Let me just say a word about the
sermon line in today's bulletin today, because it's a little unusual. I
normally don't use titles, except for more formal occasions. This was
sort of one of those, but there was an additional opportunity today, and
the reason I've chosen to put that title in there because I thought it
would just look fun to see "The Reverend Drs. F. Wayne and Dan Bryant"
together on one line :)
I've been in the pulpit in his church before, and he has been in this
pulpit before (as well as the pulpit in Fresno when I was down there),
but I don't know that we've ever shared the pulpit together in this way.
So another historic occasion.
And the reason for that is that our history committee, in looking
through the history of our church, discovered (not that it was any
secret), that Dad gave the dedication sermon for our Chapel (and office
and education wing) when it was built, the ground broken for the
centennial of the founding of the congregation in 1866, so the
groundbreaking was held in 1966 (there are pictures in our hallway where
you can see that). But the building was not built until the following
year, and then dedicated in January of 1968. Dad, being the new, young
preacher in Oregon, having graduated from Seminary at Drake just a
couple years before, was invited to come and to give that sermon.
As I began reflecting on gee, how we were going to use Dad in the
service today, I began thinking of all the building projects that he has
been involved. I remember very well the church that was built in St.
Helens when I was just 5 or 6 years old, when Dad was the pastor there.
The extension to the church at First Christian Church in Albany (and we
have a couple people from Albany here this morning), the Fellowship Hall
was added on to that church. And then the incredible project at Portland
First Christian Church, where Dad retired from ministry after a little
stint with Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon and also as our Regional
Minister. Those who remember that church before that renovation -- what
they called the miracle on the Park Blocks -- well, it was just a
fabulous, incredible renovation of that historic building, and they have
now significantly added on to that as well.
As I began thinking about that, and all those building projects, I
thought this was an opportunity too good to pass up, to invite Dad to
share in the reflection this morning, as we think about the significance
of this building.
Just to clear up any false information that may be out there, Dad is not
as old as this building :) He's just the oldest preacher I know who can
still preach :) So am I pleased to welcome the original Reverend Dr.
Bryant to our pulpit this morning [Applause from the congregation].
Thank you Dan, it is good to be here
to share in this historic occasion. When we think about how many of us
here, many of us not part of the congregation now, but at some time in
our life were touched by the activities and ministries that took place
at First Christian Church of Eugene. So it's great to be welcomed back
to share another time.
As Dan said, in 1968 I was three years into our ministry at First
Christian Church of Albany, and just that short time out of Seminary. I
had served two other churches prior to that, in Salem and in St. Helens.
But I was new, and one day in 1968, Carlton Buck, that wonderful old
gentlemen from this church who composed the music we just heard by the
choir (an amazing gentleman and pastor in Oregon for many years) called
me and invited me to bring the dedication sermon for the new office wing
that had just been completed.
Why me? Well, he went on to say that he just felt it was important from
time to time to have one of the younger, rising pastors in the region
officiate or dedicate or speak at this kind of occasion. So I was
invited, and I gave this sermon. Which I understand is buried in the
Cornerstone. There's many that think some of my other sermons should
have been buried somewhere too :)
Reflecting on it, that was 44 years ago. And here we are today, on the
100th anniversary of this beautiful old building, filled with memories
of the past and rejoicing in the improvements that are being done, and
the modernization that is nearly complete. I'm pleased to see this
pamphlet about restoring the stained glass windows that are part of the
original construction. These windows were made by the Povey brothers,
and David Povey, the designer and glass artisan out of Portland. We have
119 Povey windows in First Christian Church in Portland.
The other thing I was reflecting on, for a long time, I was in Portland,
Dan was here, and I sort of felt like we were anchoring the Willamette
Valley between us and the two congregations.
Dan's brother Steve is the President of the congregation in Albany. He's
the only Bryant we left when we all moved away :) And he invited me to
preach on the occasion of that congregation's 50-year anniversary of
their building earlier this year. And suggested I tell stories.
Actually, he said there were 3 things I needed to keep in mind: I'd like
you to tell stories about the past, and remember this is the day we're
receiving pledges, and also we are remembering the anniversary of our
congregation. And you have 20 minutes :)
Dan suggested I do a similar thing, at least he left me free to tell
stories, and then said: you have 10 minutes :)
Like Dan, I do not remember ever
having shared the pulpit with Dan. I have preached for him on occasion,
and he has preached from my pulpit from time to time, but this is a new
experience, and I'm pleased to be a part of it.
