Church History

In 2007, The Portland Apostolic Christian Church (Nazarene) chose to change our name to Woodstock Bible Church in order to better serve and be connected to our community.

The Apostolic Christian Church had its roots in Switzerland. It was founded in the 1830’s by a Swiss clergyman named Samuel Froehlich, who called his group the Evangelische Taufgesinnte, which was translated as Evangelical Baptists. This group differed from the established state church of Switzerland in two prime areas:

1) they were part of the Anabaptist movement, that is, they believed in baptism of believers rather than of infants who had no knowledge of the faith, and

2) they were part of the Peace tradition, similar to the Mennonites, in that they believed in non-violent solutions to political problems and would not bear arms in war. The first adherents came to the USA in 1847, and began the first Evangelical Baptist congregations in New York State. The name of the movement was changed, so as not to confuse it with the Baptists, who were already an established denomination. Although it was first called Evangelical Baptist, it began to also be known as Christian Apostolic, then Apostolic Christian, which is the name by which the church was eventually registered.

In 1847, Oregon was not yet an official territory of the USA, and the total state population numbered fewer than 50,000 people. Oregon became a state in 1859, and became home to a large number of immigrant farmers, traders and fur trappers. With the coming of the trans-continental railway in the 1860’s, and the ending of the Indian wars in 1878, Oregon became increasingly civilized and in touch with developments in the country at large. The primary draw for immigrants to Oregon was the promise of rich, fertile farmland in the Willamette Valley. It was to this region, primarily in the area west of Portland, and south towards Silverton, that a number of families came who would soon have ties to the Apostolic Christian Church. The first families to be associated with the Apostolic Christian Church were German-speaking families, of either Swiss or German background. According to information found in the book, Marching to Zion, by Perry Klopfenstein, a number of the Swiss Mennonite families in the area had had some previous contact with Apostolic Christians in New York, or in the mid-west states of Indiana and Illinois, where a large contingent of Apostolic Christians from Switzerland or Germany had settled. An Oregon resident, C.C. Wenger, wrote a letter inviting the elders of the Apostolic Christian Church to come to Oregon. In 1879, Elder Ben Virkler, accompanied by young Gottlieb Maibach, who later became an elder, made the trip to Oregon. They traveled to Oregon by train, then made the last leg of the trip by horseback to the Oregon farm country. On this trip, C.C. Wenger was baptized by Elder Virkler, thus being the first of the Apostolic Christian faith to be baptized in Oregon. Several other farm families in the area, among whom were the Kaufman and Krug families, were subsequently converted and formed the nucleus of what became the church in Silverton, approximately 50 miles south of Portland.

In 1880, there were a number of Swiss immigrants in the Portland area who were interested in starting an Apostolic Christian Church closer to home. The original members met above the store of Max and Emma Otto in Southeast Portland. John “Pap” Meier and his wife Mary donated land in 1894 to the group so that a church could be built. In 1896, a two-story wood frame church was completed on the property at 420 SE 22nd, near Stark St. Much of the work was done by church members, since there were carpenters and plumbers by trade among them. Services were held in the German language, and early growth came from the German-speaking immigrants. John Meier, George Schwarz and Fred Feldman were among the first ministers of the congregation. John Roth, a Swiss immigrant who farmed west of Portland, also assisted in the ministry. His descendants are still part of the congregation today. Many members still earned their livelihood through farming and had to travel many miles to attend church, either in Portland or in Silverton.

One young man, George Goss, rode his bicycle to town on Saturday evening, then slept on one of the church benches in order to be on time for the Sunday morning service. Because distance was frequently a problem, it was the custom to serve lunch in church on Sunday, as in many other Apostolic Christian Churches. The Sunday lunch, usually just sweet rolls, or cold cuts and bread, with coffee, was an important social custom, and gave the members opportunity to fellowship and develop ties of love. This custom was continued in the Portland church until the mid-1980’s.

There was a church separation which happened nationally in 1906-07, but it had less impact on the Portland Apostolic Christian Church than in some other places. The larger number of members in the Portland church chose to adhere to the group which designated itself as the Apostolic Christian Church (Nazarene), while a smaller number began meeting separately, and became known as the Apostolic Christian Church of America. The smaller group acquired another building, and now meet in a facility in Oregon City. The Silverton church became part of the Apostolic Christian Church of America, and maintains close ties with the Oregon City church.

During the era between World Wars I and II, there was a lot of growth in the church from families moving to Portland from Canada or from the East. Among the families who came during that time were the Yevtich, Burcar, Popp, Binder, Hoffmann, and Staudt families. In 1931 it became necessary to remodel the church and add Sunday School rooms to accommodate the growing group. In the 1930’s, with an expanding group of young people, singing and inspirational meetings were held every Sunday and Friday evenings. In the mid-1930’s, it was decided that it was time for English-language services, which necessitated English-speaking ministers. John Popp and Steve Burcar became the first English-speaking preachers. In 1946, John and Steve were ordained as Elders, and served together in this capacity until their joint retirement in 1981. John and Steve were instrumental in overseeing the development and functioning of almost all of the Apostolic Christian Churches in the west, most of which were begun after World War II.

Unlike many of the eastern Apostolic Christian Churches whose members had greater ties to Europe, Portland did not receive as many refugee families after World War II, thus the church itself was not heavily influenced by European customs. John Popp, in the company of two others, traveled to Europe in 1955, and made contact with a number of Apostolic Christian families over there. He subsequently sponsored a number of refugee families, among whom were the John Peter family, who moved to Portland in 1956. Other families who moved to the Portland area from Canada or other Eastern churches in the post-war era were the Kovar, Heckel, Turchan, Pamer, Megyesi, and Reves family.

In 1954 a new church was built on S.E. Mitchell street. The old church on 22nd Ave. was sold, and is still in use today as a church. The Mitchell street church has seen a lot of growth and activity, and an addition was built in 1972. Both the old and the new portions of the church building have undergone remodeling. The Portland CFG was among the first active youth groups in the country. The church also published the national church newsletter, The Messenger, during the years 1956-1961. The Portlanders have also had a vision for missionary activity. In 1961, Vic & Elsie Schlatter, who went to Papua New Guinea, were the first missionaries to be sent out under the auspices of the Western Missionary Committee. The Committee has continued to support the work in New Guinea, as well as overseeing mission work in Ghana, Africa, and Tecate, Mexico. The Lord has truly blessed the congregation with a spirit of love for the brotherhood and a vision for taking the gospel to a lost world.