Here at First Pres, we may be a diverse group of people in more ways than meet the eye, but we are knit together by the love of God made to known to us in Christ.
Because of the strength of that love, we choose unity over uniformity, acceptance over judgment, compassion over certainty. To every question, debate, division, or disagreement, we strive to answer with love.
In our mission statement, we affirm that it’s God who brings us together, just as we are, and that we’re invited into the sacred work God is doing in the world.
We are called by God
Transformed by grace
Strengthened in community
Confident that Christ is making all things new.
Love concretely, even when it’s risky
Serve generously, whoever has need
And pursue God’s restoring justice.
The story of First Pres began on March 31, 1878—one day before the city of Berkeley was incorporated. Twenty-seven individuals founded this church to serve the nearby university and community. We are a member congregation of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and have been on the corner of Dana and Channing since 1902.
First Pres has long been committed to sharing God’s love in the world, both locally and globally. Ministry to youth and college students were focal points in our earliest days. In the 1950s, more than half of the church’s budget was devoted to reaching others with the good news of the Gospel. At that time, dozens from the First Pres community entered into Christian service.
The cultural upheavals of the 1960s had an impact on First Pres, as attendance declined and street demonstrations left behind broken windows and anxious citizens. It was during this time that the fire department declared our 65-year-old sanctuary unsafe. With much of the neighborhood boarded up, church leaders made the decision to continue to live out our mission here on this corner, building a sanctuary lined with glass windows that gave renewed visibility to our ministry and welcomed the community inside.
The new sanctuary was dedicated on June 8, 1975. The church began to grow, expanding music ministries, programs for children and families, outreach to our unhoused neighbors, and more. Berkeley Christian Counselors began as a ministry of First Pres in 1978, and our licensed childcare facility, Cornerstone Children’s Center, was founded in 1991.
In 2017, 1951 Coffee Company opened its first coffee shop on our campus. A nonprofit organization providing job training and employment to refugees and asylees while educating about refugee issues, 1951 Coffee has connected us more deeply with our community. 1951 Coffee is just one of many local and international partners that First Pres supports today. Through relationships and service, we are committed to live out our faith and pursue justice in our community and the world.
For nearly a century and a half, we have been seeking to follow Jesus on this corner. Join us as we discover where God is leading us next.
1973 Sanctuary brochure
2003 Living from the Center brochure
2009 On this Corner brochure
2020 Mission Study (history)