You know, I retired in 1999, after 17 years of ministry at First
Christian Church in Portland. Which is the longest pastorate in that
historic congregation's 130-year history. Now, Dan, you've already
celebrated 20 years of ministry with this congregation. So he has a
longer history than I do. But who's counting? :) Just a side-light, but
his sister Katherine is being honored this very day, this very morning,
at First Christian Church in Carbondale Illinois for her 12 years of
ministry with that church. It was a surprise, she didn't know it was
Well, Dan's tenure here may be longer than mine, but I have led in more
building projects than he has :) I counted up in preparation for this
morning. Dan talked about a couple of them. There were three brand-new
buildings: one in St. Helens, one in Eldora Iowa while I was a student
at Drake Seminary, and an additional building in Albany (the Fellowship
Hall). And there were two major remodeling projects: one at University
Christian Church in San Diego, and one at First Christian Church in
Portland. All with Church-Extension, capital fund-raising campaigns and
the subsequent mortgages which follow.
I once heard a well-known Oregon minister say that he liked to keep his
congregations in debt, because that made sure that they would be
actively involved in the life of the church. If that's a criteria for an
effective ministry, I probably rank in the top 10 in the state of Oregon
I suspect :)
The point is, those were not just duties to be done, not just things
that were done out of sheer necessity, they were done because they
provided opportunities for those congregations to expand and to develop
their programs and ministry. And they were exciting occasions. More than
that, each one in turn was a very positive experience, in keeping up
with that which was happening in our communities. New schools.
Institutions being built around us. Housing being created. In some
instances, those of you who may remember the old church in St. Helens
(which was an old frame building, and which as I recall when I first
went there, there was a log stump up in the sanctuary which served as a
place to site from time to time), it was an old, ramshackle building
that needed to be replaced if the church was going to be part of the
But new and upgraded facilities were not the goal of those
congregations. In each instance, it was a tool for effective and growing
ministry. And so here, in this place, where great music, excellent
preaching, effective mission and ministry have been hallmarks of this
congregation's history. This renewed and upgraded building will continue
to house Christian education programs for children, and youth, and
adults. The expansion of global ministries and local programs of help
for those most vulnerable within the community. And a place for
everyone, everyone -- regardless of their status in life -- is welcome
In my experience, it was always
exciting to watch beautiful buildings rise from foundation to completion
and dedication. They were not only exciting times, to see that happen, I
have to say that it was fun. I really left my mark on the church in St.
Helens. I was younger in those days, and I volunteered to climb the
steep roof and paint the steeple. I spilled nearly a full gallon of
brown paint down the tan roof of that sanctuary. The last time I was
there, that was still there :) But that was my mark.
In Albany, we bought an old church next door to the sanctuary (the
people had built a new building and moved out of town). And here was a
building right next to ours, we were short of parking, we decided -- I
suggested -- if we bought that building, eventually we could tear it
down and build a parking lot. The church agreed to do that, so we bought
the building, and since we had an empty building, we decided to make
that our teen center, so we let our youth use it. The city did not have
a Senior Center at that time, so they asked if they might use that
building during the week for a senior-citizens center. And we agreed to
do that. The youth, and Dan was one of them, promptly name the building
the "Niles Center". For juveniles and seniles :)
When we did get around to demolishing that building to build a parking
lot, we had to take it before the city planning commission. By this
time, Dan's brother Steve was the department head, the chair of the City
Planning Commission. They looked at our plans for a parking lot, and
decided that we needed to make a lot of alterations, which might have
looked nice but gave us far less parking. So someone had to appear
before the city planning commission and argue our case. I did. My son,
Dan's brother, argued the other side :) It was right after that I
decided to leave Albany for Southern California!
