Priced Out of Their Hometowns, Blacks in California Go to Great Lengths to Return to Home Churches on Sundays

Nicole Felix, center, takes part in a church service at Beebe Memorial Cathedral on Sunday, July 26, 2015 in Oakland, Calif. When Felix bought a house in Antioch, she chose to continue attending church in Oakland despite the commute. Felix now lives in Hayward. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)
Nicole Felix, center, takes part in a church service at Beebe Memorial Cathedral on Sunday, July 26, 2015 in Oakland, Calif. When Felix bought a house in Antioch, she chose to continue attending church in Oakland despite the commute. Felix now lives in Hayward. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)

Yvonne Quinn wakes up at 5 a.m. every Sunday with her instant oatmeal ready to eat and her church clothes already plucked from her closet.

All that’s left to do is shower, style her hair and travel 80 miles by car and train from her new apartment in Stockton to Beebe Memorial Cathedral in North Oakland.

The two-hour trip was a lot shorter before Quinn, a 59-year-old part-time home health care aide, got priced out of her Berkeley apartment earlier this year. Deciding whether to stick with their churches despite bruising commutes has long been an agonizing call for African-Americans who have left inner cities in search of safer neighborhoods, better schools and cheaper housing.

Over time, most do cut the cord. But with soaring home prices fueling a new wave of migration eastward, many recent transplants such as Quinn are still willing to board a train or expend a half tank of gas every Sunday to return to churches that bind them to their families, their childhoods and their hometowns.

“It’s like I’m going home,” Quinn said of stepping through the front door at Beebe, where her children and grandchildren are also members. “As soon as you walk in the door, you feel the excitement. You feel the energy.”

Quinn might feel differently after a few months or years of commuting. Many people do, pastors say. And it’s a big concern to them.

“Once they move that far out, they come back for a little bit, but then it gets old,” said the Rev. Gerald Agee, senior pastor at Friendship Christian Center in West Oakland and president of the Pastors of Oakland. “That is something we all talk about.”

Oakland lost more than 50,000 black residents from 1990 to 2010, according to census figures. Richmond lost 8,000, while Antioch gained about 15,000, Oakley 5,000 and Brentwood 3,000.

With the exception of a few predominantly commuter churches such as Beebe, declining black populations in the inner East Bay have meant fewer people in the pews. Acts Full Gospel Church in East Oakland has seen its membership drop from a high of 7,000 to about 5,500, Bishop Bob Jackson said.

“We lost them to Stockton, Sacramento, Antioch, Brentwood,” he said. “They just kind of scattered.”

Traveling long distances to church is fairly common across racial groups in the Bay Area, but African-Americans may feel more invested in their home churches even after they leave their hometowns, said James A. Noel, the H. Eugene Farlough Jr. chairman of African-American Christianity at San Francisco Theological Seminary.

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SOURCE: Matthew Artz 
Contra Costa Times / Bay Area News Group

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