When Jeanne asked me to speak today in preparation for Consecration Sunday, I thought about all the reasons I love Grace: for the opportunities to feed the poor, for the privilege of worshiping in this beautiful sanctuary, for good sermons and most of all, for the sense of community.
And I am so grateful for all of those things, but today I would like to tell you about a very different church.
In 1890 the Presbyterians built a church on the corner of SW 1st and Gibbs in Portland’s Lair Hill district. It was a pretty church. Not as elegant and grand as Grace but very pleasing to the eye. It had a cathedral ceiling and arched windows with pieces of colored glass. A dark wainscoting went up about 4 feet on all the walls, and a balcony, with natural wood railings, hung over the rear of the sanctuary.
At some point in time, I couldn’t tell you when, the church was sold to the Union Gospel Mission and was renamed Friendly Chapel.
In the late 60s the Lair Hill neighborhood became Portland’s hippie district. The psychedelic supermarket opened just down the street from the church – a place that sold everything needed for smoking pot, except the pot itself. For that you had to go to Lair Hill Park.
During that time Willard, the pastor of Friendly Chapel, began reaching out to the young people in the neighborhood. He invited them to church and even volunteered to officiate at weddings. And, unlike many pastors of that time, he didn’t care if the bride and groom were already living together.
In 1970 a Christian coffee house opened in the basement of the church. In addition to the live music, homemade bread and other treats were offered. It became a popular neighborhood hangout.
Many of the young people who went to the coffee house Saturday began to find their way to the Sanctuary Sunday morning, and at some point, the hippies and ex-hippies outnumbered the existing congregation. Unfortunately, except for a handful of people, the older members felt uncomfortable and left. Union Gospel mission offered to rent the church to Willard and the new congregation, but they wanted their name back. And so the Prince of Peace was born – a congregation of young, zealous members.
Bible studies sprang up and the new Christians took the teachings seriously. Sometimes there were heated discussions about what a parable meant or how to apply it to your life, and some things, like loving your neighbor, appeared obvious. One point that seemed very cut and dry to most was tithing – literally giving 10% of your income to God and the church.
So people began to tithe. Now I can’t say for certain that everyone gave 10% of their income, but I know that the pastor gave $20 out of his weekly salary of $200 and donations of that amount, and more, were given weekly. There were no pledge cards or anything that resembled Consecration Sunday; just an occasional sermon. Annual donations ranged anywhere from $250 to $2000. Adjusted for inflation, that would be about $1200 to $9500.00 today.
Of course it is easy to say that those numbers don’t really correspond to today’s expenditures. Housing prices have soared past the rate of inflation and medical cost and other expenses have skyrocketed.
But these young Christians were not affluent and most were in their 20’s. Many couples had small children. No one drove a new – or newer car. Some heated with wood that they cut and split themselves. Clothes came from thrift stores and women got together to can, freeze and dry, fruits and vegetables for the winter. They gave even though they were struggling.
I would like to be able to tell you that they all became wealthy; that they started fortune 500 companies or became CEOs of large corporations. But giving to God is not a quid pro quo; we give because we want to, and are supposed to.
However most of the members became homeowners and found good jobs. Some started reasonably successful businesses. It was a time of transition: from counter culture to mainstream America, from poverty level to middle class. But during that time of transition the young congregation gave to their church – and they gave generously.