Bethel Baptist Church


Bethel Baptist under Construction -- about 1952

Bethel Baptist Church -- taken July 30, 2002

    Bethel Baptist Church , formerly known as St. Johns Woods Community Church.  The church was located at 7807 N. Fessenden in the St. Johns area of Portland, Oregon.  Bethel Baptist, or St. Johns Woods Community Church was organized on September 19, 1943.  The church had a membership of 163 and an average Sunday School attendance of 169
    Henry J. Kaiser was a household word in Portland and far beyond, during World War II.  Even before the war, in 1939, he imported workers in wholesale lots, sending an order to a U S Employment Service in New York for "two train loads of men" to work in his shipyard.  He broke all records for building Liberty ships in 1943.  After that workers came by the thousands from everywhere. 
    Mrs. Walter Moore, chairman of Bethel's Historical Committee, tells of two ministers in St. Johns, Rev. Knotts of the Baptist Church and Rev. Thomas of the Methodist Church, together with a few residents that first met in the Community Hall of the Housing Project for Sunday School, September 19, 1943.
Then in 1944, the Columbia and General Baptist Conferences accepted the responsibility for the Sunday School and allied activities, sending Miss Henrietta Carlson, Junior Missionary, to take charge.  By that time St, Johns Woods Housing Project was alive with people.
    When the war was over the question arose, "What shall we do with these temporary projects?"  Ole Larson, Conference Missionary, was in Bremerton with a view of starting a church there.  doubting its ability to carry both, the Columbia Conference, after long debate, voted to discontinue support of St. Johns Woods.  However Dr. Linus Johnson, pastor of Temple Baptist Church, proposed to the board that he lay the matter before his church,  perhaps something could be done.  Temple decided to help, and pledged a sizable annual amount to support a pastor.  That saved the day!
    Mrs. Moore writes: "We of Bethel feel a sincere gratitude to both the Conference and Temple Baptist Church for their help."  She mentions too that the church received an Opportunity Band share of $1,370, and $3,000 from Temple, which also gave counsel and aid in the construction of the building, including actual work by experienced craftsmen, particularly Jacob Gordh who gave much of  his time.
    Glenn Nordquist had been pastor since 1946, and realized, as did the other members, that a building of their own would be a necessity.  The Sunday School had been held in a gym that seemed big enough for a regiment.  Too big!  Yet even after the war was over, and the troops had gone home, a fair sized building was needed.  There were 400 in attendance one Easter.      
It happened that the Columbia River had its biggest flood of the century in 1948.  The river swelled in size and broke one of the dykes that protected the housing project in the area of Delta Park.  The housing project was known as Vanport.  The dyke broke one Sunday morning with out warning.  Thirty people perished.  When the waters receded, the usable buildings were sold and were to be removed before a certain date.  Bethel bought one of these building which contained much valuable lumber.  The pastor, Glenn Nordquist, told how the whole church was mobilized to get the lumber removed.  It was a long summer day, a kind of Dinkirk, from sunup to sundown and past.  The last load went out at midnight,  What was left of the lumber was burned the next day to prevent pestilence.  For two weeks after wards the Bethelites, both men and women were employed pulling nails.  The task was now to reassemble the material into a church.  There had been some hesitation, but the majority voted positively.  It is said that the men that summer agreed to forego their vacations.  It seemed they worked night and day,  In 1952 the church was completed to the extent that the Sunday School moved into the basement.  That year they changed the name from St Johns Woods Community Church to Bethel Baptist Church.
    The main floor was completed in 1954, when Val Hauck was the pastor.  Then subsequently as the membership increased they were able also to purchase the adjoining house and lot for a parsonage.  This year, 1963, the church bought a newer and well built house just across the street from the church as a residence for the pastor's family.
    Surely the vital and sympathetic interest of a member for his church is important, and so is his willingness to sacrifice for it and be loyal to it.   There are those in Bethel that have been there from its beginning, some have come later.  They are not only asking 'Thy will be done,"  They are doing it..

Charter Members include:  Mr. and Mrs. Cliff Beeler, Mr. and Mrs. Ronald Leonard, Mrs. Doris Morgan, Mrs. Walter Moore, Mr. Bill Wiitala, Miss Doris Wiitala, Mr. Eryln Wiitala, Mrs. Hilma Wiitala, Mrs. Sarah Varadi.

The above account was taken from the book "Seventy Five Years History" by Mr.Gordon Carlson.

