Soul Inn

Chapter 10

Shortly after my graduation from Golden Gate Seminary, the Philpotts—wife Bobbie, daughters Dory and Grace, and I (Son Vernon would come along about a year later)—had nowhere to go, so we moved in with my parents on Whitegate Avenue in the twin cities of Sunland and Tujunga, snuggled up against the San Gabriel Mountains in the northern most part of Los Angeles. My parents had moved to this lovely little community from Portland, Oregon, in 1954, and it was where I attended Verdugo Hills High School. I had resigned as pastor from the Excelsior Baptist Church of Byron in 1968, and there were no more options for my working with Southern Baptists, so I was on my own. (Though I had been appointed as a missionary of what was then entitled The Home Mission Board, I was denied work as a missionary to the hippies in San Francisco, since the California Southern Baptists would not give a salary to anyone who spoke in tongues.)

Then began a tortuous period where I alternated doing construction work all over the LA area for a couple weeks with my father-in-law, Robert Davidson, then traveled back to the Bay Area. After making some money (Bobbie worked as a telephone operator), I would hitchhike up to San Francisco and continue my work in the Haight-Ashbury. There were times it would take more than a day to make the trip, and in winter it could be most miserable. This was the time during which I worked with David, and the Jesus People Movement was in full bloom. This was also the period I often stayed at the Anchor Rescue Mission in the Fillmore District.

Sisters Drayton and Yvonne, large and wonderful and most gracious African American women, ran the Anchor Rescue Mission near the corner of McAllister and Fillmore streets. David discovered the place and stayed there from time to time. Whenever I returned after my two weeks in LA, I would also stay there.

Large numbers of white hippies descended upon the mission every evening for dinner. David and I peeled potatoes, cut up vegetables, preached and sang to the hippies, and cleaned up afterwards. It worked for both the sisters and for us. While staying at the Anchor Rescue Mission, one thing I learned was not to carry a wallet or money with me. More than a few times I was robbed, usually at knifepoint, and after a while the thieves left me alone, because they knew I carried nothing of value.

It was at the mission that I finally became convinced that there was an actual devil and demons. It happened this way: One of the sisters told me there was a man who frequented the place who was demon-possessed. I listened to her, inwardly chuckled, and decided to just keep my mouth shut. One night after I thought everyone was gone, I was sitting in a chair in a kind of lounge area in the center of the mission, when I heard a noise deep in the back behind the kitchen. I turned to see the person in question, a fairly tall white guy, walking toward the front door. For some reason it occurred to me to use the occasion as a chance to test whether the guy did have demons or not. And, of course, if he did, it would challenge my worldview. So I said, in a loud voice, “Jesus.” The guy jumped straight up in the air, perhaps a foot off the ground, then came down and continued walking. I did this several times, and the result was the same each time. He got to the door, never once looking my way, opened it, walked out, and that was it. I sprang from the chair, locked the door, and spent a rather tense night there at the mission.

I loved preaching to the hippies every evening, but I felt it was wise to find someplace else to live, until I was able to bring my family back up north. That was one impetus for starting Christian houses, though not the primary one.

One of the first Christian houses on the West Coast was Soul Inn, born out of the Lincoln Park Baptist Church. The Soul Inn began late in 1968. The House of Acts in Novato, led by Ted and Liz Wise, Dan and Sandy Sands, Jim Dopp, Steve Heathner, Lonnie Frisbee, Rick and Meagan Zacks, and others was begun earlier, sometime in 1967. It was maybe the first of all the Christian communes of the Jesus People Movement. John MacDonald wrote The House of Acts in 1970, published by Creation House, in which he describes that period and the beginning of the house.

The Way Inn, a Christian house that David began in 1967, not long after his conversion and after he moved out of my place at Golden Gate Seminary, preceded Soul Inn as well.

The Way Inn was in Lancaster, California, where David had landed after an attempt to go to a Bible college in the Los Angeles Area. David wanted to grow in his knowledge of the Bible, which had prompted his move out of our place at the seminary. I recall visiting the Way Inn, a series of dilapidated buildings that had once been a TB sanitarium, and David gave me an old faded blue jean jacket that had been worn by a patient, likely a decade or more before. I proceeded to wear that jean jacket throughout my ministry in San Francisco, and I still have it, with some leftover Gospel tracks we used still in the pockets. Up until then I had worn my field jacket from my military days, but as we began to engage, in various ways, with the anti-war demonstrations, it became painfully clear that I needed a change of clothing.

