The House of Acts

The Jesus Movement took the West Coast in the second half of the 1960s as hippies found Jesus through experimental drugs. Religious scholars have indicated that The Living Room and House of Acts, a Christian coffeehouse and communal, was where the movement began. In this three-part mini-series podcast, Wenei Philimon looks into how the House of Acts came to be. She traverses some of the highlights that transpired during the House of Acts operating days and how the communal house eventually folded.

00:00:00 – 00:47 //WENEI PHILIMON//: 

The Jesus Movement was a youth-centered revival that began on the West Coast in the late ‘60s. As tens and thousands of young people moved to Haight-Ashbury, the Living Room and House of Acts, a Christian coffeehouse and communal, were formed. Some religious scholars have attributed the Living Room and House of Acts as the beginning of the Jesus Movement. 

Sandi Heefner and her husband, Steve Heefner, were one of the people who helped start the House of Acts. It all began when the couple relocated to Sausalito, California. It was there that Sandi met a woman named Elizabeth “Liz” Wise and they immediately bonded. 

00:48 – 0:59 //SANDI HEEFNER//: 

We found ourselves kinda, know you, sitting next to each other and we became friends. She had he had children the same age as my son. And so pretty soon, we were going to the beach together. 

01:00 – 01:13 //WENEI PHILMON//:

Sandi eventually became friends with Liz’s husband, Ted Wise, and two other couples. After spending many nights together, talking about Jesus and having dinner parties, the group eventually formed the House of Acts

01:14 – 01:52 //SANDI HEEFNER//: 

And then from there, we became a group of friends and from there we developed into the House of Acts is what a minister called it. But, we called it the “Big House,” because we all decided–I was the last one to agree, I was raised Roman Catholic, I was a good Catholic. So, I thought, ‘I didn’t need anything more, you know.’ But, God decided to start this endeavor with two women, Liz (Elizabeth) and myself. Did we know what we were getting into? Absolutely not. We had no idea what was gonna be happening, but that’s how we all got together. 

01:53 – 02:07 //INTRO// MUSIC//: I’m Wenei Philimon and this is ‘Till Shiloh Comes, a podcast about the Jesus people, their music, and the movement. 

(MUSIC: Everything has a Beginning by Joel Cummins – copyright free)

02:08 – 02:34 //WENEI PHILIMON//: 

In 1967, thousands of young supporters of the counterculture moved to Haight-Ashbury, California, with their hippie apparel and life of free sex and drugs. As hippies were searching for the meaning of life, the Jesus Movement was sweeping the West Coast.

Lambert Dolphin, a scientist and Ted’s friend, watched how San Francisco became a place filled with young people wanting to live the hippie lifestyle. 

02:35 – 03:16 // LAMBERT DOLPHIN//:

The young people who came to San Francisco were from all over the country, mostly from the Midwest. They stayed there ‘til there they ran out of money and had to go home in the fall when it got cold in San Francisco. If you go to San Francisco with a flower in your hair back in 1967, you could bring your girlfriend and sleeping bags, and you could sleep in Golden Gate Park. There was a free store. If you needed something, you’d go in to the free store and they’d give you what you wanted–free. So, all day long, you could smoke pot, and hang out with people and it was kinda a utopia for the younger generation. And it’s certainly a relief from the mediocrity of the Midwest and the dead churches there. 

(SOUND EFFECT: San Francisco Park 3 by Pro Sound FX)

03:17 – 03:44 //WENEI PHILIMON//:

The House of Acts was the first communal house of the Jesus Movement in Novato, California. 

Some scholars have credited Ted for leading the early days of the movement. It was a place where hippies and runaways could get free food and shelter in exchange for Bible readings. 

By that time, Steve, a radio journalist who had become friends with Ted, recalled the moving force that caused people to move across the country and to San Francisco. 

03:45 – 04:16 //STEVE HEEFNER//:

We had an awful lot of people coming to San Francisco because somebody had a song. If you’re going to San Francisco, put a flower in your hair, there’s gonna be a bee in there. We were kind of preparing for that. I recall Ted Wise saying to me, ‘You know, there are a lot of young kids coming in, why don’t we buy a couple of dozen donuts Friday night and go down to Haight-Ashbury and hand out donuts and talk to them?’ So that was the first time I got involved. Pretty soon, we were bringing them home to stay overnight at our place.

