The Open Door traces its history from the 1960s. We began our present food ministry at 131 Filbert Avenue in 1987. A brief sketch of our long history appears below.
In the summer of 1968 Lars Williamson felt the calling to minister to large number of "street People" (hippies) who were migrating across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco's Haight Ashbury District to Sausalito in Marin County. First, he went to his local church for support and sponsorship for this new "Street Ministry." Even though the Church was unable to give financial support at the beginning, they did give continuous prayer and moral support. Soon they were to provide some minimal financial support when The Open Door Ministries was finally established.
The witnessing concept was, for the most part, one to one, or small grout situations. The focus was often on providing assistance for those in need. Not only was Jesus presented in words, but equally important, deeds and service. Many nights were spent talking with alcoholics, addicts, drug users, runaway juveniles, dropouts from society, and other types of people. In developing this ministry, many contacts were made, and good relationships were developed with local and county law enforcement agencies, probation officers and hospital personnel. It was slow, but interesting, and sometimes exciting, ministry. During this period, ViElla, Lars' wife was very supportive, although she was not directly involved with the street work.
In April of 1969 Judy Beane was assigned to Sausalito for the final 5 months of her US-2 appointment under the Southern Baptist Home Mission Board. In her working under Pastor, Rev Jay Orr, she became interested the street ministry which Lars was doing. Shortly she began to accompany him and learn what he was doing, who the people were, and how to minister to this population in her own way.
Most of the time on the street was spent walking the streets, sitting on "the steps" downtown and frequenting various city cafes and bookstores--all places where people "hung out." During the summer and early fall 1969, the pressure of the police on the street people intensified as efforts to rid the town of this population increased.
1969 was the first year Thanksgiving Dinner was provided for the street people, and the First Presbyterian Church provided the space and $75 for the event. Christmas brought another dinner served from station wagons the downtown park. Even a few tourists were served that time!
As the street ministry continued through 1970, it became apparent t something more permanent was needed. One day in 1970 when Lars, ViElla and Judy were talking, they began discussing a more permanent place. It was as if God had spoken individually to each of them and had given plan. It became their task to fulfill His plan. It was clear that a place was needed as well as an organization to carry on the work. Then came much prayer and discussion regarding a name. The scripture from Revelation 3:21 ("Behold, I have set before thee an Open Door which no man can shut") appeared as their guiding principal and, hence, the name "Open Door."
The months following this decision were filled with a great deal activity. The three felt led to open a Christian Coffee House. Also the Lord convinced the three that they needed to "do it right." A Board of Directors was put together comprised of Lars and ViElla Williamson, Judy Beane, and the Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Sausalito, Rev. Joe Morgan. Then incorporation was pursued.
As the ministry began to take more form, newsletters were sent out to everybody the directors knew to let people know the news. The Street Ministry continued all during this period as incorporation papers were filed. The first donations began arriving in July of 1970.
On January 21, 1971, The Open Door Ministries received incorporation status as a tax-exempt not-for-profit religious organization! Once momentous step was achieved the organization began developing a base of support and within a few months newsletters were going out places in nearly all of the fifty states (nearly 500 people!). With the tax-exempt status, a mailing permit was obtained, thus greatly reducing the cost of postage.
With the support of the donations, and after much prayer, the search for a building began culminating in the first home for Open Door. In September of 1971 a building was found near the heliport in an unincorporated of the county, just about a mile north of Sausalito. It took hours of volunteer labor and the scavenging of materials to remodel the old fish & chips restaurant (the "Fishnet" for those locals who may remember) into suitable place complete with a meeting room, kitchen, and a small office. The Open Door Ministries, Inc. was "in business."
All this was happening before Christian Coffee Houses became the "in thing." However, what the Open Door was led to do was to be quite different from the Christian Coffee Houses about which books were written. Most of these were designed for Christian young people to find entertainment in a Christian context. The Open Door was designed for the street people--runaways, alcoholics, addicts, dropouts, "musicians," and "poets"--there were very few Christians among this crew! The Board of Directors agreed that all the staff must be Christians, and that the Open Door would provide a Christian atmosphere in which non-Christians could come and be exposed to Christianity as it is lived daily.
It was soon discovered that the Open Door was right "next door" to a large field in which 38 vans, trucks, cars, and busses were parked. These vehicles were homes for a community of people, most of whom were stranded with "car troubles" as they were "migrating" around the country. This field of people" soon became the core group of the original Open Door. The "program" was very simple: "share Christ's love with people in any way possible."
The "Open Door" was open every night of the week, 365 days a year. After the first year, a staff of fourteen were trained. Most of the staff were students at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary which was locate about five minutes north of Open Door. Students served at the Open Door and were able to use their work as field work experience.
Each night at Open Door was different. It was a unique ministry in the truest sense of the word. To look in the room, one would see some people playing chess, some drinking coffee or eating soup, some talking with others, some writing, and usually someone playing the piano--no radios or TVS or other similar electrical or battery operated devices were present--actually they were not allowed! The plan for the coffeehouse was allow people to relate to other people. This focus also created a more intimate atmosphere to talk with people about Christ whenever the opportunity arose. There were some Bibles and New Testaments around, but "religion" was never "forced" on someone, and people did not have to profess a belief in Christ in order to come. With this group of people, it appeared more powerful to reach out on a one-to-one basis.