The second time I travelled to Lancaster, David and company, which included Gary Goodell and the members of a Four Square Gospel Church pastored by Gary’s father, had utterly transformed the place into a thriving community filled with hippie converts. How I wish I had been into photography at that time.

Back to the Story of Soul Inn

Among the many young people who were becoming Christians were a significant number of the homeless, mostly because they had walked away from their parents to live the hippie life. Many of them had burned bridges or were so enraptured by their new lives in Christ that they preferred to stay where that had happened.

Al Gossett was pastor at Lincoln Park Baptist Church, a storefront church in the Richmond District of San Francisco. Al was a graduate of Golden Gate, and he and his wife Letty were so very friendly, accommodating, and eager to reach out to the hippies. The major influences and driving forces behind the Lincoln Park church were really Dr. Francis DuBose and his wife Dorothy. It was Dr. Dubose who, through his classes and his personal involvement in what I was doing in the City, made a very large impact on me. He was a great preacher of the old time Southern Baptist style, and in class after class he focused on the passage in John 20:21 where Jesus told His disciples, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” He hammered that verse in every class, and I got it. I saw myself as one being sent, and sent directly by Jesus. My dear old friend Dr. DuBose is gone now, but I will never forget that kind and generous man.

Little by little, I spoke to various folks at Lincoln Park about the need to house new converts, and the topic of starting a live-in place came up at a business meeting. They gave me the green light to move ahead with adapting the few small Sunday school classrooms into a kind of dormitory and gather those things necessary to care for new believers, chief of these was a shower arrangement that eventually found a home in the back end of the kitchen.

Soul Inn’s opening night was quite unforgettable. The Salvation Army had donated bunk beds and blankets to us, we scrapped up a few kitchen implements, paper plates, and plastic spoons and forks, and we were ready to open the doors.

On the corner of what I think is Haight Street and Clayton, at about four p.m. each day, a grass roots organization of Hippies called the Diggers set up a card table and tried to steer people into finding food, shelter, and medical help. For weeks I had been stopping by and telling them the Soul Inn would soon open. Finally, the day arrived, and I made the grand announcement.

That evening, four of us were sitting around a makeshift table, a sheet of plywood sitting on the backs of four metal chairs. Dave Palma, Paul Finn, Roy, and I were talking about spending our first night at the Soul Inn. It was late—a winter’s night—and our only remaining food, a quart can of pork and beans, had just a small amount left in it. That was it, no other food, but we did have some Lipton tea bags. It must have been about ten o’clock, and there was a knock on the door. Outside stood twenty-six hippies, mostly young, who had just walked several long miles from the Haight to Balboa Street between 41st and 42nd Avenues in the Richmond District. The Diggers had given out the address as requested, but now what? Paul Finn and I went back into the kitchen or what passed for one, and we started scooping pork and beans into paper bowls. Within a very short time, both of us realized we were in the middle of a miracle. There was enough in the can to feed all twenty-six people, with as much left as when we started. I scooped, and Paul carried the bowls in. Twenty-six bowls filled with pork and beans that came out of what had been a nearly empty quart can. That was only one of what would be many miracles, no two identical, but happening when we least expected them. There were also miracles of healing that were plain and incontrovertible—not a large number, and they did not happen as seen on television. I tended to play down the miracles, knowing from the biblical Gospel writers that Jesus had done the same. As time went on, I realized why Jesus did not publicize or sensationalize miracles—strange and dangerous results often follow. But there were indeed miracles.

Soul Inn did not last long, and the primary reason was that I needed to move my family up from Los Angeles.

In late 1968 the Philpotts, David Hoyt and wife Victoria, and David and Margaret Best (Margaret and Victoria were sisters) moved to San Rafael and shared a rental on D Street. This was the beginning of a Christian house we called Zion’s Inn.

Note: After not talking to him since about 1970, Paul Finn called me from his hometown of New York a few years ago, maybe 2008, and we talked about the old days. He and Dave Palma, also from New York, had gone home when Soul Inn closed, and each started their own Christian House, one of which was called Philadelphia House and the other, The House of Philadelphia. (The word Philadelphia must have meant a lot to them.) Paul and I talked, and I thought it was a chance to see whether or not I had been wrong about the miracle of the food multiplication. I asked Paul what he remembered about the evening all the hippies showed up on our first night. He said, “Oh yeah, the big miracle. Yeah, I remember it, and it is like I am right there now.” We went on for a while, but I had the confirmation I was hoping for. Funny how it is that miracles impact us; even when we see them, it is often hard for us to admit they actually happened.


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