When WWII was declared, the Richmond area grew from 20,000 to 100,000. Many Southern Baptists came from the South to work at the Kaiser Shipyards. At that time, there was no Southern Baptist church in Richmond, but God was at work. Elijah Waltman of Vallejo, received a copy of THE CALIFORNIA SOUTH BAPTIST, which stated Rev. A.J. Byrd was available to help organize a church in Richmond. He contacted Rev. Byrd and the First Southern Missionary Baptist Church was organized in the Waltman living room on July 4, 1943 with 18 charter members and Rev. Byrd called as the pastor. A 20 x 30 building was erected on 733 S. 47th Street, but that space was proved too small by the second Sunday. Worshipers sat on boards, benches and chairs until space was added the next year with a capacity of 275. With the end of WWII, many returned to the South, but several stayed and continued the work here.
Rev. E.J. Combs became the pastor in January 1946. Missions were started and organized into churches. An adjoining lot was purchased with an $18,000 loan from the North American Mission Board and a three-story building was constructed. This building was occupied before heat or lights were installed. On September 24, 1948, Rev. Earl Bigelow became the pastor and the rapid growth continued. First Southern Baptist Church of Richmond became one of the largest churches in California with a Sunday School attendance of over 700.
Dr. A.J. Hyatt became pastor from 1952 through 1956 and coped with the overflowing attendance, averaging 400. Government housing was purchased and demolished, clearing the way for construction of an education building. Slowly, the neighborhood became desolate, and members had to drive long distances. Rev. Robert Lewis (Pastor from 1956-1959) conceived the idea for a mission on wheels. A church bus was purchased and brought many each week. When Rev. E. J. Jacks became pastor, the city of Richmond planned to redevelop the neighborhood with a street right through the middle of the church building. Rev. Carroll Gibson took the challenge to become pastor as the city of Richmond Redevelopment Agency purchased the church and property for $150,000. Trustees found the 11-acre site on Hillcrest Road and groundbreaking was held in March 1963. Dedication of the new church building was held just a year later, and the name of the church was changed to Hillcrest Baptist Church.
Rev. Robert Rooks became pastor on April 1966 to help develop the new church setting. Many new Sunday School teachers were trained. Levi Price, Jr. came from Texas to attend Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary and was called as Pastor in 1969. Hillcrest Baptist Church was able to refinance the church debt, caused by Diversified Church Financing’s bankruptcy and absconded with $50,000 of the church’s money.
Rev. John O. Hughes was called as pastor in 1974. His wife, Sandy, was battling cancer and passed away on February 14, 1977. The church sought to comfort the family and each other. Rev. Hughes continued to inspire with his walk of faith by caring for his two daughters and the church. However, exactly two years after Sandy’s death, Rev. Hughes passed away after not recovering from a heart by-pass operation. A poem found in his possession epitomized their strength: “Dear God, Thy will, nothing more, nothing less.”
Another seminary student, Rev. Terry Arnold, came to serve as pastor in December 1979. However, in 1982, the church was without a pastor but not without rain. The hill behind the church began to slide and threatened to bury the parking lot. Members worked around the clock to withstand the muddy assault and were able to hold the hill to the edge of the lot. In June, 1983, Rev. Terrence Evans accepted the challenge to “move the mountain” and restore the parking lot. The enormously expensive job exhausted finances with only half the job completed. God intervened and on Thanksgiving of 1986, a judge ordered the insurance company to pay $385,000 for the completion of the hill repair. The motto of the day was “Faith in our Lord Jesus Christ gave victory to move the mountain of mud” from 1 Corinthians 15:57.
In January of 1991, Jerry Ash was called as Pastor while attending Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. The Loma Prieta earthquake shook California in 1989, but no substantial damage was done to the church. Raymond Haynes served as pastor from July 1992 through July 1995. In 1996, Joe Caldwell came as pastor and made several changes in the church. The worship style moved to a more traditional flavor and a new committee structure was adopted. There was a consideration to relocate the church, but the vote of the church was to remain on Hillcrest Road.
In August 2001, Theodore “Ted” Goslen was called as pastor. Arriving from Kamuela, Hawaii, he and his wife, Leah Goslen began serving together. Ted as pastor and Leah as music minister. Over the years the community surrounding the church has changed and Hillcrest has changed to reflect those demographics. Today, Hillcrest seeks to be a multi-generational, multi-ethnic congregation, seeking to build disciples and minister in the community.
On Sunday, July 1, 2018, Hillcrest celebrated 75 years of faithful ministry with an overflow worship service and a baptism, followed by a meal and lovely fellowship. The theme came from 1 Samuel 7:12, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” This is a vivid reminder that God has guided us now for 75 years and we look forward to what He will do in the coming years.
The work ended for Pastor Ted Goslen on October 16, 2022 when the Lord called him home after a seven-month battle with cancer. Pastor Ted left us like he joined us, on a Sunday. Theodore was aptly named, for all of us who knew him were blessed by the gift of his life. He is the longest serving pastor in Hillcrest Baptist Church’s long history. The church is currently being served by Dr. Michael Martin as Interim Pastor while we conduct our search for the next man God has chosen to shepherd the church.
“We are Hillcrest” video history of HBC: