San Diego Thirty-first Street Seventh-day Adventist Church
A Church within the Southeastern California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists
Plans for building the first predominantly African American church in San Diego began in 1921. The members worked diligently for several months as they built their new church. They realized the fruit of their labors in 1922 when the first predominantly African American members formed the Beacon Light SDA Church and began worshipping in their new building on the corner of 28th and Hensley Streets.
The first pastor of the Beacon Light SDA Church was Elder Sydney Scott. He was a well known evangelist who had built a number of churches in the mid-western and southern regions of the United States. He served for three years before his associate pastor, Elder J. E. Johnson, became the second pastor of Beacon Light. Shortly thereafter, Elder J. E. Johnson and Elder Owen Troy, Sr., conducted an evangelistic crusade that brought several new members into the church.
Elder J. E. Johnson was an outstanding evangelist who later became the district leader of the work among African Americans in the Inland Empire (San Bernardino and Riverside California). He was also the first "Colored Home Missionary and Sabbath School Secretary" in North America. Elder Johnson served until 1930.
Elder Sydney Scott returned in 1931 and served as pastor until 1933 when he tragically lost his life in an automobile accident. The months between Elder Johnson's departure and the return of Elder Scott found Beacon Light without a full-time pastor. Thus, Dr. J. T. Buchanan, a local elder, and Elder Westphall, the only White pastor to serve at Beacon Light, provided leadership during the period.
One Bible Instructor, Mrs. Louisiana Virginia Smith, served during all of the Beacon Light years. She was a faithful and greatly beloved Bible Worker who served for more than twenty years. She died shortly before the Beacon Light congregation moved to their new location at Thirty-First Street. During Elder Johnson's years as pastor, Miss Spillard also served as a Bible Instructor.
Elder J. W. Allison served as pastor of the Beacon Light SDA Church from 1933 through 1937. In 1937 he left Beacon Light to build the first predominantly African American church in San Bernardino. His successor in San Diego was Elder G. N. Banks. He was the pastor from 1937 until 1944. Later Elder Banks accepted a call to become the president of the Liberian Mission in West Africa. He eventually headed the regional work in the Pacific Union.
The last pastor to serve the Beacon Light SDA Church was Elder Dennis T. Black. His years of tenure were 1944 to 1954. Elder Black's talents included designing and building churches. His Associate Pastor, Elder Earl Canson, also contributed his skill of carpentry. They began the construction of the Thirty-first Street SDA Church in 1947.
In 1957, it was dedicated free of debt. Elder Black made a detailed photographic record of the various church organizations. This included photographs of the choirs, Dorcas Societies (now called Community Services), church orchestra, and various church officers. In 1954, Elder Black accepted a call to become the pastor of the Berean SDA Church in Los Angeles, California.
He was succeeded by Elder Adolphus Webb, who served from 1955 through1963. Under Elder Webb's leadership, the church membership grew to 279 by 1959. In addition, the foundation was laid for our multi-purpose center. In 1963, Evangelist Eric C. Ward became pastor and remained in that position until 1970. The Thirty-first Street SDA Church passed the 300 membership mark during his years of service.
During Elder Ward’s first year, Bronze America magazine published an article about his evangelistic campaign in San Diego. According to the article, "overflow crowds attended the 100 night revival offered by San Diego's 31st Street Seventh-day Adventist Church." The article also stated that Elder Ward "gained a wealth of respect not only from his own parishioners, but also from civic and community leaders." It was also noted in the article that, “one fourth of the Negro physicians in San Diego are products of Seventh-day Adventist schools." Among them were such distinguished physicians as Dr. John Ford, Dr. James Valentine, Dr. Herbert A. Holness, and Dr. Green Shurney. These men also retained some of the largest private medical practices within the city. Other more recent distinguished physicians and/or dentists include Dr. Burton Norris, Dr. Joseph Freitas, Dr. James L. Kyle, Dr. Cheryl Eley and Dr. Colin Ross.
Additionally, through the years, several members taught at the San Diego Adventist Academy. They included Lee Edna Ford, Florence Calhoun, Rhoenna Armster, Craig and Janice Newborn, Don and Christine Dudley, Vincent Cherry, Robert (General) Lee, Ronald Pollard, Cheryl Roberts Saunders, James N. Robins, Ricky Robbins, Jo Ann Stephens, and Renee Small. Donald Dudley also served as principal of the elementary school for a number of years, as well as interim principal of San Diego Adventist Academy.
The second African American congregation in San Diego was the Encanto Heights Church (later named Oak Park SDA Church, and currently known as New Hope SDA Church) was founded during the tenure of Elder E. C. Ward. Several members of the Thirty-first Street SDA Church assisted in the formation and the development of the new church. During Elder Ward’s tenure, Mrs. Ola Mae Harris served as the Bible Instructor and Sis Ramona Lee became the organist.
William Galbreth succeeded Elder E.C. Ward as the pastor of the Thirty-first Street SDA Church. A native son of San Diego and a member of Beacon Light since childhood, Elder Galbreth brought a unique style of leadership and business acumen to the congregation. His seven years as pastor (1970-1977) were years of continued growth in the church.
Bro. Donald and Sis. Ruth Reid served as a team of Bible Instructors during this period. Elder John R. Damon was the next pastor to bless Thirty-First Street SDA Church with his ministry. Prior to his arrival in 1977, Elder Damon served as the conference evangelist with the Southeastern California Conference. Before coming to California, Elder Damon served as a pastor in the Allegheny East, Allegheny West, and Arizona Conferences.
During Elder Damon's tenure, the church continued its tradition for organizing choirs and serving the community through its outreach programs. Elder Damon also led out in the early planning phases of the church building program, as the Thirty-first Street SDA Church sought a new sanctuary to assist in spreading the gospel message. It was also during this time that the Tabernacle Choir under the direction of Diedre Dyitt received widespread popularity.
In the earlier years, Mrs. Vivian Woods and others were instrumental in organizing youth choirs for the church. The work of Mrs. Lorene Wright in Community Services also flourished during Elder Damon's ministry. Dr. Alice Smith served as the church organist during this period as well.
Several associate/youth pastors have served the Thirty-first Street Church from the 1960s through the years of Elder Damon’s ministry. They include Dr. David L. Taylor, Elders Warren Neal, William (Bill) Barron, Brian Neal, Elliot Osborne, J. Anthony Boger, James Dew, William (Bill) Penick, and William (Bill) Shirley. Chaplain Merytle Wilson offered his ministry as well.
Those serving as Bible Instructors were Mrs. Annette O'Bannon, in partnership with her husband, Bro. Frank O'Bannon. Cheryl Roberts followed them for a brief period, adding her fine musical talent to the church services. In 1983 Elder Herman Vanderberg became pastor. Elder Vanderberg's strengths included fund raising and building churches.
He continued with the planning and development of the church building program that was initiated during Elder Damon's tenure as pastor. Elder Vanderberg's associates were Elder James Robins and Elder Ernest Rudley. Sis. Laura Johns joined the pastoral team as Bible Instructor in October, 1984.
Dr. Barry Black, a chaplain in the United States Navy offered his talents as an outstanding speaker many times during this period. During the summer of 1985, Elder George Rainey held a crusade on the corner of 69th and Imperial Streets, in San Diego. The result of this crusade was the beginning of what would become the Maranatha SDA Church, the third African American Seventh-day Adventist Church in San Diego.
In 1987 Elder Gerald D. Penick, Sr. began to serve as pastor of 31st Street SDA Church. Under Elder Penick's leadership, preliminary plans were developed for remodeling our current church structure. Elder Penick's musical abilities inspired great praise team members and visitors alike. Serving as his Associate Pastor was Dr. James R. Doggette.
Elder Samuel R. Hutchins followed Dr. Doggette as Elder Penick's associate. When Elder Penick was elected as the Assistant to the President for African American Ministries for the Southeastern California Conference, Elder Samuel R. Hutchins became the Senior Pastor of the Thirty-first Street SDA Church.
Elder Hutchins brought dynamic leadership, as the church embarked on a full-fledged building program. In February,1990, Elder Cleveland Hobdy, III joined the staff as the Associate Pastor. Sis. Laura M. Johns continued to faithfully serve as the Bible Instructor to complete the leadership team. The church experienced new vitality and strength under the direction of Elder Hutchins.
In December, 1991, Elder Cleveland Hobdy, III accepted a call to serve as the Senior Pastor of the Mt. Rubidoux SDA Church in Riverside, California. Elder Marc Woodson came to San Diego as the Associate Pastor in July, 1992. He brought a creative approach to leadership and pastoral ministry. When Elder Samuel Hutchins accepted a call to Memphis, Tennessee in December, 1993, Elder Marc Woodson served Thirty-First Street as the interim senior pastor.
