The 1950s

1954: On June 21, a group of 18 people, almost all of them young members of the First Unitarian Church of Oakland, met in a living room in San Leandro. Tired of driving to Oakland and outraged that the Oakland church leaders had signed a McCarthy-inspired loyalty oath in order to maintain tax exempt status, they decided to start a new Unitarian church. In short order they formed a Board of Trustees, wrote the first set of Bylaws (two pages long), doubled their numbers, started a church school for about a dozen children, and chose the name “Starr King Unitarian Fellowship” for the church.

Some founders: Gil, Ruth, Tom and Stanley Weiner; Marian, Bill, Jill, Judy,Mina and Steven Balche ?); Ray and Betty Busch; Jack, Cathy, and Johhny Dye; Edith Argento
Members of the Oakland Church in 1954

On November 7, the congregation held its first Sunday service  in what was then the banquet room of the Cathay House Chinese Restaurant in San Leandro. Like everything else in the church, Sunday services were mostly do-it-yourself, sometimes using sermons written by Unitarian ministers from around the country presented by congregants, guest ministers, and seminary students. Church life was very free and easy, with much of the meager budget coming from wine tastings.

Pioneers who joined before 1960: Renata Ornea, Bryne Golec, Margaret Bried, Cathy Dye, Claus Bried, Art Emmes, Phyllis Perry

Founders photographed in 1969. Nate Thornton, Rose Paine, Jean and Bill Gaylord, Helen and Wink Smith
Pioneers who joined before 1960

The 1960s

1960: The number of member families topped 100 for the first time and Sunday services were held at what was then a Seventh Day Adventist Church in Hayward. The church school had almost 150 students. But volunteer burnout dictated that change was needed. A Forward Planning Committee was formed and recommended the hiring of a minister. The congregation was surveyed, and 39 of 70 respondents were in favor, so the first ministerial search was begun.

IMG_80041961: Charles Blackburn, a just-ordained minister from Starr King School of the Ministry, sought the post of minister and was hired.

1963: The church officially joined the Unitarian Universalist Association and hired its first paid church school director, Marilyn Cope. During her tenure the school offered 10 classes each week, from nursery care to classes for teenagers.

IMG_80031964: The church had grown to 189 members, and had a social action committee, an adult education program, and a committee dedicated to finding a permanent home for the church. Reverend Blackburn decided that his real calling was in the south, so he resigned and moved to Alabama in June. Over the Summer, another search committee brought John Evans, a seasoned 47-year-old minister.

1966: The owner of a nursery at 22577 Bayview Avenue in Hayward offered the property to the church at “a good price,” but said he needed a down payment of $5000 immediately. The church Treasurer wrote him a check without approval, which caused some turmoil, but ultimately the purchase was approved unanimously. The total purchase price was $30,000. The property included an older building almost suitable for an office. Planning began to build a sanctuary.

1968: The congregation reached agreement on the design of the new sanctuary. Constrained by finances, they chose a 36 x 72 utility building design. The shell was completed by a construction company, and volunteers completed the rest of the work.

1969: Reverend Evans led a dedication ceremony for the new, bare bones, uninsulated sanctuary on November 7, exactly 15 years after the first Sunday service.IMG_8008

The 1970s

1970: Reverend Evans decided to move on. During his tenure, the church had fractured over differing views concerning resolutions about the Vietnam War and civil rights. Enrollment in the church school dwindled, and some members left in protest. Remaining members still had a strong focus on creating a permanent home for the church. The intern minister, Jon Dobrer, (previously a stand up comedian!), was selected to serve as minister even though he had not yet completed his education, much less been ordained.

IMG_80051971: Jon Dobrer was ordained at Starr King church, and brought healing with him, emphasizing the role of the church as a social and family organization. Some members returned, as did some good feelings.

1972: Funds were allocated for Ornea Cottage, to serve the programs for children and youths.

1974: Reverend Dobrer moved on, and the church was without a minister for a year. Eventually it was decided to hire a part-time minister.

IMG_80061975: Wayne Arnason, 25, a lifelong Unitarian and recent graduate of Harvard Divinity School, was selected as the new minister. The church joined South Hayward Parish, a coalition of local congregations.

1979: Reverend Arnason announced that he was ready to move on, and after a one-year search Mark Belletini, age 30, another recent graduate from Starr King School for the Ministry, was selected. He was the first openly gay minister in the Unitarian Universalist church.


The 1980s

1985: Under Reverend Mark, the church examined its own faith history and embraced the rituals of many religions. The church joined the sanctuary movement, expressing willingness to provide sanctuary for people escaping violence in Central America.

1986: The church joined with about 30 other churches and nonprofit organizations to found FESCO, the Family Emergency Shelter Coalition that serves homeless families in Southern Alameda County. A major revision of the Bylaws was undertaken.

1987: Volunteers improved the grounds, planting new gardens, built closets and shelves in the library, remodeled the kitchen, and painted Ornea Cottage. Reverend Mark began the five year process of working on the new hymnal.

1989: To celebrate the church’s 35th anniversary, Neil Chetnik published An Ordinary Miracle, a history of the church. It listed 131 members and 41 young people. Service Auctions were introduced as major fundraisers.

