By Rev. Alvin Bernstine
On Sunday, Jan. 6, while the rains deluged with torrential force, people from all over Contra Costa County, San Francisco, Alameda County, and the Bay Area converged upon the Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church, Richmond, where Rev. Dr. Alvin C. Bernstine serves as pastor.
People, from all walks of life, races, colors, creeds, and sexual orientation braved the downpour, navigated around the wreckages of hydroplaned cars, and endured the winter chill and twilight to join in an interfaith service of celebration, worship and thanksgiving to celebrate history in the making—the election and swearing-in of the Hon. Diana Becton, retired judge of the Superior Court of California as the 25th District Attorney of Contra Costa County.
It took 167 years and the forward-thinking citizens of Contra Costa County to seize the moment and elect Diana Becton, the first woman and the first person of color to hold the highest-elected office of law enforcement in the county despite formidable opposition with a sizeable campaign purse.
So they enthusiastically gathered within the intimate walls of her church to celebrate.
The interfaith service was a remarkable affair. Perhaps not since the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., visited Easter Hills United Methodist Church has such a diverse group of people gathered in Richmond. The ecumenicity of the celebration featured an invocation from Rev. Quentisha Davis Wiles, a Pittsburg United Methodist; scripture readings by Genesis Johnson, a fifth-grader from Eagle Peak Montessori School, Walnut Creek; Jason Hill, Saint Mary’s College High School, Berkeley; Oracion de San Francisco by Miguel Gonzalez, Jr., City College, San Francisco.
The Shema was cited by Mr. David Ratner, Congregation B’nai Tikvah, Walnut Creek, and prayers of blessings from Deacon Philip Arnold, Jr., The Bay Church, Concord; Ms. Loel Bartlett Miller, Executive Board of the Interfaith Council of Contra Costa; Dr. Ejaz Naqvi, Islamic Center of Zahra, Pleasanton; Ms. Holiday Brugeman, Christian Science, Danville; Mr. Kevin Finklea, Victory Outreach Church, Pittsburg.
The celebration included soulful singing by the Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church Choir, led by Dr. Donnell Thomas; a solo, “Oh Freedom!” by retired United Meth odist minister, Rev. Roger Kimble, III; a Jewish rendition of Pitchu b’chesed (Open up in justice and love) by Jennie Chabon, accompanied by Lisa Zieler, B’nai Tikvah, Walnut Creek, and a stirring rendition of “God Bless the Child That Has His Own” by Naomi Smith, Ujima Recovery Services.
Rev. Charles Tindsley, retired Chaplain of Contra Costa Juvenile Center and organizer of the event, was able to include youths Joshua Barlet, Jeffrey Chao, and William Ponce-Ramirez as featured readers of scripture.
Gigi Crowder, Executive Director of NAMI and Ms. Malkia Crowder, Probation Manager of Juvenile Hall, offered a spirited reading of Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman.”
However, the evening’s historical significance was powerfully elucidated in the sermon delivered by the inimitable Dr. Amos C. Brown of the Third Baptist Church, San Francisco.
Dr. Brown, with encyclopedic acuity, challenged the crowd to ponder the racist legacy of Western Civilization, including America and the Christian church. His brilliance to quote substantive texts, and legendary thinkers, brought to bear the significance of the moment. After providing a scathing critique of what the “moronic” Trump presidency implies about America, he encouraged D. A. Becton, and the witnessing congregation, to embrace the mantle of the prophet Micah, “to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”
After being introduced by Contra Costa Supervisor John Gioia, district attorney Becton graciously thanked the citizens of the county for entrusting her with the responsibility to serve. She offered historical perspective and shared an impressive account of noted accomplishments within the office, as well as her hopes and dreams within the office of the District Attorney. Pastor Bernstine read the Prayer of Consecration prepared by the Reverend Dr. J. Alfred Smith, Sr., the pastor of her early spiritual formation. The Sisters of Bethlehem provided an impressive assortment of culinary treats to complete a historical night in Richmond.