In May, 1994, Elder Woodson accepted a call to serve as the Senior Pastor of the Mt. Rubidoux SDA Church in Riverside. Elder Hobdy, after having led the Mt. Rubidoux SDA Church in completing the building of their brand new sanctuary, was called to return to San Diego as the Senior Pastor of the Thirty-first Street SDA Church.
Pastor David Richardson came to Thirty-First Street in July, 1995 to serve as the Associate Pastor, bringing youthful zeal and a love for ministry. Sis. Laura Johns continued to faithfully serve as the Bible Instructor, and later served as an Elder in addition to Bible Instructor.
Elder Hobdy came to us with many talents. His musical talent has led him to organize combined choirs of youth and young adults, ministering to churches and community organizations. An often requested singer and preacher for weddings and funeral services, he is a people pastor, always there, day or night, with prayer and support, often counseling with those in need. He has expanded and established new ministries, training local members to become lay pastors. His previous accounting experience and computer skills have also provided a valuable resource to the ministry of the church.
Elder Hobdy ministered as a shepherd, with a sense of urgency under the theme,"Not Equal Giving, But Equal Sacrificing." In September, 1996, and continuing in February 1997, Elder Hobdy led the church in the process of giving the church buildings a new face-lift by renovating the sanctuary and gymnasium buildings, as well as painting the exterior of both buildings.
In the year 2000, Pastor Cleveland Hobdy received a call to pastor in Auburn, Washington. That same year Pastor Marcel Wip became interim pastor of Thirty-First Street Seventh-day Adventist Church. He is a man of integrity, a healer in relationships, dependable, and blessed with organizational skills. His leadership service was rendered here until 2001.
Pastor Robert Edwards was selected in 2001, to become Senior Pastor of the Thirty-First Street Seventh-day Adventist Church, and he accepted the call. Pastor Andrea Trusty-King became his Associate, the first female Associate pastor at Thirty-First Street. Although she is multi-talented, she is known for her eloquent preaching. Pastor Edwards is a people person. His outgoing personality and speaking ability brought many new visitors and missing members back to our worship services. Under his leadership, a major debt owed on our church land was paid off.
In mid-2004, Pastor Edwards was called to serve the Perris Fifth Street Seventh-day Adventist Church, in Perris, California, at which time Pastor Andrea Trusty-King served as interim senior pastor until the arrival of our next pastor.
Pastor Andrea Trusty-King went on to co-pastor with her husband (Pastor Kurt King) at the San Diego Maranatha SDA Church – the first African American husband and wife co-pastors in the Southeastern California Conference.
The Thirty-First Street Seventh-day Adventist Church congregation welcomed our new Pastor, Jay B. Winston, in August, 2004 from his pastorate in Omaha, Nebraska. A month later, in September, 2004, Pastor Eric Penick became his Associate Pastor. They combined both their spirituality, and God-given computer skills to become a dynamic duo.
Pastor Winston, an outstanding Evangelist, won many souls during a six-week Revelation Seminar, held April 10 – May 19, 2005. Pastor Winston, a visionary for the 21st century, brought new ideas for the future of the church. He was responsible for the implementation of various programs that have helped to vitalize the church and generate increased soul-winning. These programs included: The Worship, Evangelism, Nurture, Develop Departments, Youth Action (W.E.N.D.Y.) Program, Bible Correspondence Institute, Soul Winning Action Teams (S.W.A.T.), the Winning Welcome Ministry, Monthly Marriage Enrichment Emphasis, Members Appreciation Service (W.E.N.D.Y. Awards), annual Evangelistic Crusade efforts, and the lucrative disposition of the La Mesa church property, just to name a few. Pastor Winston was called to lead the flock at Shiloh SDA Church in Ocala, Florida in January, 2011.
Pastor Kelby Duran McCottry joined Thirty-first Street SDA Church in February, 2011. Pastor Kelby Duran McCottry, fondly known as “Pastor Mac”, comes to us from Allon Chapel SDA Church in Lincoln, Nebraska. He brings with him a strong background in Finance and church growth along with a modern view of evangelism and outreach.
Authors: Dr. Rhoenna Armster, Paradine Ruff and Velma Brown