70 years (August 9, 2014)

Pastor Al Edwards, pictured above with his family, was taken from us to be with the Lord on August 9, 2011.

A Beautiful Inheritance
Giving Thanks to God for 60 Years
First OPC (Portland, Oregon 2004)

During family devotions one evening, a father was reading aloud Psalm 16 and came to verse 6, “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance”, and set his Bible down on his lap.  He had seen a puzzled look on one of the little faces, and thought there might be a question about some of the big words in that verse.

One of the children asked, “Did someone die, and leave the psalmist with an inheritance?”

Smiling, the father thought for a minute and replied, “Often the Bible teaches us to look to the promises of God’s blessing in eternity.  But here we’re taught to follow the psalmist’s example of thanking God for the blessings which we enjoy in this life—especially those blessings which he has handed down to us through others.  One beautiful inheritance we can thank God for is the church we belong to.  Did you know that our congregation is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year?”

“Sixty!  That’s OLD!  That’s how old Grandma is!”

“But, Dad … Our family hasn’t even been members of First OPC for ten years yet.  How would a 60th anniversary have anything to do with us?”

The father sat back a bit, deciding to take advantage of their questions with a longer discussion.  “When we joined this church, we became part of its story; and it has become part of our story too.  Others have worked hard and we are enjoying God’s blessing on their work.  So you see, the fruits of their labors have been passed on to us.  We really do enjoy a beautiful inheritance, just like the psalmist says.”

Our Buildings

“Dad, are you talking about those great buildings we have at church?”

img: 8245 NE Fremont

“Well, the buildings are definitely an obvious example.  You need to realize that we had to work very hard for the buildings we have.  From the time of our first service in September, 1943, for more than two years our worship services were conducted in a small, rented storefront in a poor neighborhood on the corner of 82nd Avenue and Sandy Boulevard.  Losing our lease there, we had no choice but to conduct all of our services in members’ homes while we worked on purchasing a property to build on.  During the summer of 1946 we held services in a large tent on 87th and Fremont until a winter storm blew it all down. 

“The first proposed property purchase was blocked by an antagonistic city council, so we instead chose to purchase a piece of land at 83rd and Fremont, which was outside of the city limits at that time.  Our first building was designed by one of our members who was an architectural draftsman.  You’ve seen the old pictures of our first building with its colonial style pillars, which went up in 1947.  Later, an urgent need for more Sunday school space forced us to build an addition in 1955.  In both projects, all the people of the new church eagerly participated in some way with the construction process.

“It wasn’t until 1964 that our present sanctuary was built in the lot next door.  It is a wonderful place to worship in, with all the giant arched beams and colored glass windows.  That massive construction project was a not only a big sacrifice of people’s money and energy, but a major achievement for our congregation at a time when we were really beginning to grow.  After that, a quarter of a century passed before need pressed us to add more space.  In 1990 we tore down the original building and replaced it with a fabulous new three-story educational wing connected to the sanctuary.  God has graciously seen to it that we are completely free from debt.  Our story will never allow us to take these facilities for granted.  We must appreciate these inherited buildings as a tremendous blessing from God.”

Our Members

img: 8245 NE Fremont

One of the children thought it was safe to interrupt the story at this point with a question.  “But Dad, you’re always reminding us that the church is really the people, and not the buildings.  So there must be more to our inheritance than buildings?”

“Well, you’re right,” replied the father.  “We can’t talk about the inheritance of our church without talking about its members.  You see, our congregation was planted at a time when our nation was intensely involved in World War II.  When looking back at those early years, organizing pastor Lawrence Eyres attributed the success of this church plant to the providence of God: ‘It was wartime, and people were doing a lot of serious thinking in those days.  It was a time in which most young people had either been brought or sent to some Sunday school.  Even the most unbelieving parent thought that a little religion was a good thing … And there wasn’t much for kids to do on Sundays in those days, so off to Sunday school, and in the summers, Vacation Bible School for two whole weeks!’ “

The father continued, “ Portland was chosen as a location to start a church because several members from the Bend OPC had moved to Portland to help in the war effort.  But as it turned out, only a few of those members showed up when we began services.  It was a handful of interested neighbors that began coming faithfully.  When we formed an official congregation in August, 1944, we were just a tiny band of eleven communicant members.  And it was not until the mid-1950’s that our membership reached the 100 mark.

“As we struggled to be a light and witness to our community in northeast Portland, we found our prayers answered in ways that we weren’t even looking for.  As it turned out, we were influential in the start of five mission works in the 1960’s: Newberg ( Oregon), Eugene (Oregon), Glenwood (Washington), Ronan (Montana), and Milwaukie(Oregon).  Some of the church plants put gaping holes in our own congregation’s attendance, but soon God graciously filled them in and then some.  When we had just barely celebrated our 20th anniversary, we had 270 members and were able to host the General Assembly in 1965—which we did again in 1970.

“The rapid numerical growth we enjoyed in the 1960’s was largely from people in the neighborhood attracted to a solid, vibrant congregation with a reputation for serving the community.   Eventually, most of those who retained their attachment to the church moved to outlying areas, however, and newcomers attracted to its unique stand for historic Reformed teaching often came from even further distances.  As a result, we have found that our membership has become much more geographically spread out than it was in our early days as a neighborhood church.

“Today we are blessed to have all different ages from young to old well-represented in our congregation.  Our membership includes several from third- and even fourth-generation families.  In fact, there are nine members from the first decade of the church who are still with us for the 60th anniversary, including one of the eleven charter members!”

Our Leaders

“Was there a pastor who was before Pastor Smith?” asked the smallest child.