The 1990s

1991: The church obtained its first copier.

1995: A resolution was adopted changing the name of the church to Starr King Unitarian Universalist Church.

1998: After 18 years, Reverend Mark felt he needed a change, so he sought and found a new church home. The church began a year with an interim minister, David McFarland, who changed the sanctuary seating and introduced children’s story time into the worship service.

1999: The congregation selected Reverend Katie Kandarian to be the new settled minister.

Rev. Katie Kandarian-Morris

The 2000s

2000: Reverend Katie quickly strengthened the church’s relationship with South Hayward Parish and FESCO, and moved the church to become more involved with social issues such as the “No Room for Racism” program in Hayward. She and an Intern, Jeff Lambkin, were instrumental in organizing the first Martin Luther King Jr. Day march.

2001: Many new social activities began to fill the calendar: picnics, parties, caroling, improvisational theater, hikes. Forty-five children were enrolled in seven levels of Religious Education. A Growth Management Task Force began work on a strategic plan to grow the church to mid-size. Major grounds enhancement began.

2002: The church approved a Mission Statement, obtained an audio system, got on the internet, and created a website. Cottages and the tool shed were added.

2003: Volunteers made major improvements on the grounds, removing weeds and bamboo from the hillside, planting flowers and herbs, and constructing a patio. A benefactor purchased new chairs for the sanctuary. Other volunteers insulated one wall of the sanctuary and introduced Mystery Dinners to raise funds. The congregation went through the effort necessary to become a Welcoming Congregation, that is officially welcoming to all people regardless of their gender or sexual orientation. Church members began to assist at the annual Gay Prom held at the Hayward City Hall.

2004: The church celebrated its 50th anniversary. Glen Jacob and Bob Meyerson wrote and published The Miracle Continues, a history of the church from 1989 until 2004.

2008: The church committed to becoming a certified Green Sanctuary, and moved toward increasing the church’s green practices. Volunteers replaced water-intensive plants and installed drip lines and a compost bin. Podcasts of Sunday sermons were initiated. After much discussion, the congregation agreed on plans for the building addition, to include a new office complex, Fellowship Hall, restrooms, expanded kitchen, and entryway.

2009: The congregation voted to eliminate the second Sunday service. The Building Committee obtained permits for the church addition and major construction was completed in November.

The 2010s

2010: Reverend Katie officiated over the building rededication and the congregation celebrated her first 10 years serving the church.

2011: Through a combination of writing grants, creative financing, personal contributions, and labor, volunteers provided a new sound system and cabinet; energy efficient windows in the sanctuary; insulation, drywall, and paint throughout the sanctuary; and new carpeting. Other volunteers relocated the children’s playground to the patio south of the sanctuary. The new Communications Committee updated the church logo, moved the website to a new platform, brought to the church an online email management service and Facebook. The church became a certified Green Sanctuary and registered as a Certified Wildlife Habitat. Unitarian House was demolished, but the arbor supporting the much loved wisteria was saved.

2012: Having forgotten the 1995 resolution, the church again voted to change its name to Starr King Unitarian Universalist Church, and this time took the necessary steps with the Secretary of State to legalize the name change. An online discussion board, StarrKingSPARK, was made available to church members.

2013: In place of a previous 5 year vision statement, the church adopted a document named “Our Commitment” which was intended to rationalize and focus our various activities, and highlight areas in need of greater emphasis. At the annual meeting, the congregation resolved to focus on leadership development and, once again, on membership growth.

2014: Reverend Katie announced her intention to move on after 15 years of service to the church. The children’s playground equipment was replaced and dedicated. A church database was added to maintain and make available information about church members, friends, and visitors. The church began a two-year interim process under the warm leadership of Reverend Joy Atkinson, an experienced Interim Minister.


2015: We dedicated The Little Free Library. This online history was created. The congregation adopted a Resolution to Support the “Black Lives Matter” Movement.

2016: In response to local incidents of anti-Muslim activity, we joined the newly invigorated Eden Area Interfaith Alliance (EAIC). A new Safety Subcommittee within was formed within the Pastoral Care Committee to focus on security, safety, and emergency training. The Doug Sprague Memorial Library was established, and Doug’s name was added to the Little Library to honor his many contributions to the church.
IMG_7977Most exciting, the Rev. Dr. Maria Cristina Vlassidis Burgoa began serving as our minister in September. She brought new energy and ideas – and her mother, who we lovingly call Mama Lily.

2017: We had a joyous installation ceremony for Reverend Maria Cristina. It featured Aztec dancers, the Rainbow Chorus of San Jose, and a drum blessing.

2018: Members began attending protests in greater numbers, the bravest among us even getting willingly arrested while showing support for poor and oppressed people and our life-sustaining environment. Ornea Cottage surrendered to mold and was demolished. FESCO merged with La Familia Counseling Services.

The 2020s

2020: As the Covid-19 pandemic struck, we quickly pivoted to online-only worship services and meetings via Zoom. Religious Exploration (RE) expanded to engage families and renamed itself SoUUlful Family Ministry. While we were meeting virtually, Family Ministry volunteers dropped off crafts and ran a virtual summer camp.

2021: We installed solar panels on the church roof. Starr King plans to regather in person starting in August 2021!