Noe Valley Voice September 2002

Bethany to Leave Noe Valley for the Castro

By Erin O'Briant

Bethany United Methodist Church, a 37-year Noe Valley institution, may be leaving the neighborhood in as few as six months, according to church pastor Karen Oliveto. If the higher-ups in the United Methodist Church will lend the congregation a temporary space, she says, they'll pack up their Noe Valley home in early 2003. If not, Bethany's congregation will stay for two to two-and-a-half years in the current Sanchez Street location while they raise funds and complete their new church home.

"The hierarchy has been slow to respond to our request," says Oliveto.

The new Bethany Church will be located in the long-empty lot on the corner of Market and Noe streets in the Castro District.

Oliveto says she and her congregation of 175 are sad to leave the Noe Valley church where worshippers have gathered since the late 1800s. (Bethany itself has been there since 1965.) But, she adds, they are excited about the expanded opportunities for ministry the Castro space will offer.

"We're almost a suburban church in Noe Valley, the kind of programming we do," notes Oliveto. "I see our ministry [in the Castro] as being much more fast-paced and needing to respond to immediate needs within the community -- both to individuals and to crises in the community." Bethany, she points out, is a "reconciling congregation," which tries to be a bridge between the Christian Church and the gay/ lesbian/bisexual/transgender community.

The new four-story building will house a performance space in the basement, retail stores that fit with the church's mission on the ground floor, a multipurpose and worship space on the second, classrooms and a chapel on the third, and space for the Little People's Workshop, a parent-run co-op, on the fourth floor.

Not to worry, Oliveto says. All the programs and community groups that now use Bethany's space are invited to move with the church. "We would never just turn around and say, 'You're out of here,'" Oliveto notes. "We plan on having space for all our groups," including the Dolores Street Baptist Church, which also currently meets at the Sanchez Street church.

The space where the new church will be built was once occupied by Trinity United Methodist Church (as well as by the Eureka Theater), but its building was destroyed by arson in 1981. The small congregation was unable to rebuild or make use of the space. Trinity merged with Bethany in 1998, and the congregants went to work deciding together how best to use the plot of land. After years of prayer and study, Oliveto says, they decided to build a new church.

Oliveto hopes the old church, built in 1907, will be taken over by a developer and used to provide affordable housing in Noe Valley, but she can't say for sure what will happen to the building on the corner of Sanchez and Clipper. According to her, it is not suited to the needs of the 21st century. "It's an old, funky building."

It's a time of change, but Oliveto says her flock is ready for the move. "We've really worked hard as a congregation to look at the future and how we can best serve in the coming decades," Oliveto says. "It was a very conflicted time that we had together, but people hung in there and we grew spiritually. It's not if we move, it's when we move. People are looking forward to what God is going to do with us."

For information on the move, or on any other activities of the church, call Bethany at 647-8393 or go to its web site at