135 Years Together 1889~2024

Why Celebrate our 135th Anniversary?

An anniversary is a time to celebrate the good that’s unfolding. It is also a liminal event, a threshold between past and future. We rejoice for all the saints who started this congregation, built it up over the years and gave it to us for today. When we look back at our story, our journey, where we have come from, we celebrate and we give thanks to God. The roots planted long ago now nourish our trunk and branches today. Moreover, an anniversary is also the moment for turning the page to the next chapter in our congregation’s story. Remembering the past story offers the trajectory for that next chapter, who we are now, and who we want to be tomorrow.

There will be historical displays around the church in May and June, as well as the following historical moments shared in our daily emails to the congregation..

Hallway Timeline

The timeline in the hallway needs you. Add your name and the year that you began attending or joined FCC on a heart, star or flower – then place it on the timeline. All supplies are located on the table in the hallway upstairs. Participants of all ages are invited to create our colorful wall as we celebrate our anniversary.

June 2nd Party

Join the 135th Anniversary celebration luncheon banquet following worship on Sunday, June 2. Please let us know you’ll be there by clicking on button below:

Organizing a Congregational Church

On June 2, 1889, the first sabbath of the month, 23 people gathered in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Eugene to declare their intent, “Providence permitting,” to organize a Congregational Church.  The acknowledged leaders were Thomas Condon (for whom the Condon Chapel is named) and A.E. Wheeler (for whom the Wheeler Room is named).  (From Our First Century)

In the charter and statement of faith, the founders state that God is the creator of all things.  They will use scripture while striving to live in accordance with the teachings of Jesus Christ . . . They declare that all members have an undisturbed right to follow the word of God according to the dictates of their own conscience under “the Enlightenment of the Holy Spirit.”  They will promote morality and the general welfare of the community.  But they make “no claim” to be the only “Church of Christ.” (From the charter and statement of faith, First Congregational Church of Eugene, Oregon, June 1889)

Thomas Condon

Thomas Condon, one of the acknowledged leaders of the Congregational Church established in 1889, was a professor of natural history at the University.  He and his wife Cornelia had been sent to Oregon from New York in 1853 by the American Home Missionary Society to start churches in St. Helens and Grand Prairie near Albany.

After assignments in the Willamette Valley, he had gone to The Dalles in 1862. There he studied fossils, became the first state geologist and was appointed to the original faculty at the University of Oregon in 1876.  

Widely known in the state for his lectures on geology and on science and religion, Condon was sometimes criticized for his reconciliation of the Bible and science. He nonetheless remained a devout churchman and was welcomed to the pulpits of most local churches.  (From Our First Century)

Our first church at 7th and Charnelton

In 1891 the congregation raised $5,000 and constructed their own building on 7th and Charnelton.   The severance from the Cumberland Presbyterian Church (where the first church gathered in 1889) was amicable.

When a Sunday morning dedication was scheduled, the Presbyterians dismissed their own services and attended in a body.  A.E. Wheeler, presenting the church for dedication, announced that it was debt-free and that, in consequence, no offering would be taken. This building provided a church home that served the early congregation for well over 30 years. (From Our First Century and historical documents).

Growing larger: a new church at 13th and Ferry

In 1924 the congregation began to consider a move to a larger facility and built a beautiful new building at 13th and Ferry Streets, right near the University of Oregon campus. In 1925 the congregation sold the old church to the 7th Day Adventists for $6,000 and pledged $50,000 for the new building.   

Here it was destined to become a vital part of the university community, as untold numbers of faculty members and students thronged to its doors.   It was dedicated on March 8, 1925, during the ministry of Rev. Fred J. Clark.  The “handsome new church building – much of it a labor of love by members themselves – stood complete.”  The sanctuary had a seating capacity of 236, and the building included a chapel dedicated to Thomas Condon.

(From Our First Century and a historical document written by Margie Robinson)

Rev. Williston Wirt

In 1935, under the leadership of Rev. Williston Wirt, many things were happening. Regular monthly church dinners began and the Sunday school flourished. The Women’s League furnished dishes and the necessities for the church and the records read that “they were kept in the beautiful black walnut cabinet which was a gift of Mrs. Elizabeth Shannon” in the early 1890s. This cabinet still sits in the church lobby today. Mrs. Shannon was a charter member of the early church. She also donated to the church the 7th St. half of her lot adjoining the premises of the church. (From historical documents)

Camp Adams Purchased

In 1937 Congregational churches of the Oregon Conference paid $5,000 for the Adams Farm near Molalla.  In 1970 money was subscribed by the churches in the Oregon Conference to build the current facilities. (From historical documents) 

Camp Adams is located on 216 acres of mature temperate rainforest.  Not only does the Camp provide meaningful summer camping experiences for children, youth and congregations, but the Camp is also being shaped into a site for eco-justice activism and sustainable ecological practices.  The Camp has entered into an easement agreement with the local conservation district that preserves 180 acres of this land in perpetuity, with financial proceeds from the agreement invested in an endowment fund for the long-term support and maintenance of the camp property. (From the Camp Adams website)

New Minister Arrives

In July, 1943, The Rev. Wesley G. Nicholson was called to serve First Congregational Church in Eugene, where he remained for 32 years. Previously, as associate pastor of the Neighborhood Church in Pasadena, CA, he honed his counseling skills working closely with students at the University of California.

