A brief history of
Longview Presbyterian Church
LPC is rooted in serving Jesus and the community: seeking Christ’s way and welcoming all in his name. Our fellowship of young and old, gay and straight, single and married persons of all colors spans both sides of the Columbia River from Castle Rock to Vancouver. We worship, pray and study together, working to feed the hungry, support shelters and transitional housing, tutor children, advocate for prisoners, curb gun violence, and promote racial justice. It’s a shared faith journey that provides safe harbor for our beliefs as well as our doubts.
What seems pretty mainstream today were radical notions when the church was founded fifty years ago. Women could not get credit cards in their own names and female leaders were still the exception in most churches. People of color were routinely denied civil rights and faced discrimination on many fronts. Celibate homosexuals were eligible for membership, but denied ordination as pastors, elders, or deacons until 2011.
Longview’s population doubled after WW II and Olympia Presbytery foresaw the need for another church in the community. Since Kelso United Presbyterian Church served the east side, presbytery purchased the five-acre Pennsylvania Avenue site on the west in 1970. Land that had been home to the Cowlitz Indian Tribe for thousands of years was in a rapidly growing area surrounded by new homes and adjacent to Mint Valley Elementary School.
The Reverend Chuck Brock was appointed organizing pastor, and he and his wife Connie began by hosting small group worship in their home. As attendance grew, Sunday services moved to St. John’s Hospital before settling into the Mint Valley school library in 1971. That meant moving the piano, tables and chairs every week, but the setting was perfect for intimate worship, sharing communion and feedback on the sermon. Special events were either held at the school, in homes or other local venues.
Local missions were woven into church life from the outset. George and Millie Robertson were already involved with food distribution to the needy, and FISH was quickly adopted as one of the many ministries of the congregation. Later, meals were prepared at Community House on Broadway and funds were raised and earmarked for immigrant support and other neighborhood needs.
Once elders were elected, a Session was formed, and Longview United Presbyterian Church was officially chartered with 52 members on November 7, 1972. Other names were considered, but the congregation settled on Longview as their preferred identity. The word “United” was eliminated following a denomination name change to Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in 1983.
While the Mint Valley space was adequate, the vacant lot next door beckoned to have a proper sanctuary. By the following December, there were 88 members and a building fund balance of $2,086. Architect John Crook was retained, and Marilyn Melville co-chaired a fundraising drive where every family was encouraged to pledge 3% of their income to the building and 3.5% for the annual budget to keep a balance between the building and mission giving.
With the help of loans from the denomination, enough money was raised to hire Kelso contractor Jess Arledge to build an affordable structure. The groundbreaking ceremony was held in 1976 and additional funds came from the sale of 1.5 acres on the west end of the property. Volunteers gathered cedar bolts, split them into shingles, and roofed the building themselves. Other donations included the pastor’s mother’s piano, fireplace framing, interior painting, and landscaping outside the large picture windows.
The building was dedicated at a special service in 1977. Olympia Presbytery met at LPC that September and Jess Arledge added cabinets in the church office the following month. The new open spaces afforded plenty of opportunities for worship, education, baptisms, weddings, memorial services, fellowship, game and movie nights, as well as outreach to the community.
There were lots of children in the congregation in the early years. They met upstairs for Sunday School after the service began, engaging in energetic activities that sounded at times like thundering elephants to the congregation below. Community groups also used the building, including a co-op pre-school that continued for several years. The fellowship committee prepared monthly family dinners in the kitchen, and outdoor activities included family picnics, cruises, and church hikes.
Pastor Chuck was called to Albany, Oregon in late 1979, and an interim pastor served until The Reverend Donald Simpson was called the following October. In the meantime, Mt. Saint Helens eruptions began in March 1980 and continued off and on over the next six years. Workdays had to be cancelled because of ash fallout, but long-term effects were felt by Longview and neighboring communities. The forest products industry was hit especially hard, and population growth slowed to a trickle throughout the next decade.
As membership began to decline, special projects were undertaken to offset budgetary shortfalls and LPC was painted by volunteers in 1985. Nevertheless, outreach projects continued with furnishings and renovations to Community House and commitment to the Bread for the World program. A local AA group began meeting in the church and a freezer was donated for FISH. Pastor Simpson received his Doctor of Ministry degree in 1986 and was called to a church in Philadelphia in 1989.
The Longview economy picked up again during the 1990’s and population growth resumed. Volunteers built brick planters at the front entrance, and Jill Buccola painted the nursery while husband Steve built cabinets in the nursery and pastor’s office. The Reverend Michaela “Micki” Drummond, our first female pastor, was called in 1991 and served until 2002. She hosted a meeting of Olympia Presbytery in 1992, when Reverend Brock returned as guest preacher for the 20th Anniversary service that November.
George Robertson was elected Moderator of Olympia Presbytery for 1996. The mortgage was paid off that same year, new carpeting was installed, and a brick-and-redwood church sign was erected on the corner of 38th and Pennsylvania. After Micki Drummond departed, Longview Presbyterian was led by interims Deva McQueen, Serena Sullivan, and retired pastor Harlan Gilliand, who officiated when the 35th anniversary was celebrated in 2007.
Monthly Taizé services began in 2004 and the Deacon’s Fund was established in 2007. As national Presbyterian Church membership declined after 2000, LPC followed a similar track. Kelso First Presbyterian ultimately merged with Kelso First United Methodist in 2015 after having lost 100 members over the previous 30 years. LPC membership settled in around 60 and remained relatively unchanged through 2017. The Reverend Meghan Davis was called in 2009 and served until 2014. She was succeeded by interims Wendy Taylor and William Van Nostran.
The Reverends Liz and Dexter Kearny were called as co-pastors in the fall of 2016. Mission partnerships were established over the next three years to address hunger, homelessness, oppression, immigrant justice, and Hagar’s Community Church at the Washington Correction Center for women. To help ease the shortage of affordable housing, the congregation donated two acres to Housing Opportunities of Southwest Washington to build and manage 45 apartments.
New members added since 2017 have increased the total to 84 despite the COVID-19 pandemic. In-person attendance ended in March 2020 and all church meetings were conducted over ZOOM through 2021.