Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon
morning, great day. The text I've chosen this Sunday -- I'm departing
from the lectionary text -- reflecting on the
significance of this cornerstone opening.
of the rebuilding of the Temple of the Lord, after its destruction and
the exile into Babylonia. When they came back, they were able to rebuild
it. The story is told in the book of Ezra, reading today from chapter 3,
verses 10 through 13:
builders laid the foundation of the temple
of the Lord, the priests in their vestments
were stationed to praise the Lord with
trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph,
with cymbals, according to the directions of
King David of Israel; 11and they sang
responsively, praising and giving thanks to
he is good,
for his steadfast love endures for ever
the people responded with a great shout when
they praised the Lord, because the
foundation of the house of the Lord was
laid. 12But many of the priests and Levites
and heads of families, old people who had
seen the first house on its foundations,
wept with a loud voice when they saw this
house, though many shouted aloud for joy,
13so that the people could not distinguish
the sound of the joyful shout from the sound
of the people’s weeping, for the people
shouted so loudly that the sound was heard
I've always said that this is a fun
place to do ministry. I mean, it's Eugene, after all. And Eugene is
always an interesting town. We've got the Ducks, all of that fun this
past year, the Willamette Valley, a wonderful place to live, the coast
an hour away. We had a visitor from Indianapolis today, and he said
"Man, this is such a great place, your weather is so mild". Coming out
of Indianapolis where it was freezing cold. I guess it's all relative.
But there's so much to love about this place. And then there's this
wonderful, historic church. It's not the oldest church in Eugene -- that
belongs to First United Methodist, established in 1861. Our
congregation, though, in our history, there are references to people who
gathered for worship as early as 1861, but the congregation was not
founded until 5 years later. And it's not even the oldest church
building -- I believe that belongs to the old Maude Kerns Art Center,
that was Fairmount Presbyterian Church, built in 1890. Also, when we
started building this building, according to the survey that was done in
1910, the building that is now the New Life Apostolic Tabernacle in the
Whiteaker neighborhood existed, but they bought that building in 1978
(so they don't count :). The pastor says he's not even sure the
congregation they bought it from is the congregation that built it.
So, we are the only church in Eugene that has been worshiping in the
same facility for 100 years. Is that something, or what?
We can't celebrate it quite yet, because the building wasn't dedicated
until October (in 1911), but we're coming to that, we'll get there. And
even if it's not the oldest church building, it's certainly the most
I've used some of these images before, but our building gets featured in
all kinds of ways. There's the cover of the brochure, published by the
City of Eugene, for a walking tour of historic buildings:
I just found this newsletter that was published by the National Park
Service, on plaster restoration in historic buildings, and they feature
the inside of our sanctuary on the front of that publication:
There's of course the mural in the City Council chambers in Eugene that
features our church very prominently:
And then, my personal favorite, when you fly out of San Francisco on
United Airlines, our bell tower is the insignia for the flight to Eugene
(isn't that cool):
So, we get featured in all these ways,
we have architectural students from the University of Oregon come all
the time, working on various projects. We have visitors that come from
out of town and just want to stop by and look, weddings, concerts from
the Oregon Mozart Players, Mystic River, public events like the reading
of Martin Luther King's speech that he gave against the war in Vietnam
on April 4th, 1967. There will be a dramatic re-reading of that speech
by various members of our community, here, on April 4th, on the
anniversary speech. The monthly interfaith services.
It's just an incredible amount of activity and ministry that happens in
this church. Inside that walking tour brochure, it says that some of
Eugene's historic buildings "Such as First Christian Church have always
been maintained by their owners and have continuously been seen as
historical assets to the community". This building is so much more than
a historical asset. It's a community asset of the first order.
We have these old minutes in our archives, from our congregation and
Board meetings, going back to 1904. It's a lot of fun reading through
those minutes (well, most of it's pretty boring, typical of Board
meetings :), but in the minutes from April 20th, 1911, the Board agreed
to rent the new church for entertainment purposes, with the provision:
"No objectionable program be permitted". The charge: $25 a night. So
from the very beginning, this church has had deep involvement in the
community for a variety of things.
Well, things got a whole lot more interesting this week, and it started
with a phone call from Richard Gessert. Richard was an architectural
student at the university in the early 1960s, and a member of this
congregation, and the centennial committee asked him to design a log for
the centennial. The original for that is located in our OTHER
time-capsule. But Richard called us up and said "I know you have a time
capsule that's going to be opened this year". And we said "We do?".
In the course of the conversation and some follow-up research, we found
this article that describes the event:
This was published on March 13th, 1911, and it says: "With appropriate
ceremonies, the cornerstone of the new Christian Church building, which
is in the course of erection on Oak St. was laid Sunday afternoon.
Exercises began at 3:00 o'clock, witnessed by several hundred people,
the weather was ideal. . .". And then it goes on to describe the
ceremony, led by Pastor McCallum, and then it says: "Then came the
ceremony of placing the stone, and enclosing the iron box inside, which
was performed by the honorable T.G. Hendricks, President of First
National Bank". Hendricks was an elder of the church, and one of the
historic figures of our community, for which Hendricks Park is named.
And the address was given by Prince Lucien Campbell, the President of
the University of Oregon.
[Note: you can read the
newspaper article from 1911 here -- scroll to bottom of page]
So it was a big, festive occasion. So we
knew that we had something, we just didn't know exactly what. We had a
big press event on Thursday, brought in a stone mason to free the stone,
and they sat out there (all of them that are here again this morning),
for 2 hours as we tried to get this stone out. But in good Geraldo
Rivera fashion, we came up empty :). It wouldn't budge. And I take that
as good sign that this church is built on a solid foundation.