Under his leadership, the church grew in number and in outreach, and in 1957 the current building was constructed at its present location.  Recognized for his ministry to the wider community, Rev. Nicholson was awarded an honorary doctorate from Pacific University and a Distinguished Service Award from the University of Oregon.

Mrs. Gail Nicholson, a trained social worker, soon became a valued addition to the Lane County welfare staff and served on the Eugene 4J School Board from 1965-1970.  She was known for taking coffee grounds home from the church to put on her rose bushes!  (From historical documents)

At the time of the Nicholsons’ arrival, the church employed no regular office secretary. Advised by the trustees that it was time to change First Congregational “from a small-town country church to a city church,” he set out to do so.  He established an office for himself, kept regular office hours and soon hired a secretary.  

Persuading the trustees to install a telephone in the church office was one of his first challenges. There was a phone in the home of a church member who lived across the street, they pointed out, and why couldn’t he just run over there and use it whenever he needed to make a call? Wesley got his telephone.  (From Our First Century and a historical document written by Margie Robinson)

Looking to the Future

At a lengthy annual meeting on February 18, 1953, at the church on 13th & Ferry, the congregation considered a motion to authorize the Board of Trustees “to purchase the site at 23rd and Harris and proceed with the plans for construction of a new plant at that time.”

The need for more space in the church had long been acute. The church held duplicate 9:30 and 11 a.m. services and Sunday school for several years, but still could not meet overflow problems.  Notwithstanding many sentimental comments about the existing structure, the motion carried by a vote of 111 to 6. (From Our First Century & historical documents)

Growing larger once again

In 1953, following the congregational vote to purchase the site at 23rd and Harris, Rev. Wesley Nicholson shared these words in a message entitled “Our Faith in the Future” as the church prepared to raise $300,000 for a new building.

“The decision was made to conduct the campaign drive among ourselves rather than hire a professional fundraising agency. The people themselves felt they should dedicate their thought and time to cover the whole project. This has become a symbol for the deep responsibility which is a mark of our church. . . Through the years ‘the spirit of the volunteer’ has distinguished our church family.” (from historical documents) 

The first worship service at our current location was held on August 4, 1957, and the building was dedicated on November 3, 1957. In attendance was the daughter of the A.E. Wheelers, who were among the founders of the church. The sanctuary capacity of the new structure was 490, more than double that of the Ferry Street church. (From Our First Century and historical documents)

Merging Faiths

On June 25, 1957, the United Church of Christ was born out of the merger of four streams of Protestantism: Evangelical, Reformed, Congregational, and Christian Churches.  It would be a united and uniting church, yet, a church not bound together by ecclesiastical hierarchy but by covenant.

That same year, FCC voted to participate in the merger, the first truly ecumenical expression of Christianity of the North American continent, and thus becoming First Congregational United Church of Christ.  (From Our First Century and The Ties That Bind)

So, the United Church of Christ is a covenant church.  Autonomous congregations, with the rich diversity of three unions, united by the conviction that we can more faithfully “accept the cost and joy of discipleship” together.  Our name expresses our invitation to pray and work for “the one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth.”  (From United Church of Christ website)

Organ Dedication

On February 17, 1959 the sanctuary of First Congregational Church was transformed into a concert hall as over 500 people attended an organ recital by Alexander Schreiner, who was famous for his radio concerts from the Salt Lake City Tabernacle.  The occasion was the public dedication of the Washburne Memorial Organ, a gift to the church by Mrs. Carl G. Washburne in memory of her husband and his mother.  For the recital the console was moved to the center of the pulpit area and, at Schreiner’s invitation, standees seated themselves on surrounding chairs and floor space.  (From the Register Guard)

Over the years, many electrical contacts and brass parts began to fail; the wiring was found to be a fire hazard. In 2004 we undertook the Organ Repair Project, which brought the instrument’s wiring up to code, replaced worn out parts with state-of-the-art solid-state components, and prepared the organ console for future expansion, specifically the addition of new pipes. In the last 20 years, many additional ranks of pipes have been added to the organ, expanding its tonal resources, making it one of the more significant pipe organs in Eugene and Springfield. (From Barbara Baird)

