A HISTORY OF THE OREGON CITY CHURCH OF CHRIST
By Ron Murphy
CELEBRATING FIFTY YEARS OF CONTINUOUS FAITH
There were members of the church of Christ on the first wagon trains immigrating to Oregon in 1843. And the church was already meeting in Oregon City as early as 1847. Evangelist H. M. "Mac" Waller left for Oregon with a wagon train made up mostly of members of the church of Christ on April 5, 1847. His biography states:
Landed at Oregon City, Oregon on the ninth of September, 1847, with fairly good health. Before he arrived in Willamette Valley he received messages from Brethren James Servants/McBride (pioneer evangelist in St. Helens, Oregon), of Yamhill county, Glen Q. Burnett, of Polk county, and Foster (Phillip Foster, pioneer of 1843, partner with Sam. K. Barlow, in building Barlow road. Had early orchard and garden at Eagle Creek, on Barlow Road.), living up on the Clackamas, asking him to come to their places and aid them in meetings. Not having any shelter for the winter, he could not accept their courtesy till he had cast about for a home. He left his mother and brother at Oregon City while he and others took a journey up the river as far as Salem and Corvallis. On returning to Oregon City, he preached a few times for the brethren there.[i]
That congregation did not survive. Disciples living in Oregon City traveled to Stone (now Carver) to worship. Their evangelist, George P. Rich, was said to have converted nearly the entire community before his death in 1908, just one week after he preached his last sermon. Like many of the early churches in Oregon, that congregation no longer exists.
By 1939, there were only six churches still meeting in Oregon. Then World War II brought the third great immigration to Oregon and the number of congregations began to grow once again, reaching about 60 congregations by 1960.
In the early fall of 1943 a couple of families rented a building belonging to the Salvation Army and the present Oregon City congregation had its beginning. Lyle and Pearl Leach are due much of the credit for the beginning and early progress of the church. Soon after the church began the Homer Quint family started attending and they have remained faithful to this day. The Central congregation on Division Street in Portland assisted the new work and within a year they had bought a building. Crawford Gilliam contributed much to the building up of the church and the remodeling of the building. He worked at a secular job through the week and preached on Sundays after Lyle Leach left to attend Freed-Hardeman College. Joe Lewis also assisted in the teaching and preaching as much as his army duties would permit. Melvin and Blanche Leach, parents of Lyle, also supported the work beginning in early 1944.
Sometime around 1947 the men dug a basement in solid rock at the corner of 5th and Center Streets in Oregon City. They built a new building on top of the basement and several years later moved the older building to form a wing on the new building for classrooms.
The first eldership was installed on December 18, 1955 with Forrest Anderson, Homer Quint, and Frank Blair.
By January 1960, the church had 65 members and an attendance around 100 each Lord’s Day.
On September 9, 1968, the church worshipped for the first time in their present building on Warner Milne Road. This acreage with the house was purchased from the estate of the Honorable Judge Noble. The house was located near the road and had to be moved to its present site.
The church has been committed to proclaiming Christ to our community and to communities around the world. For fifty years, weekly Bible studies, exalting Christ and honoring the Bible as the inspired, all-sufficient Word of God have been offered to any who would seek God’s will for their life. On January 9, 1977, the JOY Bus ministry began to not only provide transportation, but to be a fun time of creative learning in itself.
Throughout the years, the church has been involved in a number of mission efforts around the world, including Cedar City, Utah, Northern Rhodesia, Africa, Brazil, Taiwan, Herald of Truth, Camp Yamhill, Columbia Christian College, Women For Columbia, Bible Call, Tillamook, Oregon, Baker City, Oregon, and World English Institute.
It was not the intention fifty years ago nor is it the intention today to start a new denomination or be part of an existing one. Our objective is to seek to return to the simplicity of New Testament Christianity. The church of Jesus Christ was established by Jesus himself shortly after his ascension to heaven on the day of Pentecost 33 A.D. (Matt. 16:18; Acts 2). In doctrine the Word of God was taught with no human creeds. In organization there were elders, deacons, teachers, and saints in each congregation. In unity, the church was one. What the Word of God did in the first century it will do today! We have the same Lord, the same Bible, the same hope of heaven, and we must be members of the same church as those in the beginning, to which all the saved were added by the Lord (Acts 2:47).It’s our desire, as it was theirs fifty years ago, to restore the Lord’s church today.
The dream continues….
[i] “Reminiscences of H.M. Waller, the Oldest Evangelist of the Church of Christ on the Pacific Slope,” Christian Standard, (February 4 – July 15, 1893).