Oakland’s St. Columba: A Radical Parish Flourishing Through Liberation Theology

Michael Orion Powell

Oakland is a beautiful city. In my honest opinion, it is one of America’s most beautiful and unique cities for many reasons – it and its urban and suburban surrounding areas encapsulate America in a nutshell. Philip K. Dick (himself a Berkeleyan who predicted many of our current social dynamics with his seminal work Man in the High Castle) said himself that the Bay Area was a sort of laboratory for what happens in the broader country.

This is not to say that the East Bay is without its problems. Like all major American cities, poverty is rampant and racial tensions are on full display throughout. You can often see these racial tensions materialize on random BART rides, where white and black riders sometimes trade bitter words with one another. When you get off these tense rides and walk through the city, however, that’s when its beauty starts to show.

Oakland’s Catholic church St. Columba is one of those beauties. I’m not rightly sure that the church would exist in any other environment. The African-American religious experience has been plentiful through American history, including southern Baptist, various Protestant denominations, and the Nation of Islam. St. Columba is a Catholic church very much seeking to serve the black community, while also overtly adopting ideas from Latin America’s liberation theology.

The interior of the church is filled with portraits of the likes of Oscar Romero, Dorothy Day, Cesar Chavez, and Pope John XXIII. During his sermon, Father Kwame Assenyoh will often point to the portraits and proclaim, “these people fought for liberation and peace,” mentioning the word “liberation” over again in describing the gospel.

St. Columba is such a visual experience as a church that I felt like only pictures could really tell its story accurately. Following are some of my favorites of the pictures I took during a recent Sunday service:


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