Missionary founded Arcade Baptist Church
By Robert D. Dávila - Sacramento Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PDT Saturday, May 5, 2007
Story appeared in METRO section, Page B4

The Rev. Lee W. Toms, who founded Arcade Baptist Church in a Marconi Avenue fig orchard with 27 souls and shepherded a flock that grew into one of the biggest churches in the country, died Wednesday. He was 80.

The cause was lymphoma, said his daughter, Kerry Forbes.

A believer in missionary work, the Rev. Toms was instrumental in the spread of evangelical Christianity in Northern California. He started Arcade Baptist Church, a member of the Conservative Baptist Association, on the rural edge of Sacramento in 1952 and oversaw steady growth as pastor for 40 years. Membership reached 1,900 and ranked among the top 5 percent in attendance nationally when he retired in 1992.

With his support, members left Arcade -- which dropped "Baptist" from its name -- to put down roots in other communities. The new congregations became "daughter" churches, including Sun River in Rancho Cordova, Bridgeway Christian in Roseville and Northside in Natomas.

"He was a man of incredible insight and wisdom," said the Rev. Jake Larson, Arcade Church pastor. "He had the ability to teach the Bible in such a way that it crossed generations and influenced people of all walks of life."

The Rev. Toms preached with a personable style that mixed Scripture with light humor, church members said. He connected with listeners during popular expository sermons, explaining the Bible verse by verse and how its teachings relate to everyday life. His services were broadcast on local radio for many years.

"He spoke softly and deliberately and paused from time to time to let his words sink in," Arcade member Stan Adair said. "He was an excellent speaker."

The Rev. Toms was born in 1927 in Bellingham, Wash., and grew up in Pasadena and Long Beach. He received a calling to minister as a boy at Christian youth camps, where he also met Lillian Olson when he was 15 years old and she was a year younger. They wrote and met each other for a week at camp each summer until they married in 1948, Forbes said.

He studied the Bible and earned a bachelor's degree at Bob Jones University in South Carolina, graduated from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena in 1951. The next year, he started his ministry in a remote Sacramento suburb, where a lack of housing forced his family to live in a converted chicken coop for 18 months, said Adair, who wrote a book about the history of Arcade Church.

He devoted himself to God and his ministry, leading his flock in Sacramento and traveling to preach in Africa, Asia, Central America and Europe. He collected antique bottles, turquoise jewelry and railway china that he sold to raise money for overseas missions, his daughter said. He also wrote two books -- including "Letters From Lillian," on coping with grief, following the death of his wife in 2001.

From humble beginnings, The Rev. Toms led Arcade Baptist Church to build a 1,700-seat sanctuary on Marconi Avenue in 1987. He received an honorary doctorate from Western Seminary in Portland, Ore., and was honored with a prayer room named for him at the Conservative Baptist headquarters in Colorado, Adair said.

"He was embarrassed by any accolade," Adair said. "He never called himself 'reverend,' because the only use in Scripture refers to 'holy and reverend is His name,' referring to Christ -- and he didn't want to be compared that way. He was always 'Pastor Lee.' "

About the writer: The Bee's Robert D. Dávila can be reached at (916) 321-1077 or


The Rev. Lee W. Toms

Born: Feb. 6, 1927
Died: May 2, 2007

Remembered for: Conservative Baptist minister and founder of Arcade Baptist Church on Marconi Avenue in 1952; supported "daughter" churches in Northern California and missions overseas

Survived by: Daughter, Kerry Forbes of St. Helena; sons, Dan Toms of Auburn, Dave Toms of Carmichael and Jeff Toms of Carmichael; cousin, Paul Toms of Arroyo Grande; and four grandchildren

Memorial service: 4 p.m. May 20 at Arcade Church, 3927 Marconi Ave., Sacramento

Remembrances: In lieu of flowers, donations in memory of the Rev. Toms may be made to the India National Inland Mission and sent to Arcade Church, 3927 Marconi Ave., Sacramento, CA 95821

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