as they would want to be treated – with kindness and compassion.

Their Welcome Statement says it all:

We, the people of First United Methodist Church in Point Richmond, seek to embody God’s love for all people through our worship and the many ways we nurture and serve our community and world. We welcome everyone and celebrate the ways we differ in age, race, ethnicity, culture, gender identity, and sexual orientation. We preserve and embrace the beautiful diversity of nature. We cooperate with other congregations and organizations to participate in Jesus’ mission of peace, justice, and unconditional love.

Rev. Damon, it turns out, is the longest-serving pastor in FUMC’s history, having been assigned to his post in in 1995. “I tell people it’s nice to have a minister with a usable skill,” he says modestly of his musical abilities.

On any given Sunday, one might meditate on the lyrics of Hope Is a Light (“Peace is a prayer that starts with me”), or join in with Pastor Dan on In Witness to the Splendor (“to open like a flower at daybreak in the wild”).

When you factor in the striking stained glass artwork of your surroundings, it’s easy to see why so many visitors to this church find the guidance in life they seek. The sanctuary is hexagonal with a high wooden ceiling, creating not only the kind of acoustics that would make a San Francisco Symphony musician smile, but also fostering an open, warm feeling for visitors in need of revitalization.

For the history buffs out there, those windows are, in fact, more than “just gorgeous.” They’re historic treasures, part of a sturdy brick building with an impressive steeple, which has stood as a silent sentinel over the corner of Martina Street and West Richmond Avenue since 1906. (The church’s original 1900 “cracker box” structure, home to thousands of survivors struggling with the aftermath of San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake, was razed in 1914 after the new brick church was completed.)

Art. History. Music. Nature. If you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area for a business conference or vacation and are feeling the need to be uplifted, make the short trip to the First United Methodist Church at the corner in Point Richmond.

Your tapping toes will thank you.

If you go:

First United Methodist Church of Point Richmond
201 Martina and West Richmond Avenue
Point Richmond, California
Phone: (510) 232-1102

 

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