What I Did on Spring Vacation. . .
My family spent a lovely week in a beautiful place: Portland, Oregon. Both my wife and I have close relatives living there, and Louis and Velma found a lot of cousins to play with, on both sides of the family.
Portland is a study in contrasts: on the one hand, it is a self-consciously beautiful city with wonderful plantings, attractive and user friendly public transportation, plentiful benches and resting stops for pedestrians, laid-back coffee houses (not all Starbucks!) and striking views of the Willamette River and the great volcanic mountains to the east and north. Much of the waterfront has been transformed in recent years from a dismal commercial wilderness into a lovely public park. On the other hand, the poor and homeless are omnipresent, often asking for a handout. Recently, the mayor declared that the homeless could legally camp on any public green space, and this has led to small tent settlements springing up in many neighborhoods. Permanent residents near these areas are not amused, and political trouble is brewing. In addition, I learned from a college friend who is now a prominent attorney in the city that Portland’s high school graduation rate is abysmal. And this in an area that is now heavily dependent on tech industries that demand a highly skilled and highly trained workforce.
On Sunday morning, I visited a local Presbyterian congregation in a suburban area about 15 miles from city center. The Oak Hills Presbyterian Church has a membership of about 140 but a remarkably high attendance record, averaging over 100 each Sunday morning. The congregation seems about evenly divided between an early “contemporary” service and a later traditional service. The annual budget runs close to $250,000. The church’s modern building sits on an attractive site with some open space around it. The Rev. Jeremy Sanderson, a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and a man in his early thirties, gave an inspirational sermon based on the life of David. I attended the 11 a.m. traditional service, which is preceded by the 9:30 “contemporary” service. Although labeled traditional, the service I attended featured liberal use of visual aids—a computer-based use of projected images during the service included lyrics for all hymns sung as well as pictures and outlines to supplement the words of the pastor and to advertise congregational activities. The worship space uses a lot of natural light and movable chairs that allowed for a variety of seating arrangements. I was not able to attend the contemporary service at 9:30, but judging from a large drum set that is a permanent feature in the sanctuary, I would guess it uses modern, youth-oriented music.
Should anyone be interested, I have a copy of Oak Hills’ 2015 annual report. I could not help but imagine how a church such as this one might serve as a model for what our two churches might be able to build—in terms of modern facilities–if we are successful in our merger efforts and can begin to re-build our ministry as one congregation.