My first visit to Lewis and Clark Bible Church was on June 3rd, 1973. My next visit would come 17 years—almost to the day—later, on June 1st, 1990. I have in my office the LCBC Guest Book that bears my signature from way back then. Along with my signature, I gave my address and listed my home church as being “St. Matthews, Hillsboro.” In reality, it had been a long time since I’d set foot in St. Matthews Catholic Church, but that was the only church I’d ever been in and I didn’t have anything else to put in the box.
I was a lost 17 year old, without God and without hope in the world. I hardly remember a thing from that long ago visit. I’m not even sure why I had come, though I imagine it was because my Uncle Bob—who I had always looked up to— had invited me. Uncle Bob had been saved through the ministry of LCBC back in the early 70s. Some teens from the church had gone out doing visitation, speaking to people about Jesus and inviting them to church. They were taken aback by what they found when Bob invited them in. He was contrary and difficult. They went back to the church and asked people to pray for this wild fellow. He soon visited the church and received—contrary to what he had expected–a warm welcome. Later, he responded to the gospel, becoming the first member of my extended family to be saved. And he was eager to pass on what he himself had experienced.
Thinking back to that 1973 visit, I would have never imagined that God would call me to pastor any church, let alone this one. If anyone would have suggested such a thing, I would have thought them to be crazy. But God does indeed work in mysterious ways His wondrous deeds to perform!
A year and a half after that visit, I joined the Navy. It was partly out of frustration that I did. I didn’t have the money or wherewithal to go to college. Not knowing what else to do with my life, I signed up for the Navy’s Nuclear Power Program. After a couple of years of schooling, I found myself serving in the submarine service and stationed in Pearl Harbor. By that time, other members of my extended family had come to know the Savior. And they were praying for me. And I was growing increasingly concerned about my sins. I believed in God, but didn’t know anything about Him. I didn’t know who Jesus was or that He had died for my sins. I had never read the Bible and didn’t know the difference between the Old Testament and the New. But people were praying for me. And the Spirit was working in my heart. I knew that something needed to change, but I didn’t know what or how. I had done a lot of stupid, sinful things, and couldn’t imagine how God could possibly save or forgive me. I visited some churches. I remember visiting a Baptist church in Honolulu. I can even remember an instance when a man in that church tried to share the gospel with me. But at that point, I was not understanding and was not responding. Some fellow sailors started attending a church in Kailua. They had met some girls there and I suppose that was a part of the reason that I went with them. I heard the gospel preached there, but it was not until a member of the Navigators spoke to me personally that I trusted in Jesus.
After my discharge from the service, I got a job with Portland General Electric at the Trojan Nuclear Plant. It was a year later that God brought Laura into my life in answer to my prayers. We were married in August of 1983. Soon afterwards, I landed a job in the Training Department. It was a good salary job that paid very well. We bought a house in Columbia City. We were attending St. Helens Community Bible Church in St. Helens where I was serving as an elder. Our firstborn, Claire, was born in 1985. I had a good job, a nice home, a great church, and a wonderful family. I should have been happy. But I was becoming increasingly dissatisfied in my job, feeling as if I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to be doing. Try as I might, I couldn’t get away from that. I talked to Laura about it. I talked to my co-worker friend Jeff about it. I mulled it over in my mind and prayed much about it. And at last, I (we) made the decision to resign from my job to attend Western Seminary in Portland. My co-workers thought I was nuts (unbeknownst to them or me at the time, Trojan was destined to close down a few years later). With PGE’s help, I had received a bachelor’s degree in Nuclear Technology, so I could enroll at Western to get my Master’s. I also had Veteran’s benefits that would help out with my educational expenses. I resigned, but PGE offered to keep me on part time in my salary position. God was gracious in abundantly providing for all of our needs. So I went to school.
In the last year of my seminary education, Laura and I applied to Northwest Independent Church Extension. Once accepted, I would be made available to churches that were looking for a pastor. It was in April of 1990 that we invited Roy Sprague, the Director of NICE, to dinner at our house. He spent quite some time talking about the various churches around the northwest and in Nevada that had need of a pastor. Then he asked me something to the effect of where I sensed God might be calling me to serve. I remember saying to him, “something on the Oregon coast; something like Lewis and Clark Bible Church.” Of course, I didn’t mean Lewis and Clark Bible Church itself (as far as I knew they had a pastor), but for whatever reason, God had put that thought of serving on the coast in my heart.
In the next month or so, there were some potential pastor placement opportunities, but none of them quite fit. And then one day, we returned home to find a message on the answering machine. The message was, in fact, two messages because the caller couldn’t fit everything into the first call. In a thick Norwegian accent, the caller, Vic Albertsen, was saying that he and a man named Jim Thompson had called Roy Sprague asking for help because they needed someone to fill the pulpit. Roy had given them my name as someone who might be willing to come. I found out later that they had considered closing the church, but had decided instead to pray, asking God to intervene in their needy situation. I called Vic back and told him that I would be glad to help. It was arranged that we would come on June 1st, 1990. Not quite seventeen years after my first visit.
Jim would henceforth often speak of those days. He would remind the church of how he and Vic had set their hearts to pray and how God answered their prayers by sending me. He would tell that story to the church, sometimes with tears in his eyes, to encourage them. I always felt a little embarrassed when Jim did that, but appreciated his perspective. He was a man who believed that God could restore the church. He trusted God and prayed. He was faithful to pray for the church. He prayed for new families to come. He prayed for God’s provision of additional leaders. In those early days, it was sometimes only Jim, Vic, and me at prayer meeting. But those two faithful men kept on trusting, serving, and praying.
