First Presbyterian Church celebrates 130 years
By Lee Beach
Herald and News Staff Reporter
First Presbyterian Church, the oldest organized church in Klamath Falls, has answered the question: “What does a church do for a community?” through its actions for the last 130 years.
In a milestone celebration Sunday, the congregation honored its long history and the pastors and people who have made it their life’s goals to teach, preach, uplift and serve the community.
In a proclamation read at the services recognizing the church’s service to the community since 1884, Mayor Todd Kellstrom echoed the city fathers from 130 years ago, when Linkville was a city of saloons and houses of ill repute. The rough-and-tumble pioneers of the area worked in the forests and the fields, but the city fathers knew they could build a town — but not a community — with those sturdy people alone.
They needed people who wanted to raise families here, people who cared about education and infrastructure and medical facilities and all the other elements that make a vibrant, caring community with strong values.
Pastor Stuart Bond spoke that Sunday about his belief that, “God wanted a church here, too. His grace didn’t just run along the coastal townships. It didn’t stop at the Cascades. It traveled east to these great inland waterways. It was meant for every logging camp and every cattle ranch in our area. And He needed some who were willing to break ground and dig in right here so that the story of grace could be told and lived out. God wanted a church here, too.”
For 15 years, First Presbyterian was the only church in Linkville, renamed Klamath Falls in 1893. It was first located at Second and Pine streets and in 1919 moved to Sixth and Pine streets. In 1950, they tore that building down and in 1956 completed the present church.
Robert McClean was the first of 15 pastors, serving until 1888. In a letter to J. S. Stubblefield, his successor, on the occasion of the dedication of the church in 1920, he recalled making a deal with the local baseball team, which played on Sunday mornings. The players agreed to come to evening service if McClean didn’t oppose their playing in the morning. Those men came to church and to Christ, and McLean felt the movement to reach those young men was instrumental in the passing of Temperance in those early days.
Bond believes the “principle of reaching out to a new group, of finding a way to fish in waters we don’t know well but we feel God has called us to fish in — it is still the same. We are still at work, trying to help young men and women find Christ, to form a good foundation for families in this community, and we are still doing our best to make the Basin a God-honoring place.”
The church honored some of its leaders who made significant contributions to the community. The impetus to build a modern medical facility to replace Hillside and Valley Hospitals started in the church, which was led at that time by Dr. Robert Groves. Jim Stillwell chaired the civic committee that raised the funds to build Presbyterian Intercommunity Hospital — now Sky Lakes Medical Center.
Ross Ragland, a civic leader and supporter of the arts chaired the renovation of the theater which began in the 1980s. Another leap of faith by the congregation occurred when the mission committee raised $50,000 in three months to help build a dormitory at KLEOS children’s community.
Of the anniversary celebration, Bond said, “Any day like this is a day of vision. We can all see our failures, but there are great days to remind us of what we can achieve.”
As the church looks ahead to the next 130 years, Bond reminded the 350 persons worshipping that morning that the purpose of the church, “to evangelize the world, has not changed.”
For the answer how to do it, he offered: “the real answer is to listen to the Man in the boat — to realize he is Lord, even where we think we are the experts … pushing into deeper water, letting down nets in unlikely places, leaving the familiar to become fishers of men.”
To that end, the church is launching a strategic planning team to look into the future three to five years.