The Church | The Commitment | Dr. Howard Thurman | Further Reading
THE CHURCH FOR THE FELLOWSHIP OF ALL PEOPLES
Founded in 1944 during a time of local, national, and global tension and conflict, The Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples is the nation's first interracial, interfaith congregation. Its mission, as articulated by co-founding pastors, Dr. Howard Thurman and Dr. Alfred Fisk, and visionary members, was to create a religious fellowship that transcended artificial barriers of race, nation, culture, gender, and social distinctions.
Late in 1943 Dr. Alfred G. Fisk, a Presbyterian clergyman and professor of philosophy, met with a few persons of various races and faiths who were deeply concerned with the absence of bridges of understanding among the varied races, cultures, and faiths presented in American society. Their desire to found an interracial fellowship led them to Dr. Howard Thurman, who left his position as of Dean of the Chapel at Howard University to join Dr. Fisk in a team ministry.
The formal inaugural service for The Church for The Fellowship of All Peoples took place on October 8, 1944 at the First Unitarian Church in San Francisco. Among those participating in this inaugural service were: Dr. Ezra Van Nuys of the San Francisco Presbytery; Dr. John Leffler of the San Francisco Council of Churches; Rabbi Eliot Bernstein of the Northern California Board of Rabbis and Cantors; Dr. Buell Gallagher co-pastor of the South Berkeley Community Church; Bishop Edward Parson of the Episcopal Diocese of California; Dr. C.F. Dutton of the First Unitarian Church; Joseph James of the San Francisco NAACP; and Ira C. Lee, Director of the Chinese YMCA.
In the early years, with the financial support of the Presbyterian Church, the group of less than fifty members worked to understand the unique mission of the new church. They relinquished financial support from the Presbyterian church in favor of an independence which would allow the flowering of an interfaith vision. This vision is best captured in The Commitment which the congregation and its leadership developed over a long period of study and discussion. Agreement with this inclusive Commitment remains the basis for membership in the church.
Over the years, Fellowship Church has benefited from pastoral leadership from a variety of Christian-Protestant denominations. Dr. Fisk left the church to return to his academic life in 1949. Dr. Thurman remained as pastor until 1953, when he left Fellowship Church to become Dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University. Ministerial leadership has run the gamut from Baptist to Unitarian and has included the Rev. Dryden Phelps, Rev. John Taylor, Rev. Daniel Panger, Rev. Paul Chaffee, Rev. Marvin Chandler, and currently, Dr. Dorsey Blake. Informal relations with the Jewish, Buddhist, and Muslim communities have been maintained over the years, particularly with Rabbi Saul White, and his son, Rabbi David White, and with Buddha’s Universal Church. Underlying this diversity is the extraordinary heritage of Dr. Thurman’s penetrating theology, articulated in over a dozen books.
From the beginning, an emphasis has been given to the arts in religious life including music, drama, and dance. To this day the importance of cultural pluralism and emphasis on the arts remain important to the church. As we enter the twenty-first century and the church moves into its sixth decade, the importance of building bridges among cultural, racial, and religious communities remains a great need in the increasingly dense and complex world.
I affirm my need for a growing understanding of all people as children of God and I seek after a vital experience of God as revealed through Jesus of Nazareth and other great religious spirits whose fellowship with God was the foundation of their fellowship with all people.
I desire to share in the spiritual growth and ethical awareness of men and women of varied national, cultural, racial, and creedal heritage united in a religious fellowship.
I desire the strength of corporate worship through membership in The Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples with the imperative of personal dedication to the working out of God's purpose here and in all places.
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DR. HOWARD THURMAN
The interfaith legacy of Fellowship Church was honed and elevated, in large measure, by and through the works of
the late Dr. Howard Thurman. Dr. Thurman authored more than 22 books, including: The Growing Edge, The Search
for Common Ground, The Inward Journey, and Meditations
of the Heart. Thurman served as Dean of Rankin Chapel at Howard University in Washington, D. C. and Dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University. In 1953 Life Magazine named him one of the outstanding clerics in the United States.
In 1936, Dr. Thurman and his spouse, Sue Bailey Thurman, became the first Black Americans to be received by Mohandas Gandhi. During their discussion about systematic racial oppression, Gandhi predicted it could be through the African American that nonviolence would exert its greatest global impact. This prediction found fulfillment in the unique and prophetic leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who always carried a copy of Dr. Thurman's powerful and best selling book, Jesus and The Disinherited. The Thurmans devoted their lives to the idea of Fellowship Church, which has also drawn support from national and international figures, such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Alan Paton, and Josephine Baker.
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Fellowship Church History (Russian Hill Neighbors)
Howard Thurman Papers Project
This Far By Faith: Howard Thurman (PBS)
Religion & Ethics Newsweekly Feature on Thurman (PBS)
Interview with Dr. Thurman (Theology Today 1981)
Extended Profile of Dr. Thurman: The Atlantic Monthly (1953)
Dangerous Spirituality (article by Vincent Harding on Thurman & King)
Howard Thurman Memorial
Sue Bailey Thurman
Shaping San Francisco: Your Place to Discover & Sharp San Francisco History
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The Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples was founded in 1944 by Dr. Howard Thurman and Dr. Alfred Fisk as the nation's first interracial interfaith congregation.