Congregation marks 150th anniversary this weekendThere's a basic rule in rock climbing, according to the Rev. David Kinman: Anchor three, move one.

If a climber has two feet and one hand firmly planted, he can reach out with his other hand to find a new purchase, gain a little height, move a bit farther on his arduous journey.

For 150 years, the First United Methodist Church in Astoria has been that solid anchor point for its members. Since the first congregation was organized from the Methodist mission at Clatsop Plains in 1843, members have been reaching out to the community, lifting up their neighbors as they traverse the uneven path of life.

The church will celebrate its sesquicentennial Sunday.

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"Yeah, it's 150 years, but that doesn't mean this is where we stop," says Rev. David Kinman.Bishop Edward Paup, who presides over the Methodist church in Oregon, Alaska and most of Idaho, will preach during the morning service. Western District Superintendent Jim Monroe is expected to visit, and several former ministers and their spouses plan to attend. A smorgasbord-type dinner, reminiscent of the community smorgasbords the church sponsored for many years, will round out the evening as congregation members mingle with old friends and strengthen ties with ministers from other Astoria churches.

Priscilla Gauthier has been working on the anniversary celebration for about a year. Her committee's efforts have produced a cookbook with recipes dating from the 1930s, plus sweatshirts, T-shirts, magnets and ornaments touting the official sesquicentennial logo.

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During "Children's Time," which takes place during the service, Rev. David Kinman speaks directly to the children, from left, Harper Lee Brandt, 3, Isabel Misner, 2, and Daria Van de Grift, 8. Families with young children have brought the average age of the congregation down to around 60.Gauthier began researching church history, and since January has presented a "Heritage Moment" during worship each Sunday, "to begin to tell some of our stories," she said. The tales she repeats paint a picture of the church as a living cornerstone in a growing community.

The first church was erected in 1853 on the northwest corner of 15th Street and Franklin Avenue, one block uphill from Fort Astoria. The town's population totaled 250, and the building served as the first public schoolhouse and housed many community events.

A second building was dedicated in 1881, built on pilings at the corner of 11th and Duane streets. Gauthier said stories are told of Sunday school children fishing from the church windows, and the fire in the hot air furnace being extinguished by high tides. That building was sold to the Acme grocery store in 1916 and burned in the 1922 fire.

The present red brick Georgian building has stood since 1917. During the great fire of 1922, the Rev. M.T. Wire climbed to the church roof and with a small hose played water on the wooden cornice and roof, which prevented flames from getting a start, according to Gauthier.

Wire, who was a nationally known landscape painter and a member of the Ku Klux Klan, was one of several colorful figures who served as pastors to the Methodist congregation. The Rev. Johnston McCormac rescued a young man from being shanghaied in 1882, and in the late 1880s the Rev. George Grannis was almost shanghaied himself, being mistaken for a sailor the church had employed as a janitor.

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Barb Barrons, right, and other members of the church choir practice the anthem, "More," in preparation for last Sunday's service.The Rev. Orval Whitman served the longest of any minister, from 1953 to 1969. During this time, the congregation sponsored an annual community smorgasbord, feeding 600 to 800 people in one evening each October. Proceeds from the dinners helped remodel the kitchen, Sunday school rooms and social hall.

Gauthier came to Astoria in 1959, and said she recalls new acquaintances telling her, "Oh, you've got to go to the smorgasbord."

"Everybody in town went to them," she said. She enjoys telling a story about two mischievous boys who found their way to the organ pipes during one smorgasbord dinner and experimented with dropping bits of cheese and a meatball or two down the pipes.

Submitted Photo

Located at the corner of 11th and Duane streets, then on the river front, now the location of Safeway, the First United Methodist Church, right, was dedicated in 1881, around the time this photo was taken.Kinman is the 50th pastor to lead the First United Methodist Church in Astoria. For the celebration Sunday, he'll be wearing a pastor's stole with a picture of the Astoria Column on one side and the sesquicentennial logo on the other, done in cross-stitch he worked himself.

"I stand in a line of guides and helpers," he explained, referring to his pastoral predecessors.

Kinman feels that the Methodists in Astoria are known as an active, helping congregation. The church financially supports Uniontown Transitional Housing, the Astoria Rescue Mission, Pioneer House, Habitat for Humanity and the Clatsop County Food Bank. Other local assistance programs include clothing donations to Lewis and Clark Elementary and a winter coat giveaway, which has idled in recent years but may be revived soon. In a storage room on the second floor are stocked walkers, crutches and wheelchairs, available for use by anyone who needs them.

The local chapter of United Methodist Women holds a holiday bazaar, "Santa's Workshop," in late November. Part of the money raised goes to support UMW missions worldwide. The women also organize drives to collect school supplies, personal hygiene items or bedding items they assemble into kits for the needy.

The Methodists are also a singing congregation, according to Gauthier. Worship on Sundays resounds with a faithful choir, 12 to 15 voices strong, accompanied by the Cassavant pipe organ that was installed with the building's construction. Whenever a month includes five Sundays, the Methodists gather for an hour-long "Fifth Sunday Sing" in the evening.

Kinman said he's proud of the people of his church and how they have touched the community. "What has the congregation done in 150 years?" he posed. "Helped people to have a firm foundation from which they can reach out.

"The people who are worshipping here and using that as a basis for their life journey - that's pretty good stuff."


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