Memoirs book, chapter 36, Church of the Open Door Begins in San Rafael

Earlier movements

It was not until 1968 that I became acquainted with the Charismatic

Movement, mainly the Catholic version of it. I connected with the

Protestant Charismatic Movement a year later, at Holy Innocents

Episcopal Church in Corte Madera, a town in central Marin County.

Father Todd Ewald brought a fellow Episcopalian priest, Father Dennis

Bennett of Seattle, to preach and minister at Holy Innocents about

that time, and many of the Jesus People started attending. I recall an

elderly lady named Gert Bohanna who often ministered there as well.

Somewhere I have tape recording of a talk she made there. She must

have been in her seventies and was so interesting to hear. Every one

of us loved her.

The services were fairly charismatic but not wildly so, and while

there was healing and speaking in tongues, the main focus was on

preaching the Gospel and teaching the Bible. Wherever Jesus was

preached and the Bible taught, Jesus People would show up.

We soaked up instruction from the teachers and preachers of the

Charismatic Movement, especially from the Ft. Lauderdale Five, as

we called them—Bob Mumford, Charles Simpson, Derek Prince, Don

Basham, and Ern Baxter. These men were older than nearly all of us,

and were experienced, mature Christians. They produced dozens of

teaching tapes that we eagerly sought out and listened to for hours

and hours. If we heard that one of these men was to be preaching anywhere

near us, we made our way there. We also appreciated mainline

Pentecostals like Oral Roberts and Kathryn Kuhlman, but they didn’t

draw us as the Five did. Several other preachers and teachers also

caught our attention—names that escape me now.

Jesus People, like those of the Catholic Renewal or the Catholic

version of the Charismatic Movement, although influenced by charismatics

and Pentecostals, were nevertheless distinct from them, at

least in the earliest years. My guess for the origin and chronology of

the Charismatic and Catholic Renewal movements is that they preceded

the JPM. They may have been a part of the general awakening

that developed from various directions, but my experience tells me

they were not related.

In San Rafael, where I was living from late 1968 until 1985, there

was a Marist seminary, and one or two of their priests/monks visited

the Bible studies we conducted. They invited me to their masses, and

I occasionally participated in these. There was also in San Rafael a

Carmelite Monastery that offered a public prayer service that many

Jesus People and charismatics from a number of different churches

attended. Still, the JPM was different and distinct from the Catholic

Charismatic expression, though many people moved freely between

the two.

Our work in Marin centered on Bible studies and evangelistic

outreaches at the local high schools and the local community college,

College of Marin, which has two campuses, one in Ignacio and

the original and main campus in Kentfield. Eventually, we had a Bible

study in each school, and that often led to opening up yet another

Christian house. I signed so many leases and guaranteed so many utility

accounts during that period, it caused me some sleepless nights.

As stated earlier, we began then to open up Christian bookstores and

even a thrift shop.

On Sunday mornings, my family and I attended local Baptist

churches, mostly Southern Baptist-aligned and some American Baptist

churches as well. In every case we were warmly received and

encouraged. Although we were a para-church ministry that came

alongside churches and not leaders or pastors of a church, I felt it

important to be a part of a community of faith; evangelistic outreach

was not enough. Most of the time, we attended the First Baptist

Church of San Rafael on Lincoln Avenue, the Lucas Valley Community

Church in a northern suburb of San Rafael, or the First Baptist Church

of Novato.

Pressure to Begin a Church

Among our early leaders, from around 1970, were Mike Riley,

Roger Hoffman, and Bob Hymers. Roger and Bob had roots with

Southern Baptists, Mike had been with the United Brethren Church,

and all attended Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill

Valley, the school I graduated from in 1968.1

Mike, Roger, and Bob were much more used to regular church

involvement than the rest of our leaders. Nearly from the beginning

of our relationship they were pushing to start up a church. They had

a valid point, since the kids and some of their parents attended all

kinds of different churches, while the majority attended nowhere at

all. For more than a year, I resisted this move, thinking a para-church

ministry was the proper model for us.

Moishe Rosen of Jews for Jesus, who more than anyone else served

as a mentor to me during that period, encouraged us to remain a parachurch

ministry with a focus on street evangelism. I agreed fully, and

thus a wedge opened up between the others and me.

An Evening Gathering in Mill Valley

Mike, Roger, and Bob had assembled together a number of the

young people from our ministry for gatherings at the Dow home in

Mill Valley. I decided to attend to see what was happening. Bob, no

question one of the best preachers I have ever heard, anywhere, anytime,

could hold anyone listening in rapture for long periods. Bob,

whose full name is Robert Leslie Hymers, Jr., is a strong leader with

a lot of experience in churches, and he was bound and determined

to start a church, which he wanted named Church of the Open Door

after the famous church of the same name in Los Angeles.

Quickly, the house became too small to accommodate the crowd,

and a move was made to Scout Hall in Mill Valley on East Blithedale.

That place also filled up quickly, and I was left with a very large

dilemma. This was all being done despite my wanting to avoid becoming

a church. However, the leaders of our Christian House Ministries—

Mark Buckley, Kenny Sanders, Bruce Arnold, Blacky Smith, Geoff

Tachet, Bob Gaulden, Bob Burns, and others—conferred together and

recognized the church-like entity that had already developed. They

also decided to continue the existing model of street evangelism, high

school ministry, Christian houses, Christian bookstores, and so on.

A board of elders formed, I served as senior pastor, and we took

steps to incorporate. It did not take too long before Scout Hall was

not adequate, so we moved into Carpenter’s Hall on Lindaro Street in

central San Rafael and rented out some office space nearby on Jordan

Street. This was in 1972.

As could be expected, the Monday morning elders’ meetings were

stormy, to put it mildly. The egos, including mine, could not easily

be contained in the space in which we met, which was my office at

the Christian General Store, 2130 Fourth Street in San Rafael. After

around one year, Bob decided to go back to Los Angeles from whence

he had come and begin another church there. The original name of

his first church in downtown Los Angeles was the Fundamentalist

Tabernacle Baptist Church. Bob’s great preaching soon drew crowds,

and the church grew rapidly.

Bob’s leaving had an impact on me I did not recognize right away.

He was the only non-charismatic among us, not that we were “wildeyed,”

but we were tending more and more in that direction. The oars

were missing, and I was carried along on the current. It was not until

1978 that Dr. Lou Rambo, my major professor at San Francisco Theological

Seminary, forced me to make a critical analysis of what we

were doing and thinking.

In 1975, the Church of the Open Door had outgrown the space in

Carpenter’s Hall. On one single Sunday, we divided ourselves up and

started four additional churches. One was in Novato with Mark Buckley,

another in Petaluma with Kenny Sanders, one in San Francisco

with Bob Gaulden, and one in Pt. Reyes Station with Bruce Arnold.

At that point there were somewhere between 325 and 375 attending

the two Sunday mornings services in San Rafael. The Sunday following

the division into four churches the hall in San Rafael was full

again, although there should only have been about 125 in attendance.

My figures may be faulty, but that is how I remember things. We were

forced to continue two morning services, and the later service was

always packed wall to wall.

A final note on the founding of the Church of the Open Door in

San Rafael: The view of the church’s founding above is my own, and

I have discovered in the process of preparing these memoirs that my

account is only one among several. None of the versions vary enough

to cause any alarm, however. Perhaps a more agreed upon story may

evolve out of conversation around this book.

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