Around 1888 to 1889, a group of Methodist ministers began monthly services in the homes of Mr. and Mrs. John L. Hoffman and Mr. and Mrs.Wilhelm Schmale in the Western Washington County community of West Union. The first minister on record to have officially organized a congregation in the Hoffman home was Rev. Abraham Hager of the Milwaukie area. Rev. R.H. Luecke continued the services during the 1890s; and the attendance apparently grew, because the congregation needed to move from the Hoffman home to the Schultz Church, a Free Methodist church, that was located across the street.
In the years of 1893 to 1896, attendance increased dramatically under the ministry of Rev. J.W. Beckley. It became clear that the growing congregation — officially incorporated on March 25, 1895 as German Methodist Episcopal Church — needed its own building; and so land was purchased from Mr. John Rothschberger; and the construction began on the church structure that still stands today.
The construction of the building itself was a testimony to the brave, rugged pioneering character of the people in this German, Swiss and Russian immigrant community — as well as to their devotion to the Lord they sought to worship in it. Most of the members of the church had little or no income; and the area they sought to establish their church in was still mostly backwoods country. To raise what funds they could for the building project, they hauled eggs, potatoes, butter, cheese or gallons of milk on their own backs to sell at the neighboring communities. And then, they labored long hours falling dense forests, slashing tangled brush, and grubbing deeply-rooted stumps — mostly by hand. Material advancement was a secondary matter to them. They wanted, first and foremost, a church home in which to worship Jesus Christ; and they willingly sacrificed whatever resources they had, and contributed whatever labor was necessary, to build it in His name.
The church’s services were held in German until the late 1920s. When the German Methodists became affiliated with the English Conference in the 1930s, the services became conducted, permanently and exclusively, in English.
By 1948, the church was no longer a pioneer church in an immigrant settlement. It had become a small but attractive congregation in a thriving farming community, situated a short distance from a major west-coast city. In that year, its pastor, Rev. Roy Starkey, led the church in adding a basement and a parsonage to its complex — along with the “modern” innovation of plumbing. In 1960, the church purchased the building and grounds from the Oregon Conference of the Methodist Church, and adopted the name Bethany Community Church. It has remained an independent congregation since then, adopting the name Bethany Bible Church in the 1970s. It celebrated its 100th year on May 21, 1995.
That original band of believers might have been surprised to see all the changes around the church today. Back then, they used hand-powered tools and saws to clear land that now buzzes bangs with the construction of modern residential communities. And they used horse-drawn wagons to laboriously drag the building’s lumber up roads that are now traveled in mere minutes by mini-vans and bicyclists.
But there’s one thing they wouldn’t have been surprised to see in this rapidly changing community — the church building still standing in the same spot over 100 years later. Nor would they have been surprised to still hear the same eternal, life-changing message being proclaimed that first motivated them. They would have fully expected to see such things, because the same Lord Jesus Christ whose love first inspired them is just as active today as then; and because the same message of salvation through faith in Him that they proclaimed is just as relevant and life-changing in our world as it was in theirs.