Church celebrating 70 years

Memorial Lutheran’s history interconnected with that of Vancouver during, after WWII

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

Published:

 

If you go

What: Memorial Lutheran Church’s 70th anniversary

Where: 2700 E. 28th St. (Grand Boulevard and 28th Street)

When: 9:30 a.m. Sunday service, followed by brunch and program

Brunch RSVP: www.mlc.org or call 360-695-7501

The black binder on Kathy White’s desk is an account of the events that have taken place at Memorial Lutheran Church in the past 70 years.

The volume, officially labeled “The Practical Church Record,” was part of another significant event: the fire of 1989.

After the blaze was extinguished, White asked a fireman if she could dash into the office and retrieve the book. With its record of marriages, baptisms and confirmations since 1943, it was the only thing in the building that couldn’t be replaced, she said.

The fireman told her, “We can’t allow you in,” recalled White, the church secretary since 1986.

Then the fireman went in and got it for her.

Because of that fire, worship services temporarily returned to the former U.S. Army chapel next to the church. And that military surplus chapel, moved from what’s now the Clark College campus, was the reason the church is named Memorial Lutheran.

Those are among the memories likely to be shared Sunday when Memorial Lutheran Church celebrates its 70th anniversary.

The church at 2700 E. 28th St. mirrors some significant events in Vancouver history, particularly during and just after World War II. The Kaiser shipyard started turning out vessels for the Allied war effort in 1942, drawing thousands of workers from all over the country to Vancouver.

According to a history of Memorial Lutheran, the church’s forerunner took shape in 1942 as “a place where the influx of workers could gather to hear God’s message of peace.”

“We had a sense of God calling us to bloom where we were planted,” said the Rev. Dan Adams, who arrived in 1989 as co-pastor.

In those 70 years, “We’ve adapted to changes in our neighborhood and community, with an appreciation for our heritage,” Adams said.

The commemoration included a concert over the weekend, as Timothy and Nancy LeRoi Nickel shared the three keyboards on the church’s pipe organ.

With more than 2,600 pipes, “It’s got lots and lots of colors and stops to play with,” Nancy LeRoi Nickel said. “It’s been a pleasure to be playing it this week.”

The husband-and-wife duo had all four hands on those keyboards while often using all four feet on the pedals — and if it sounds a little like dancing, it is.

“It does take an extraordinary amount of time to coordinate,” Timothy Nickel said following the Sunday afternoon performance.

They’ve had a musical partnership of almost 40 years, which helps, Nancy LeRoi Nickel said: “There is a lot of repetition. It gets into your muscle memory and your ears.”

That can complicate things slightly, her husband said: “You are so familiar with the sounds of the music, I’ll be playing Nancy’s part and not realize it, or she’s waiting for me to play a note and it’s her note to play.”

More than 70 years ago, the congregation’s first preaching service was conducted by the pastor of a Salmon Creek Lutheran church, in the parish hall of a Episcopal church at 26th and F streets. The congregation was formally organized on March 14, 1943, as Calvary Evangelical Lutheran; a prefabricated chapel was set up at 29th and K streets.

Post-war events also influenced the path of the church. Camp Hatheway, an Army installation on what now is the Clark College campus, was decommissioned and many of its buildings were put up for sale as surplus.

Calvary Lutheran bought the Army chapel for $1 and moved the building to its present location. As part of the deal, the congregation changed its name to Memorial Lutheran, honoring the troops who died in the war.

The congregation held services in the former Army chapel until 1964, said Jim Wulf, church custodian and lifelong member. That’s when the current Memorial Lutheran church was built, and the old chapel was assigned a supporting role.

Vancouver’s post-war demobilization also changed the church’s membership. In the mid-1950s, the wartime residential projects that had housed shipyard workers were eliminated, affecting about 80 percent of the church’s congregation, according to a church history. Many of them relocated

“What started as a neighborhood church, built for wartime workers, transitioned to a commuter church, with people driving in from further out,” Wulf said. “Now we have both neighborhood folks and commuter folks.”

In addition to honoring the church’s past, the Rev. Adams took the opportunity at Sunday’s event to look forward, asking God’s help to “inspire and equip us for the next 70 years of service to your kingdom.