For a long period of time, in addition to being open every night, Sunday afternoon Church Services were held. The Church Services were quite special. Different ministers from county churches and several seminary professors led services beginning at 2 in the afternoon. Often the services lasted until 5 or 6 PM, closing only briefly to let the staff go home, eat supper, and return to open the coffeehouse in the evening.
The next addition to the ministry was to open very early Sunday morning to be available to a group of motorcyclists. This group, many of whom were businessmen from San Francisco, had been members of the Early Sunday Morning Bike Ride for many years. They would leave San Francisco and ride over Mt. Tamalpais. The Open Door became a regular halfway stop between San Francisco and Mt. Tam. The participants stopped for coffee and fellowship before proceeding on their ride. Again, Open Door saw a way to minister and did it. Even though the ministry was somewhat untraditional it fit the original mission of "sharing Christ's love in any way possible."
A fourth ministry also developed during these first three years. Several of the staff formed Christian Crisis Intervention teams which were to respond particularly to people who were acutely suicidal. This, again, was before these types of crisis intervention teams had been tried. Over twenty years the teams have responded to nearly 3000 acutely suicidal people in Marin County and other parts of the Bay area.
During the three years at the first location, many strong relationships developed. Even now, over 21 years later, a few of the original people call or write an occasional letter. The Open Door moved out of it first building in October of 1974. Today, the "field" is covered by a large, modern--albeit sterile--office building. The original Open Door location is now a grassy mound gracing the front of a small building.
For every night of the next year, the staff of Open Door manned telephones which were installed at the First Baptist Church of Sausalito. Even though the ministry changed drastically with only telephone contact with people, at least this contact provided a link which would be strengthened when the Open Door reopened on a nightly basis in a new location in 1975.
The building which became the second home to Open Door had also been a restaurant (Fat Tuesday's). This time the building was within Sausalito City limits. In July of 1975, the Directors and several volunteers began the massive remodeling of the former restaurant--a task which involved thousands of volunteer hours and lasted for nearly three months. The work began by obtaining the various permits and proceeded to the sandblasting of all of the walls and ceilings of the building, constructing walls for an office and kitchen, painting, scavenging carpet and other needed supplies, and dealing with numerous other details necessary to make the space usable. Finally, on Nov. 1, 1975 the Open Door reopened in its second home.
The ministry at the second home was essentially the same as at previous building; however, there were some changes. Since the Open was not in the location for the early Sunday morning bike ride group, phase of the ministry was not restarted. Sunday afternoon services were attempted several times, but no one attended. The new location proved to be too close to a flea market which was open every Saturday and Sunday. Even though not continual, there were various times during the nine half years at this location when there were Bible studies and meetings. A big part of the ministry at this location included telephone opportunities and face-to-face Christian counseling. These interactions provided many opportunities to share Christ's love with people and let people know God was there for them too.
Involvement from County residents began to grow. More and more people began bringing food or clothes or other usable goods for the people. A woman from Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church brought a huge pot of soup once a week, and then a group called Friends of the Open formed. This group was formed specifically to provide for the needs of the people who came to Open Door. These services continued even today with home cooked food being brought to the Church every Friday.
Then in May of 1985, after nine-and-a-half years in the second home, Open Door was again without a home. Rents went up, and donations did not. Even though donations continued, the Board of Directors, after much prayer and deliberation, decided that $1000 a month was too high for rent alone. As of May, 1985, the Open Door moved its supplies into storage. The search for a new building began and the state of available properties quickly became painfully clear. For the next year every available place was investigated with results ranging from "totally unusable without immense work" to "extremely nice, but around $3000 a month for rent." It became clear that the direction of the ministry needed to change. During the time of closure, phone messages were returned, but contact with people was very limited.
Finally, in January 1987, a year-and-a-half after supplies went into storage, the First Baptist Church of Sausalito allowed us to start a weekly dinner on Friday evenings. They had also allowed Open Door to put on a Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner in 1985 and 1986. And the Door was again able to minister directly to people. This time the ministry was focused in a more limited way. Instead of nightly contact, weekly contact became all that the ministry was able to do. Yet, even this has blossomed to an average of around forty plus people every Friday evening.
Those still involved with Open Door still witness to much of the population and have involved a base of volunteers who provide home cooked--literally--meals. These meals are provided a self-developed auxiliary known as Friends of the Open Door. These men and women are from various walks of life, including business people, shop owners, professionals and city council members. So, in one way, ministry is more limited--time wise, but has expanded to reach many segments of the population.
As the year 2000 dawned, it became evident that our facilities were in need of a major facelift. The floor in the kitchen was disintegrating; the dining area was too small, the tables crammed so close together that it was getting difficult to move around during the meal service.
The Friends of the Open Door once again stepped forward with an aggressive plan. Walls were removed in the dining area, eliminating four small storage rooms to create a spacious fellowship area. The kitchen was completely emptied so a new floor could be put in place (meanwhile, we had to prepare food in the dining room, inventing whole new ways of using microwave ovens!). New floors, paint, tables, table cloths, window coverings, and chairs followed, beautifully color coordinated by professional volunteers. The kitchen received similar treatment, receiving a new had-me-down stove from a neighboring church and all new counter tops.
The remodeled dining room is far more spacious due to the removal of interior walls.
We don't think our history ends here. The people come in growing numbers, and new challenges await. With your prayers and support, we hope to continue this expression of God's love for many years to come.