"The Fourth Quarter"

    Rolling back the calendar to 1964 when the Columbia Conference entered the Fourth Quarter of its first century, Bethel Baptist Church entered the Fourth Quarter of its first century, Bethel Baptist turned 21 years old and comfortably housed in a ten-year old building.  There were 183 members on the roll and Sunday school attendance averaged 180.  Arne and Grace Olson had come from Marquette, Michigan and moved into the newly acquired that was purchased one year earlier.  They had four children; Connie, Timothy, Dee Lynne and Terry.  Arne was the fifth pastor at Bethel and served for 15 years.  He was preceded by Interim Pastor Ezra Gerig, a popular Portland radio preacher.
    During Olson's ministry, the membership peaked at 226 in 1971 and Sunday School attendance climbed back up over the 180 average in 1968 to a new average of 188.  Arne was very involved in the Conference ministries and at the time of his resignation from Bethel in 1978, he had just completed a term as president of Columbia Baptist Conference.  The Olson's then moved to B.G.C. churches first in Cadillac, Michigan, and then to Chisholm, Minnesota.
    Leonard Hillstrom, a professor at Western Baptist Seminary, began to serve as interim.  After several months Leonard Hillstrom and John Morrison from the seminary hired on as co-pastors.  This team grew until there were six staff persons serving at Bethel Baptist.  John Morrison went to teach at Jerry Fallwell's Liberty College in West Virginia, Mark Downing went to Brazil, Ray Durkin, the other staff person went to Calvary Church in West Linn.  Leonard Hillstrom felt the need to return to the classroom full time.  Scott Millar and Walter Wilson resigned with Pastor Hillstrom in June 30,1985.  Scott Millar was answering the call to serve as missionary in Argentina.  The church then extended a unanimous call to Walter Wilson to continue as full time senior pastor.
    Pastor Wilson then followed some of Pastor Hillstrom's tactics and rebuilt a team of interns from the seminary.  The major difference is that pastor Wilson was a full-time senior pastor and has been able to enlist the ministry of more lay persons along with the interns.  Membership has reached an all-time high at 214 with frequent decisions for Christ and baptisms.  Young blood is being injected into the leadership structure.  A spirit of prayer and revival has characterized the body.
    In 1988, Bethel reported its most faithful members as the remaining four charter members; Ronal and Bessie Leonard and Doris Morgan who are active, and Mrs. Walter Moore who is physically unable to attend.

   Bethel Baptist was honored to have its part-time associate pastor Richard Young and his wife Beverly appointed by the Baptist General Conference as missionaries to Argentina on December 1, 1976.  Dick and Beverly had been sent out as missionaries by The Berean Fellowship, a small Pentecostal denomination in 1971.  The denomination, collapsed leaving them stranded in Asia.  However friends and relatives sustained them in Nepal and Ceylon for three years.  They came to Portland and began looking for a Baptist church because they had decided they were more Baptist that Pentecostal.  Within a short walking distance from their apartment they found Bethel Baptist Church.  The more they talked to the present pastor then, Arnold Olson, the more convinced they were to become part of the church and the Conference.
    Recognizing Dick's potential, Arne hired his as a part-time assistant pastor.  Dick requested a confirmation of his ordination that would be recognized by the Baptist General Conference.  A council was called March 31, 1976, that reviewed his previous ordination statement and all alterations made in his doctrinal position during his theological journey.  The council, chaired by David Donnelly, pastor of Glisan Street Baptist Church, whole heartedly recognized his ordination.  Bethel Church proceeded hold a special service of recognition for the Youngs, on May 3, 1976.  Dicks father, pastor of an Assembly of God church, brought a beautiful and supportive message acknowledging his son's freedom to choose a denominational fellowship.
    Dick, Bev and their children, Raju, Shanti and Dari, were sent to Costa Rica for language study and then to Argentina where they have worked closely with Ted and Carolyn Peterson from the Columbia Conference.  (Return to Church History 1999)
    Bethel Church has since sent out two more Baptist General Conference missionary families:  Mark and Helen Downing, Kristin, Timothy and Kara in 1985; Scott and Ruth Millar, Abraham and Andrew, in 1986.
    Mark Downing, who is the product of ministry at McMicken Heights Church in Seattle and Lake Retreat Camp, came to study at Western Conservative Baptist Seminary in Portland and to serve as associate pastor at Bethel Baptist with pastor Leonard Hillstrom.  Mark was ordained by Bethel Baptist Church on June 8, 1984, and appointed by the Baptist General Conference World Missions Board to serve in Brazil.  (Return to Church History 1999)
    Scott Millar also studied at Western Conservative Baptist Seminary and served on staff at Bethel Baptist.  Scott was ordained by Bethel Baptist on June 8, 1986.  The World Mission Board appointed him and his wife Ruth to serve in Argentina.

The above account was copied from John Bergeson's book "Fourth Quarter.

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