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The Savior Down the Street: Rock of Ages Baptist Church 

Wednesday, Nov 25 2015

Julius Magee tried to run away from the church.

At 14, he was a superintendent at the Providence Baptist Church's Sunday School in his native Bayview-Hunters Point.

At 18, he joined the Air Force — in part to escape what he now says was his life's directive: to be a minister.

"I wasn't ready," he says. "I ran. I ran from my calling like Jonah."

Now 58, Magee has been away from San Francisco for some time, living in Sacramento with his wife and children and serving another congregation as pastor for four years.

But on Sundays, Magee — now the Rev. Julius K. Magee II — drives back to San Francisco, where he is attempting to breathe life back into a church he first attended almost 30 years ago.

"I'm in a community which is my home," he says. "This is where we start, to revitalize a community that has lost its luster."

Services at Rock of Ages Baptist Church — a modest 90-year-old building painted a shade of orange, nestled between Mediterranean homes on Gilman Avenue not far from where new neighborhoods are under construction at the former Hunters Point naval shipyard and at Candlestick Park — are lightly attended these days.

Betty Brigham is there — as she has been her entire life. She attended her first service here, at the age of one, 60 years ago.

"I reminded her, she was a co-founder," says Magee, who took over the role of pastor at the church earlier this month with the goal of restoration.

It is hard to understate what the church means to the black experience in America.

"The African American church," Magee intones in a pure preacher's deep baritone, smooth as a sea-worn rock, "is the pillar of the community." In San Francisco, black people have been in a state of exodus, a trend of "outmigration" to other cities that began decades before today's tech-fueled affordability crisis. "It makes it difficult when your people are forced out," he says. "It's a great loss and it does hurt. But a minister needs to know that a changing community needs to accept others as well as their own."

The days when businesses on Third Street would close on Sundays — "It was like against the law" to do business on Sunday, Magee remembers — are gone. But the need for the church remains — and may be, in the era of Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Oscar Grant, greater than ever.

"It all goes back to slavery," he says. "Because that's what it's all about. Being destitute, downtrodden, abused and misused. How the white man — and it disturbs me to say it, but it is what it is — how they mistreated us. What happened back then has nothing to do with us, and yet it still exists today."

"We go to the church," he says, "to pour out our hearts and souls, so we can be healed and have the energy and strength to move forward for another week."

The Savior Down the Street

THE TRADITION, Mission Minyan

THE VISION, Shri Swaminarayan Mandir

THE CHANTING, Hokke-shu Buddhist Church

THE MYSTERY, Immaculate Conception Chapel


About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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