And so our maintenance team, led by Kevin and David, worked all Friday
morning, until we finally got all the mortar out, and we could free the
stone. And so it was, 100 years minus a day from when it was placed
there, that it was free again.
So I've been reflecting for the past several weeks about the
significance of this. Scripture is filled with all kinds of references
to the Temple in Jerusalem. But in this story, the laying of the
foundation, we read this wonderful account of how those who remembered
the old church wept for joy at the foundation being laid. That they were
once again rebuilding the Temple that was so precious, so important, to
Now, I don't know if anyone wept 100 years ago, but it certainly was a
very festive occasion. They likely gathered right where we're sitting,
according to the article they were there with the "partial walls" around
them. And with eyes to the future, on those who might discover this
buried treasure a century later, they encased this time capsule -- a
little tiny box in that cornerstone.
We have a list of contents, but we didn't know a lot about it until
Friday when we dug it out. Because of some of the damage we did to the
top of the box in getting it free, we could see the corner of the Bible,
but we waited until just now to open it. It kind of felt like opening up
the clay jars in the caves of Qumran, when they found the Dead Sea
Scrolls, to find this treasure that's been buried for so long.
Well, I learned to do church history under one of the venerable saints
of the church, Ronald E. Osborne. He had me write the centennial history
of Pomona First Christian Church, and one thing that he drilled into my
head is the importance of establishing the context that so many church
histories seem to ignore.
I looked up above this newspaper article, and it's kind of like that
painting of Raphael of the transfiguration that
we talked about last
Sunday -- where the turmoil of the world is down below, and the good
news of Christ is up above. Only in the newspaper, it's reversed:
The turmoil of the world
is up above. At the top of the paper on that day, we see the lead
article is a dispute over taxes, and a Supreme Court decision that had
been handed down. The next article is about a homeless man, possibly who
had been murdered. The next article is about a revolution in a foreign
country (in this case, Mexico), and the President has sent 20,000
American troops to Texas (the border), that's 1/4th of the standing U.S.
Army, placed on the border because of the revolution going on, and
getting ready in case of an invasion (which they eventually did), and
then a humanitarian crisis that has resulted because of this.
I mean, does any of this
sound familiar? This is all stuff we've heard before. This is the
context in which this congregation built this church. And underneath
that, then, the story of the congregation laying its cornerstone. And in
it they place what they hold to be near & dear to their hearts. It's
their way of saying to us: this is our foundation. This is the rock on
which this church has been built.
Now, that we have the Bible at the top of that comes as no surprise. But
what's somewhat surprising is that they didn't choose the King James
version, but rather the Revised version (we'll confirm the exact
version, it'll take some time to research and figure it out because the
first pages are so deteriorated, we have no publication date).
But there's 2 possibilities: either it was the Revised Bible published
in Britain in 1881, or its American equivalent (the American Standard
version) published in 1901.
What is fascinating to consider is that this was the first successful
English translation of scripture since the King James version, 300 years
earlier. And that says to me that not only did the leaders of this
church, a century ago, see the Bible as foundational to their faith and
witness, but they understood the need to bring the gospel to the present
age. That if they were going to address that turmoil and chaos of the
world, they would have to do so in a way that spoke to modern minds and
I shouldn't be surprised by that at all, actually. The leadership of the
church in 1911 was all male, no doubt. But get this -- these are the
minutes of the Board, May 6th, 1909, this is what it says:
At this time, brother Sanderson [the founder
and President of what is now Northwest Christian University]
presented the names of the following divinity students with the
proper recommendation for ordination:
Elijah V. Stivers [became a pastor of the church]
F. C. Stephens
W. A. Gressman
In 1909, they ordained a woman into the Christian ministry in our
previous building! I mean, does that tell you something about the
progressive, forward-thinking of the congregation, or what? It's cool!
[Applause from the congregation].
So, I'm not surprised that they used a
The second item contained in this box was a letdown. What we knew is
that we had a list of names and a little bit of history of the church,
some of the names lost to history (the actual contractors that built
this building). But the letter was supposed to have the names of the
building committee, the names of the Board, etc. But when we opened it
up, we discovered that the writing has all disappeared. The printing on
the letterhead is there, and they already were using a drawing of the
church on their letterhead when they laid the cornerstone, but the
writing has disappeared. So whether or not we can recover that remains
to be seen.
But, when we think about that, on the one hand it seems like vanity--you
know, writing "Killroy was here" kind of thing. But I don't think that's
what it is. I don't think it's vanity as much as it is a statement about
the nature of the true church. Church is not brick and mortar and stone,
but people -- men and women who have the faith. Who laid that stone, who
had the faith to give us this wonderful gift.
So in this stone, we find the witness of those people who wanted history
to record not that they had been here 100 years ago, but that they
believed in the work of this congregation, and shared in the mission and
ministry of its people.
And this is our foundation, not the stone. But a Bible and the people
who put it there -- people bound together with that Bible, in their
faith in God, as revealed to them, and to us, by Christ our Lord. This
is our rock, on which we stand. Can I hear the people say "Hallelujah"?
For the Lord is good! Hallelujah! God's steadfast love endures forever!
Our Church | Services
Music Programs |
a Group | Interfaith
Ministry | Sermons
| Pastor's Page
Questions or comments about this web site? Contact