It's always been interesting. I recall in Portland, the miracle on Park
Avenue, it was amazing in that in our committee meetings, board
meetings, congregational meetings, we never had a negative vote. We just
proceeded as the architect had suggested. But right after we had taken
the congregational vote to proceed with that huge project, a delightful
old gentleman met me in the hallway (he didn't always hear so well) and
said: "Did I understand correctly that was a unanimous vote?" I said
"Yes it was, isn't that great?!". He said "No, it's not. I want to
change my vote. I'm going vote no". I said "Why?" He said: "Because I
don't believe in unanimous votes, I don't think they're healthy". So we
had one negative vote :)
In San Diego, the city bureaucrats (dealing with bureaucrats in these
things is really what is part of the fun), a planning commission person
who was responsible for working with us, decided that we needed a ramp
from the chancel area down the center aisle. I said "Why would we want a
ramp?". And he said: "Well, someday you might have a minister in a
wheelchair". And I said: "I'm not going to stay that long" :)
But there it was. And we didn't want
a ramp. Now, I might have felt differently, but in those days I didn't
want it, and neither did the church. I called up one of our Elders, he
happened to be head of the planning commission for the city of San
Diego, and I told him one of his deputies has asked us to do this, is
that necessary? And he said: "I'll take care of it". That was it. So
sometimes it's not what you know, it's who you know, and that was one of
those cases where you have to use the system in the best way you can.
Well, that's enough of that.
So now you're completing a major remodel of this beautiful, historical
church. I would suggest that the changes you will be making, and are
making, will assure your visible and important place in the city of
Eugene for another century of ministry and mission. I commend you in
what you are doing. I trust that it will not be considered just
something that you have to do because it's necessary, because the
building is decaying. It's more than that -- that it will be an
experience that you can enjoy, and understand its significance in the
life of this church in the years that come.
And may it be to God's glory in those years as it has been in the
century now passed. God bless.
you Dad. I remember that brown mark on the roof of the church at St.
Helens. And that reminds me of when the light went out on the cross on
top of the dome. How many of you know how to replace a fluorescent tube
inside of a cross on top of a dome? I didn't think there were very many
:) So I'm up there inside the cupola (we learned last night what a
cupola is), and I discovered the nail barrel that is permanently incased
up there. I'm up there, I get this light down, we take it down, put a
new fluorescent tube in it, and I'm putting it back up, and it has an
extension cord that runs somewhere. As I'm putting it up, I'm holding on
to this metal (and I had to turn it on to make sure it worked, before I
put it back up inside the cross -- so every time you look at this,
remember this story :) fluorescent fixture with one hand with the
light-bulb on, as I reach out and grab the metal frame that is the base
of the cupola, and it's then that I discovered that there was a short in
the fixture :) You left your mark, I almost left my body permanently
encased up there!
We all know the church is not a building.
That the building is simply a visible
manifestation of the body of Christ. But when we reflect on all the
significant things that have take place here, the weddings, and the
funerals, the baby dedications, and the baptisms, the flowering of the
cross on Easter, and those beautiful candlelight services on Christmas
Eve. And the table and the pulpit, the broken word and the spoken word.
It's no wonder that we become so attached to this place. That this
building becomes almost synonymous with church. And so we have to remind
ourselves on occasions such as this, especially such as this, that the
Church is not the building. Or, that the church is so much more than the
But let us not also go too far in the other direction and say it is only
a building, as if this place was no more significant that a warehouse
where we keep our Bibles and our stories about God. For there is truly
something unique and wonderful that happens here, even though it is true
that God is not any more present here than anywhere else.
But there are things that do happen here that don't happen in other
places. This may be the only place where some things happen. In that
passage that John read for us from the prophet Isaiah, there is a vision
of the household of God on earth. It begins with these words from the
Lord "Maintain justice and do what is right". And let us always
remember, as our preacher from three weeks ago (John Dominic Crossan)
reminded us, that justice, biblically speaking, is always about
distributive justice and not retributive justice. Justice is where
everyone in the household gets enough of the world's stuff for a decent
And so the prophet, speaking for God, cites two groups as examples --
symbolic of all the outcasts who typically are excluded from society,
who are objects of retributive justice rather than the beneficiaries of
distributive justice. The Eunuchs, and the foreigners. Those rejected on
the basis of their gender identity and those on the basis of their
And in the most stunning vision of
the radical inclusivity of God, the prophet informs us that even those
who everyone knows are not included in God's household, that in fact
they shall be -- that in my house, the household of God, shall be house
of prayer for all people, including the outcasts that shall be gathered
So, hear the good news of God, people: that vision is becoming a reality
here in this place, in ways that those who built this beautiful building
could hardly even imagine.
The Eunuchs of Isaiah's day would be the gay, lesbian, bisexual,
transgendered people of our world today. Social outcasts because of
their gender identity or sexual orientation, not welcome in most houses
of worship. The open and affirming policy that we adopted at the
beginning of this year to officially end such religious discrimination
was not just the result of a year of discernment concluding with that
consensus process without a dissenting vote in the end, in reality it
was several decades in the making, not just one year, as we joined with
hundreds and even thousands of congregations across the country,
responding to the call of God by recognizing that faith in Christ is not
limited or determined by one's gender identity or sexual orientation.
