As followers of Christ and students of the Bible, we consistently look back at important historical events such as creation, the fall of mankind, the exodus, and the most important event in history, the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. History continues in Scripture with the stories shared in the gospels, the beginnings of the early church, and Paul’s letters. God's Word continues to remind us of a coming historical event in the culmination of Revelation. So as believers, we are a people of history and it is good to look to the past and remember what has gone before. The Lord has used ordinary people to do extraordinary things through His vehicle called "The Church" and Benicia Fellowship continues to be a part of that legacy. Here is a brief synopsis of the founding of the church and it's pastoral history to date.
We who have been a part of Benicia Fellowship Church are included in God’s movement in history when He birthed in the heart of a young man years ago, the need to start a new Southern Baptist work in Benicia, California. It was June, 1980. George Wright was finishing up his studies at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, California. Newly married and having just returned from their honeymoon, George and Florence, his new bride, packed up their few belongings at the seminary and moved to an apartment in Benicia to plant a church as part of his church extension class. They started by having a Vacation Bible School and went door to door at the apartments rounding up all the children in the area and through this summer event, were able to start a bible study with some of the parents of the children in their apartment. They called themselves Benicia Baptist Fellowship.
As the church began to grow, the church rented the gym at Mary Farmer Elementary and begin meeting there each Sunday morning, setting up and tearing down for the services. With Benicia Baptist beginning to establish a presence in the community, the church decided to become a mission under the sponsorship of Castlewood Baptist Church in Vallejo, California. The church rented a space in the basement of the First American Baptist Church in Benicia, but when that building was torn down, they moved to the Masonic Lodge. Two years after the beginning of the church, George finished his seminary education and he and his family were called to pastor a church in another state.
In July of 1982, the Golden Gate Seminary asked Bill Price to preach at the church who were still meeting at the Masonic Lodge and he became the new pastor. As attendance started to increase, the church moved to the Benicia Senior Citizens Center. They occasionally met at the city park and eventually held their worship services at the Majestic Theater on 1st Street. Eventually the church bought a large home we called “The Mansion” on Jefferson Street. The property had a large parking lot and the church offices were housed on one side of the building. There was plenty of space to have services. Pastor Bill, his wife Andrea and their daughter lived on the other side of the building. This place was beautiful and had a great view of the water. There was a pool that was used for baptisms and fellowship times and a basement that was used for a prayer room and youth room. It was also a wonderful spot for weddings.
BFC was constituted in 1985 and became affiliated with Redwood Empire Baptist Association. In, 1986, the church filed as a corporation under the name of Benicia Fellowship Church. The name was changed to emphasize the warm family atmosphere of the church. The motto became “A Caring Family of Faith.” Pastor Bill was energetic in style and focus. He describes his preaching as “seeker-sensitive and evangelistic.” As the church grew, they had to look for another place to worship due to lack of space at the mansion. Therefore the church once again rented a school gym, this time at Joe Henderson Elementary School for the Sunday morning service. Bill pastored BFC until 1990 when he and his family moved to Alabama. Currently Bill counsels churches in the areas of capital, pastoral coaching and marketing. Bill and Andrea enjoy their daughter and her family and four grandchildren which include two special needs children from Russia.
Senior Professor of Theology at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary for fifteen years, former missionary to Nigeria, head of the Journeyman program, and twelve years at the International Missions Board, husband, father and avid runner, Dr Stanley A. Nelson, became the interim pastor at BFC. Even though he lived in San Francisco and commuted each Sunday to church, Dr. Nelson brought a sense of stability to BFC. A few months later, he became, who the members affectionately called, “our permanent part-time pastor”. The members were drawn to his laid-back leadership style and his depth of maturity and discipleship. He was a great biblical storyteller in his preaching and always brought a special emphasis of world missions to the community at BFC. During this time, the church called a youth pastor, Brian Hevrin, to help with a growing youth group. Brian and his wife Joyce helped develop a strong youth presence at BFC until he was called to pastor a church in San Francisco. Dr. Nelson served Benicia Fellowship until he retired in 1994 from his seminary position; then he and his wife Norma moved to Arizona where they continue to serve the body of Christ.
A recent graduate of Golden Gate seminary in 1994, Garry Thornton, accepted the call to become pastor of Benicia Fellowship. He, his wife Rhonda and their children, moved to Benicia so once again BFC had a pastor living near the church. Garry, devoted to preaching the Word, grew in serving his first pastorate and helped the church develop a cohesive, focused and purposeful ministry. Garry supported the youth group called "Youth Aflame" and led the church in transitioning from a weekly "setup and tear down" lifestyle to renting a converted building, the old Benicia post office. During Garry's ministry at BFC, the church ministered to many who struggled with alcohol and drug addiction, and to those in prison. In 1997, Garry and his family moved to Texas and a few years later, Garry became a chaplain in the Navy and served deployments in Japan and Iraq. He still ministers to our naval military.
1997 - 2022
By 1997, the church had purchased property at 935 West 2nd Street and BFC finally had a permanent home. One of the long time members at BFC, Michael Mau, served in various leadership positions at the church and was a leader on the worship team. Michael, who had previously been licensed and ordained by the church, was called to be the new pastor. He and his wife Jeannie have served BFC as a pastoral couple for 25 years. Michael is dedicated to preaching biblical truths and leading people to discipleship, serving the body of Christ and sharing the Gospel. He brings a unique style of inspiration, creativity and musicianship to the delivery of the Message of Christ. Serving as a first responder at Hurricane Katrina through Disaster Relief, Michael has brought an awareness of the needs of communities hit by crisis. He has also participated in world mission trips to Mexico and Ghana and is dedicated to bringing the challenges and prayer needs of the persecuted church to the forefront at BFC. He and his wife Jeannie have been married 46 years and have counseled many couples through Marriage Encounter and Marriage Enrichment.
2020 to Present
In 2020, BFC, like many other churches across the nation, had to close temporarily due to the Covid crisis. During this time, the facility received general maintenance and some beautiful upgrades. The message of Christ still went out through Worship and the Word, Facebook Live on Sunday mornings. Pastor Mike brought the music and preached the gospel faithfully and was able to reach hundreds of people through this medium. The doors of BFC were able to be reopened Easter, April 17th, 2022 and in-person services once again are blessing the attendees. Presently, BFC offers in- person services each Sunday morning. There is a fellowship meal on the 1st Sunday of each month following the morning service. Everyone is welcome to participate. Devoted to prayer and to preaching the Bible, Pastor Mike continues to share his journey with the Lord with the community at Benicia Fellowship Church.
And the story continues on...