Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Vision (08/03/06)
TITLE: House Founded on a Rock
By Lucile McKenzie
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In 1852 seven Oregon pioneers met in the tiny log cabin home of Mahlon Harlow. Harlow had settled in the Willamette Valley the previous year, coming from Lafayette, Missouri. The Valley, with it’s clear, sparkling rivers, lush grass, and tall Douglas Fir trees lay between two mountain ranges, the majestic snow-capped Cascades to the east, and the intriguing forest-clad Coast Range to the west. Upon seeing the area near the southern end of the 140 miles of the Valley, Harlow exclaimed, “It looks like the Valley of the Lord!” He purchased his land claim from another settler for five dollars and an old pistol.
Now, a year later, he and six others stood grouped around a water-spotted Bible. The Bible belonged to one of the group members, Jemima Tandy, and had fallen off a wagon while crossing the Platte River in Nebraska. It was encased in a carpetbag and retrieved by the driver’s dog. On the rest of the trip, Jemima patiently turned the pages of the Bible to allow it to dry. Using this Bible as their guide line these seven pioneers founded the first organized church in the area, which they called, First Baptist Church of Jesus Christ at Willamette Forks.”
This was a brave thing to do. Harlow’s cabin was located some distance from the nearest settlement, Eugene City, which was little more than a grubby frontier village. There were few settlers in the area and in the winter the roads became seas of mud. Thus, the church grew very slowly. The first minister, Elder William Sperry preached once a month for a year. There is no record he ever received a salary. Rev. George Bond, the first permanent minister, served from 1858-1868 at a starting salary of $100 a year.
After moving church services to a hotel in Eugene City, in 1867 they built their first church building, a one-room edifice that would hold 150 people. Ministers came and went. All to often the church was without a regular pastor, as there weren’t enough ministers on the frontier to meet the demand. Sometimes the church was unable to pay their salary.
As the frontier became more settled, the congregation grew enough so they erected the second building in 1889. Sadly, there was some turmoil within the church. In earlier times some members had been expelled from the church for “drunkenness and immoral behavior.” These types of problems abated as the frontier became more civilized. But, in 1872 the church revoked the ordination of their minister because of an open letter he wrote to the newspaper in which he stated that he wished he could believe Baptist doctrine, his intellect would not allow him to do so. Times changed. In 1890 the church pastor, Rev. Gould Jefferson Travis, wrote a lengthy article stating that the strict rules against leisure activities should be set aside. It was important, he said, to make use of harmless activities,such as ball games and potlucks to draw young people into the church. This was a radical change from the rigidity of previous years.
It was not until the late 19th Century that the church became both financially and pastorally stable. In 1927 they built an imposing brick church in downtown Eugene. This building was added on to and remodeled over the years and served the congregation for 76 years.
In 1946 Frank Harlow, grandson of the founder, Mahlon Harlow, deeded 250 acres of land to First Baptist. Frank had received the land from his father, The church built a youth camp on part of the property. Today that camp operates all year and serves 3.000 children during the summer months alone..
In 2003 First Baptist built a beautiful new church on another parcel of the Harlow property. The church now is the 2nd largest Baptist church in Oregon. It all started with the vision of seven pioneers, who met in a tiny log cabin in 1852. The Tandy Bible, used in the founding of the church, is on permanent display in the new church.
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