The previous ten years had been none too kind to LCBC. Four pastors had served the church during that decade. A preceding 50-50 church split had worked to soil the church’s reputation in the community. The building project that had started 20 years before still was not finished. The church yards were unkempt. The parsonage was in a bad state of disrepair. The departure of another pastor was accompanied by sadness and despair. More families had left. There were about a dozen in attendance on that June 1stSunday. Our first month’s giving would amount to about $600. There were a host of reasons to be pessimistic. But we arrived that June 1st Sunday. I preached a way-too-fast sermon from Colossians chapter one on the supremacy of Christ. When we left that day, I had no doubt whatsoever in my mind that God was calling me here. And the marvel of it all has never escaped my thoughts—God brought me to pastor the church that had been used by Him in the salvation of the first member of my extended family!
Soon after my first filling-the-pulpit Sunday, a pastor from Astoria called. He wanted to meet with me. Not knowing his exact purpose, I nonetheless agreed to travel from Columbia City to have lunch with him at the Logger Restaurant in Knappa. The purpose of the meeting soon became apparent. He wanted to warn me of what I was getting myself into. He told me that LCBC had a reputation of devouring pastors and I should think twice about involving myself and my family in such a situation. I thanked him for his concern but countered that if God was calling me to pastor the church, then He would take care of us in whatever manner He deemed best. I didn’t subsequently give much thought about that pastor’s warning, until one day when I asked one of our leaders what was under the big mound of dirt in the front yard of the church. Jokingly, he told me that was where all the ex-pastors were buried. Sometime later, we excavated that mound of dirt and found some pieces of an old sidewalk.
Helen Leigh, a founding member of the church, invited me over to lunch one day. It was Helen and her good friend Harriet who first came up with the idea of converting the old Seppa Dairy seed barn into a church. They were delightful older ladies and I have fond memories of them both. Helen played the organ. Harriet played the piano. Harriet would continue playing the piano until she was no longer physically able (she served in that role for 50 years!). I didn’t realize it at the time but Helen had an ulterior motive behind her invitation. Though she wasn’t the decision-maker, she wanted to interview me. I can recall but one of her many questions. She asked me what I thought was the most important virtue for a pastor to possess. I answered, humility. She thought integrity. We agreed that both are important. From that point forward, Helen accepted me in, and I was blessed to count her a friend.
We accepted the call to pastor the church in an August 1st installation service. Ethel Gustafson, a wheel-chair bound, long-time respected and loved member of our church (now home with Jesus), wrote a letter to the church for that service exhorting her fellow members to exercise care in their treatment of their new pastor. Her letter was later published in the Voice Magazine (the monthly publication of IFCA International). This is what she wrote: “We have a challenge to overcome how we are regarded by those in the area: bad attitudes; we’re a church that gobbles up pastors. We can change if we: examine our own hearts; resolve differences as soon as possible; do not quibble over trivial matters; work together as a team with pastor, deacons, trustees, and others; remember our pastor is human (he’ll make mistakes, get tired, and be overworked); remember no good pastor is good at everything; remember he has physical needs, financial problems, family needs just like we do; remember he needs a living wage; remember he needs time to be left alone for devotions and Bible study and prayer; remember his children are no better or worse than ours; remember his wife has as many needs as any wife and can’t be expected to be at every meeting much less be in charge of all of them; remember he is a special target of Satan and needs our daily prayers; remember each of us needs to be available to do something and make it known we are. Remember to get things into perspective and ask ourselves, ‘Why do we exist?’: to improve our own spiritual lives; to worship together; to be a corporate witness of Lewis and Clark Bible Church to the area (one bad apple will spoil the whole box); we are a support group each for all and all for each.”
That first year of ministry was difficult. I met every week with Harriet Pollard, the treasurer, to figure out how we could pay the bills. I kept my part time job at Trojan and commuted once a week to supplement our finances. Eventually, I quit that job and took a job at Clatsop Community College teaching beginning algebra. But since we were living in the parsonage, we didn’t need much. After a year or so, I was able to give up part-time work.
I have fond memories of those early days. There were a lot of obstacles. Many doubted that the church could recover. But God worked to restore unity and make a church family out of our small group. We have a friendship quilt that was given to us by the church on our one year anniversary. Each family in the church made their own quilt square. Each square is beautiful in its own way, but put together, the beauty of the whole mosaic is greater than that of any individual part. The body of Christ is kind of like that. Its beauty lies in its glorious Lord and Savior who indwells and unites them all. And we can trust the One “who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” to do a good work in His church and in our lives (Cf. Ephesians 3:20). It is a glorious work that He is doing.
My part? I came, because God sent me here. I stayed, because God kept me here. I’m still here because God hasn’t sent me anywhere else. So much has happened in 25 years! And though some from those early days are still with us, many are now with Jesus. I did more than my share of funeral services back then! I sometimes say that ministry includes the good, the bad, and the ugly. We’ve experienced all of these things—both wonderful blessings that rejoice the heart and heart-rending trials that lead to despair. But praise God for His faithfulness! He has done a great work in us and made us to be, in Christ, a people apt to love and serve! We can count on Him to finish the work that He started in us and to supply the grace for the work that He calls us to (Cf. Philippians