The father smiled.  “We have had five pastors spanning our 60-year history: Lawrence Eyres (1943-1950), Carl Ahlfeldt (1950-1960), Al Edwards (1960-1975), Don Poundstone (1976-1994), and Jack Smith (beginning in 1995).  Our first two pastors have since gone to be with the Lord, but all have been gifted and committed men.

“With early help from Rev. George Marston, Pastor Eyres tirelessly knocked on hundreds of neighborhood doors and did much of the groundwork in getting everything underway.  In addition, many Christians in the area came to know about our church through his work in helping to form Portland Christian School in 1947.  Pastor Ahlfeldt is rembered for his enthusiasm in sharing his faith with unbelievers as well as for his careful, Reformed preaching from the pulpit.  Pastor Edwards brought an energetic desire to expand God’s work in our church, leading to the construction of a new sanctuary and several new mission works in the Northwest.

“Our reputation for sound expository preaching during Pastor Poundstone’s ministry brought many young men to be trained here in the 70’s and 80’s.  During these years we benefited from the ministry of several summer and year-long interns.  These are men who continue to be a blessing to the OPC, but often not close to home.

“You also need to know that faithful deacons and ruling elders have been important to our church as well.  Leading us in benevolence, our deacons have consistently responded to the needs of our congregation and beyond.  Our elders have sought to maintain Christ-like discipline, and have instructed us and our children.  We are blessed with 20 officers who have served more than ten years, including 13 who have served more than twenty!  One of our ruling elders, Mark Bube, left in 1991 to become the denomination’s foreign missions secretary.  Our inheritance includes the dedicated labors of officers who have taken their calling seriously.”

Our Ministry

The children were obviously very interested in this little history lesson, and enjoyed the chance to direct the course of the discussion.  One of them said, “It’s fun to try to imagine what the church was like sixty years ago.  Have we always done the same things that we do now?”

“In some ways, yes.  From the very day we started, we have had morning and evening worship services every Sunday, as well as a Sunday school for all ages.  Everyone who grew up in our congregation has fond memories of devoted Sunday school teachers.  But earlier in our history we had various other programs for our children as well.  Like many suburban American churches in the 50’s and 60’s, we enjoyed numerical prosperity, and our Sunday school bulged with “baby boom” children.  We had Pioneer Girls and Boys Brigade for the young children.  Later we focused more on youth ministry, with Machen League, social events for young people, and a well-attended youth camp at Camp Whitebranch.  With our reputation of being a solid community church, these ministries actually became effective at bringing nearby families into the church.

“But as two-income families became increasingly common and as family sizes decreased throughout the nation, the number of available children shrank as well.  Midweek church activities became more and more difficult to accommodate to people’s busy schedules.  Many of our covenant children grew up and left for other churches that seemed more appealing to them.  Many of the families who had joined us in the bustling 60’s did not feel as connected to the people and mission of our congregation, so many eventually left.  We would get hopeful when each new family would join us, but find that most would just stay for a relatively short time, and then depart without much explanation.  Our discouragement was only compounded when many of the mission works we had enthusiastically helped to plant were discontinued because of poor attendance.

“Observing this decline in American appreciation for the visible Church, Pastor Poundstone once wrote: ‘People have grown more sophisticated and cynical in the years since our congregation was founded.  They have witnessed the church’s frailties and impotence on the national scene as fewer and fewer heed the voice of her preachers.  The deadly effects of unbelief and accommodation to the alien spirits of this age are apparent to all.  Even believers despair of the church, many clinging to Christ while at the same time disdaining the institution which bears his name.’  Consquently, commitment to a local church is something that has gradually disappeared from our culture—a far cry from what it was like in our congregation’s early days.

“But again, God answered our prayers in unexpected ways.  Beginning in the 1990’s, there was a gradual influx of young families who brought with them a renewed interest in the historic teachings of the Reformation.  Many of them were new to Presbyterianism, and came with the zeal of youth.  Despite a shared love for biblical preaching we all had in common, these newcomers came with somewhat different perspectives on what the Christian life should look like.  Merging these perspectives has forced us all to think in a more detailed way about making our church’s worship, edification, and evangelism consistent with the Reformed faith we confess.

“Throughout the joys and trials of sixty years, we have learned important lessons about church ministry.  We have seen that it doesn’t work to simply try to recapture the past ‘good old days‘, but have seen God’s blessing on lives of love, humility, and service.  We have learned that the most effective form of outreach is not massive programs, but simply taking an active interest in one another and others we meet.  Content to minister in a way faithful to our calling, we are confident that God will grant our prayers for the expansion of His kingdom—although perhaps in different ways than we expect.  As Pastor Edwards once wrote: ‘Never underestimate the power of seemingly unanswered prayer.’ ”

At this point the father paused.  “Many of these people who made this all possible have already gone to be with the Lord, so we haven’t got to meet them yet.  Like us, they weren’t perfect, but we have much to learn from their positive example in the Lord.”

“In heaven I’m going to tell them ‘thank you’!” offered one of the children.

“And I hope that someday you will explain that gratitude to your own children, too,” the father responded.  “Through them God has blessed us in so many ways.  So we can sing these words from Psalm 16 with thanksgiving to Him for the beautiful inheritance he has given to us.”

Written for the First OPC 60th Anniversary Celebration in September, 2004

First Orthodox Presbyterian Church — Portland, Oregon
Jack Smith, Pastor
Regular Schedule: Address:
Sunday School:   9:15am
Sunday Morning: 10:30am
Sunday Evening: 6:00pm
8245 NE Fremont Street
Portland, Oregon 97220
503-253-0695
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