From the first openly gay member we received at least 15 years ago, to
the dozens of GLBTQ members and friends we have today, we can celebrate
that we are becoming a house of prayer for all people. [Applause
from the congregation]
And if we are talking about including
the outcasts, then we have to talk about the many homeless, including
those with mental illness living on the streets who have found here, a
welcome. Beginning with our Helping Hand clothing ministry, begun more
than 50 years ago, this has been a place that has lived out those words
of Christ: "I was hungry and you fed me, I was naked and you clothed
In 1990 the church joined the interfaith shelter program that houses
homeless families in churches such as ours. When the city council
adopted that camping ordinance to allow the homeless to camp in parking
lots of churches, a news crew came here and asked if we would allow that
to happen, and we said we would. The next day we received a phone call
from someone wanting to donate a trailer to the church for that purpose.
And so began our trailer emergency housing program that has housed over
100 individuals in the last 15 years.
And then Dary Burkhalter came in what 2004 or 2005, and asked what else
could he do? And we said the one thing that is really killing us are all
those walking into the church, calling, because they think churches are
there to help people. And we just don't have the resources to respond to
all those requests. So, our Good Samaritan ministry was born, that has
literally served over a thousand people a year, just providing a
listening ear and making connections and figuring out ways to respond to
all kinds of needs.
And then four years ago, Major Thomas Egan froze to death on the streets
of Eugene, just a couple blocks from the Mission. And so the Egan
Warming Center was born, and we now enter our third year of
participating in that program, where this church is the central location
in our community for the Egan Warming Center that provides housing, and
partners with other churches for those that come to this place on those
nights when the temperature is below freezing.
And then two years ago, after we read about that church in Washington
D.C. that serves breakfast on Sunday mornings, in Diana Butler-Bass's
book "Christianity For the Rest Of Us", and some of our people say 'we
could do that', and so we did! And so our Sunday Breakfast program,
serving 150-200 people was born.
The result of all this "Matthew 25"
ministry, as I call it, is not only are our brothers and sisters living
on the street coming here for food, shelter, and clothing, they are
coming here to worship God. Imagine that. That here, the outcasts of our
society are finding a place where they too are welcome to sing and to
pray with us.
So we can celebrate the challenge and the opportunity that we are
becoming a house of prayer for all people.
Finally, there is this business of the inclusion of the foreigners. And
never has there been so powerfully manifested in the history of world
religion than what is taking place right here on the 11th of every
month. That people of all nations and all traditions are coming together
to pray in their own religious tradition, in one place.
Wednesday, several of us (about a dozen or so), went up to hear Richard
Rohr, the Franciscan priest who is becoming quite well-known, has
written many books, very popular, on contemplation, meditation, and
prayer. And speaking at Trinity Cathedral (the Episcopal Cathedral in
Portland), packed house, I got there late and I had to sit on the floor
in the narthex, because it was standing-room only. And I heard Father
Rohr say to us: "Jesus did not intend to create a religion to compete
with other religions. Look at the diversity of our world, all created by
God. God obviously is comfortable with diversity, we are not. Get over
Rohr didn't say that, that was my interpretation of what he said :) We
are living that diversity of faith right here, demonstrating how there
can be unity within diversity without sacrificing anything from our
unique faith tradition, the witness that we know in Christ. Other than
perhaps the unlike-Christ claim of superiority, that makes Christians at
times look like third graders. Not even that -- children, competing. "My
religion is better than your religion". We don't do that here.
And others are beginning to take notice. On October 9th, that Sunday
when we rededicated our Cornerstone, we received a call from the
Interfaith Office from the National Council of Churches, informing us
that we were one of five congregations in the nation to receive the
"Interfaith Engagement Congregation Award". Which basically means
they're going to be telling the whole world about what we're doing right
here in Eugene, and telling people if you want to know more about it,
don't call us, call those folks in Eugene. [Applause from the
Now, I suppose that we could do some of these things without this
building, but could we do them all? As our preacher from three weeks
ago, John Dominic Crossan, said: "It's good to see so much good being
done under a big dome" :)
Let us then celebrate on this 100th anniversary of this place, that
truly this beautiful, historic, house of God has become a house of
prayer for all people. Amen!