04:17 – 04:35 //WENEI PHILIMON//:

They were feeding about 20 people for dinner every night for a year and a half with no one working. The men would lead the Bible study and the women would make dinner. Sandi, one of the women who helped in the kitchen, would go to the local grocery store to pick up groceries the store couldn’t sell.

(SOUND EFFECT: Cafe Ambience female Talking by Wistan Sound)

04:36 – 05:33 //SANDI HEEFNER//: 

We told them what we were gonna do. We were gonna try to feed some of these kids running away. And if they had any food they were gonna throw away, would they think of us first? And they said, “Gee, we give our food normally to a pig farmer, but we’ll let you in under the loop.” So, at the end of the day, after we had found what we were gonna use, we never knew what the grocery stores were gonna give us. We would throw it in this big baby bottle sterilizer. We would throw in all the extra vegetables that we hadn’t used that day and put some herbs in it, and put water on it, and put it on low on the heat overnight. And when we woke up in the morning, it was soup. The guys would carry that soup with them and take it to the living room, our front mission field, and anybody who was hungry was welcome to come in and have soup but the only thing you had to pay with is while you were eating your soup, we would read the bible to you.  

 05:34 – 05:44 //WENEI PHILIMON//:

House of Acts attracted people from all over the Bay Area, including cult leader Charles Manson whose cult group, the Manson Family, murdered five people. 

05:45 – 06:09 //STEVE HEEFNER//:

I remember he came in and he sat there and he had the soup, you know, and he was just bad-mouthing the Lord, which didn’t bother any of us, but that was one of the guys that we could have reached. This murderer. There were a lot of pastors’ kids that would come see how you can be a hippie and a Christian at the same time and there were some ministers that were challenging that.

(SOUND EFFECT: Eating Soup by Apple Hill Studios)

06:10 – 06:38 //WENEI PHILIMON// 

Many Christians disapproved of how hippies looked and lived their lives. Christians believe once you accept Christ, you must get rid of your old lifestyle. While television evangelist Billy Graham spoke and wrote about how the Jesus people can continue to impact youth in America, Evangelist David Wilkerson disagreed. Live on the local news, he traveled to San Francisco to debate Ted and Steve regarding the drug-friendly lifestyle at the House of Acts.

06:39 – 06:54 //STEVE HEEFNER//:

Wilkerson came out with a thing that said you can’t be a Christian and a hippie at the same time. So that was kind of interesting. I set my eye on him, invited him up, and we had some arguments about that. 

06:55 – 07:23 //WENEI PHILIMON//:

The group started getting more publicity when one of the founders, Ted, was on the front page of Christian Life magazine. Soon, conflict began to rise about the meaning of scriptures. Sandi and Steve realized the group may have implemented some scriptures incorrectly after spending a summer away at a Bible school. However, the group dismissed their newfound revelation, which eventually caused them to leave. 

07:23 – 08:49 //SANDI HEEFNER//: 

Our group had fallen into legalism. By the time we came back that summer, they had all sorts of rules, such as one of the mothers of the original four had a smoking problem. She loved her cigarettes and she smoked a lot, and it was very expensive. And so everybody wanted to pray for her and help her get over this habit. They ended up controlling it by frisking everybody at the door, saying, ‘You can’t come in here with cigarettes ‘cause somebody here has a problem with cigarettes. So you can’t have any cigarettes on your person. You have to leave it in your car or whatever it is.’ We knew that that was wrong. So, we tried to share what we had learned and they rejected it. And after a while, we just couldn’t abide it anymore. They wouldn’t listen. They made fun of what we were trying to tell them. And so we found ourselves in a situation where we were living under legalism now, but we knew the truth and what the word did say because we had learned how to research it and study it. We knew it was headed in the wrong direction. And so that’s when we asked the Lord, please find us somewhere to live, guide us here, because we had, you know, no connections by this time real estate wise. And he opened up an opportunity for us to get into a home and we took it.

 08:49 – 09:15 //WENEI PHILIMON//:

Shortly after, another couple left and with only half the group remaining, the House of Acts closed. The community of members began to assimilate back into society but did not abandon their faith. Sandi and Steve continued to study the word and held Bible studies in their homes. Ted and Elizabeth Wise joined Peninsula Bible Church, where Ted became a pastor. 

09:16 – 09:31 //SANDI HEEFNER//:

We have continued to study and to teach the word. And we still to this day, we’ve continued in our lives with exactly the same message we got back then.

(MUSIC: Everything has a Beginning by Joel Cummins)