Written by Mrs. Mary Phillips, Historian Chairperson with Mr. George Harris II and Mrs. Augustine Williams, Co-Chairpersons
The history of Easter Hill United Methodist Church began in the late forties when there was a need for a church on the south side of Richmond. While some of the residents began attending St. Luke’s Methodist Church, a small group met at the apartment of Jones and Mattie Mann to explore the possibilities of forming a new church. There were subsequent meetings; some of those in attendance were John and Marie Griffin, Charles and Nola Bridges, Everett and Rosa Mae Pendleton, James and Romance Mann, Samuel and Augustine Williams. Rev. F. H. Busher (Pastor of St. Luke’s) also attended these meetings and suggested the organization be a Methodist Church.
On November 7, 1950 a banquet was held at St. Luke’s as the first fund raising activity to secure the new Methodist Church sponsored by Rev. Busher, the Richmond Council of Churches and the Richmond Cooperative Parish. The banquet raised $1,600, which was used to buy the property at 30th, and Hoffman Blvd. Rev. Dixon served for a short while as the first pastor of this small group, followed by Rev. S. D. Rhone, Rev. Carr and Rev. W. B. Smith. Easter Hill as a Church became a reality, although not formally organized.
The name Easter Hill was chosen due to the location. A rolling hill between 28th Street and Hoffman Blvd. served as the site for the first Easter Sunrise service and as he Easter Hill housing development was built nearby, the church assumed the name Easter Hill.
On February 15, 1951, Rev. Wilbur R. Johnson arrived from Boston Massachusetts to become the first pastor of the newly organized church fondly called “The Little Brown House” Rev. Johnson would reflect on one of the most influential persons involved in the early development of Easter Hill – Rev. Fred Busher who was so aggressive that he was affectionately known as “Pusher Busher.” Rev. Busher wanted to develop a non-denominational community church that would embrace both Baptist and Methodist theologies. When Rev. Johnson arrived to be the minister in charge, he persuaded Rev. Busher and the other concerned persons to recognize the church’s Methodist roots and confirm that the new congregation and its members would clearly know they were joining a United Methodist Church. Thus Rev. Wilbur Johnson became the founding and first pastor of Easter Hill United Methodist Church.
The location at 30th and Hoffman would be the church’s home until 1956 when the State of California purchased the site for highway expansion. Land was then purchased at 39th and Cutting Blvd., and on December 25, 1957, the first worship service was held in the newly built church. Pastor Johnson continued his leadership until his appointment to the Southern California Conference in June of 1959.
Rev. Booker Anderson was appointed to Easter Hill in June of 1959 and served as Pastor until 1969. Under his leadership, Easter Hill became known as a Social Justice Church. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other activists spoke at Easter Hill. Civil rights rallies and community meetings were became a staple at this socially active church. The church facilities were improved and a parsonage was built at 55th and Bayview. Pastor Anderson was appointed to the Joint Strategy and Action Committee of the Methodist Church in June of 1969, and he was also elected to the Richmond City Council.
In 1969, Rev. Dr. A. Edward Bell was appointed and served Easter Hill until 1971. Several interim pastors served at Easter Hill during the transition period following Rev. Dr. Bell: They were Rev. Amos Cambridge, Rev. Max Brown and Rev. David Houston.
Rev. James King, Jr. was appointed pastor in 1973 and served until September 1977. The Church experienced a significant growth in the Children and Youth Ministries. Pastor King left Easter Hill to become the Director of Campus Ministries for the Wesley Foundation in Nashville, TN. Rev. Amos Cambridge, Jr. served as interim pastor until a permanent pastor was appointed.
In 1977 Rev. Ronald E. Swisher was appointed and served until 1990. Under his leadership the church’s Young Adult membership increased. The Mann-Swisher Hall was built and the parsonage mortgage was liquidated. Pastor Swisher was appointed District Superintendent, Delta District of California-Nevada Conference in June 1990.
Rev. Dorothy Williams was the first African American female pastor ordained by the California- Nevada Conference and became Easter Hill’s first female pastor in June of 1990. During her two-year service as a pastor, Rev. Williams developed a strong spiritual ministry. In June 1992, she retired from Parish Ministry, then later returned as a member of the church.
Rev. Frederick G. Gray and Rev. Reginald Nichols served as interim pastors of the Easter Hill Ministry until 1992.
Rev. Phillip Lawson was appointed to Easter Hill in June 1992. In his first Sunday of worship, he introduced the highly appreciated Children’s Moment as part of each Sunday’s service and introduced the 8:00a.m. service as an addition to the 10:30a.m. service. The 45th Anniversary of Easter Hill was celebrated on November 1995 at the Richmond Convention Center with a grand banquet and program.
In 1997, Easter Hill purchased the property between 36th and 37th Streets on Cutting Boulevard formerly the Jim McMillan Pharmacy and Professional Building. In 1998, Easter Hill’s Thrift Store opened. The Family Life Center was offering health screening, parenting classes, senior Information and computer classes. Although that site is no longer a part of Easter Hill’s property, it was an integral part of Easter Hill’s history.
In 1998 Rev. Billye Austin was appointed as Easter Hill’s first Associate Pastor under the mentorship of Rev. Lawson. This appointment was unique in that Rev. Austin had been a member of Easter Hill since 1988. After Rev. Phillip Lawson’s retirement July 1, 2003 Rev. Billye Austin was appointed as Easter Hill’s Senior Pastor.
During her tenure, the Easter Hill East Bay Community Development Corporation was organized and received non-profit Federal 501 (c) 3 status. Rev. Austin continued Easter Hill’s legacy of spiritually based Social Justice Ministries. The goals of her ministry were to stress the importance of every member, to empower members and to initiate succession planning & training for the next generation of members as leaders at Easter Hill and in the community. She retired in June 2012.
Rev. Dr. Donald Francis Guest was appointed as Pastor of Easter Hill Church July 1, 2012. Prior to this he served as special consultant on Urban Affairs for the Bishop of the California-Nevada United Methodist Church. From 2006 to 2011 he served as pastor of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church, Glide Foundation in San Francisco, California. Pastor Guest continues Easter Hill’s commitment to Social Justice and strongly promotes the Disciple Bible Study program at Easter Hill, which is a five (5) year program that comprises Bible study from Genesis to Revelations, and he is committed to community outreach and evangelism.
Easter Hill has produced three (3) seminarians that have been called to ministry in the United Methodist Church: Rev. Billye Austin, Rev. Dr. Antonia Jones-Bryant and Rev. Carol Estes.
As community activists, Easter Hill UMC members have been committed to serving in appointed and elected offices in the city of Richmond:
- Irma Anderson: City Council member, Mayor of Richmond (2001-2006) and Assistant Secretary and Director West Contra Costa Healthcare Disrict (current)
- Rev. Booker T. Anderson: City Council member and Mayor of Richmond (1973-1974)
- Nathaniel Bates: City Council member and appointed Mayor (1971-1972 & 1976-1977)
- Lesa McIntosh: City Council Member and East Bay Municipal Utility District (current)
On Novmber 13, 2016, Easter Hill United Methodist Church celebrated 65 years of committed service to God and the community at large.
“Our mission is to know Christ and to make Christ known”