Congregational Preschool

On September 8, 1959, a nursery school sponsored by the First Congregational Church (the first to be offered in Eugene) opened to the children of the community.  The school offered a program for three- and four-year-olds.   The Board of Religious Education at the church has hired Mrs. Edward A. (Jeanne) Armstrong as director of the preschool program.  A preschool parents’ group has been organized under the guidance of Mrs. Robert D. Clark to help furnish and equip the preschool rooms to be used in the school. (From the Register Guard)

In 1991 Congregational Preschool was accredited by the National Academy of Early Childhood.  In 2014 the preschool was rated 5 stars (the highest one can get) by Spark, Oregon’s Quality Recognition and Improvement System. Congregational Preschool continues to offer developmentally appropriate play-based curriculum to our community. The preschool provides a place where kids can be kids and discover their own unique skills while learning about the world around them. Currently, the school has 82 children from 79 families. They also offer $8000 worth of scholarships/year for families that may not otherwise be able to send their children to preschool.

During the pandemic, preschool director Emma Standish was able to procure grant funds to pay the teachers while the preschool was closed. (From preschool documents and interviews)

Forming a Foundation

At the annual meeting of the church on January 11, 1976, the congregation voted to organize a Foundation. Its purpose was to receive and manage gifts and bequests for use of the church in its Christian service and programs. The initial Board of Directors for the Foundation included Tom Wurtz and chairman of the church board, Dave Pompel. The Foundation was incorporated on February 4, 1976.  (From historical documents)

In January 2018, the Church Foundation was merged into the church and the Fund is now managed by the Endowment Committee. These funds are held in investment accounts that are never co-mingled with general church funds. Currently, the Elkins/Nelson Fund of the Endowment gives scholarship money for FCC students pursuing education beyond high school and the General Fund of the Endowment makes an annual contribution to the church budget. These are both drawn from the income earned by investments. Additionally, the endowment is available, if needed, to see our church through any unusually large expenditures if they should occur. In recent years, the Fund receives the proceeds from the annual Easter Sunday Dedication memorials/honoraria.  (From Shalom and interviews)

Mortgage is paid off

On Palm Sunday, 1977 the mortgage on our current building was burned.  In the ceremony the $80,000 mortgage, the final note against the 30,000 square foot building, was set ablaze in the outdoor barbecue pit on the church grounds. It had cost $389,000 to build and furnish the building 20 years earlier, including purchase of the land. After introductory remarks by Freeman Holmer, former pastor Wesley Nicholson spoke briefly, recalling the dedicated mood of those who launched the building fund drive in the early 1950s.  Special tribute was paid to all who served on the building fund committee, and its chairman David Knox.  (From the Register Guard)

Saving the Cross

In 1985 the church called the Rev. Gregory Flint.  Two months after his arrival a spectacular and disastrous midnight arson fire destroyed the Condon Chapel and badly damaged other parts of the building.  The loss generated a new appreciation of what the church could mean in the lives of its members, both individual and as fellow members of a Christian community.

The fire captain asked the Rev. Flint to walk through the blackened ruins of the chapel with him.  “Look at that, I heard the fire captain say.  I followed the beam of his light to the north wall . . . Gone was the altar, the pulpit, the organ, the rail . . . But there it was, at the end of the flashlight beam – the cross, charred and smoldering. It had fallen off the front wall, but some fireman had cleaned away a spot and set it back up . . . As I think about that scene, it reaffirms for me that this faith we share has about it the quality of defiance: a defiant love and hope, which just will not concede that the ugliness and brutality of the world ever has the last word.”  (From Our First Century and historical documents)

Restored Condon Chapel

In a glass-covered case of beautiful wood, the charred cross from the fire in Condon Chapel stands affixed to the wall beside the restored Condon Chapel entrance, a gift from Rev. Lloyd and Elizabeth Stamp.

Inspired by the message of new minister Pastor Greg Flint that “the faith we share is the real church. . . the body of Christ which no fire can destroy,” the congregation undertook a restoration which led to spiritual as well as physical renewal.  On Sunday, June 1, 1986, the church celebrated a debt-free rededication and was given a new challenge to recognize that “the ending we celebrate here today is only a beginning.” (From Our First Century)

Partnership Sunday

On May 3, 1992, Rev. Daniel Bryant, senior minister of First Christian Church (Disciples) and Pastor Greg Flint, our senior minister, preached from each other’s pulpits to observe Partnership Sunday.  Since 1962, our two denominations had been involved in unity conversations which resulted in a Declaration of Ecumenical Partnership in 1985 and a vote for full communion by the UCC General Synod and the Disciples General Assembly in 1989.  

The purpose of this observance was to promote dialogue and opportunities for common expression of mission.  (From Shalom)