II. FORMATION AND WORK OF THE FIRST ASSOCIATION
In the summer of 1848 the brethren desired to unite their efforts for the cause of Christ by a more general correspondence, and Brother David T. Lenox, by direction of the West Union church, published the following call for a meeting to organize an Association.
NOTICE TO BAPTIST CHURCHES
"The Baptist church on Tualatin Plains to the Baptist churches throughout the Territory:
"Beloved Brethren: In the providence of Almighty God. a few from the Great body of Christians, who profess one Lord, one Faith, one baptism. have been planted as lights on the western coasts of this great continent, and having been blessed in many instances with the outpourings of the Spirit of God, and His presence walking in the midst of the churches; and having rejoiced in the return and reconciliation of sinners to God, and in the up-building of His Zion, causing her to rejoice in the hope of the glory of God: We are therefore, brethren, loudly called on to strengthen the bond of union by a more general correspondence; and as it meets with the views of the clergy of our denomination, and is well pleasing and desirous to us, we therefore cordially invite our sister churches, and all Baptist ministers throughout the Territory, to meet with us in Convention, by delegation, on Friday, June 23, 1848, for the purpose of organizing an Association." Written by order of the church.
DAVID T. LENOX.
The brethren met and organized the first Association on the Pacific coast; the Willamette. Rev. Ezra Fisher, Moderator; David T. Lenox, Clerk. The articles of Faith in the Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge were adopted as an expression of their religious belief. They also raised $107.50 for Rev. Vincent Snelling to travel and preach within the bounds of the Association for one year, and an appointment for him was secured from the A. B. H. M. Society, but not accepted; Brother Snelling going to the California gold mines. For the same reason, so many of the members left for Califomia, that the Willarnette Association held no session in 1849; the only failure during the century. In 1850, Brother Snelling was again recommended, $300 asked, and a second appointment secured, but not accepted. Reason unknown. The destitution of the surrounding country was carefully considered at every session, and aid frequently solicited. In 1852, Rev. William Sperry was put into the general field, and $500 pledged for his support, and committees and solicitors appointed to push the work. He labored 8 months. In 1854, Rev. R. D. Gray and C. C. Riley were employed. In 1856, one of the missionaries, Rev. G. W. Bond, was aided to buy a horse, as he had previously been compelled to travel on foot, often, in the winter, wading long distances in water from three or four inches to a foot in depth on the sloppy prairies to his appointments. He would pull off his shoes and socks, wade through, redress his feet, and march on, singing his favorite songs; and this on a salary of from $50 to $100 a year! And it illustrates what sacrifices and work for Christ meant 40 and 50 years ago!
Sometimes a missionary was assigned to a special field; sometimes he went as he thought the Lord directed him. In 1851, Salem was recommended to the A. B. H. M. Society as a very important field, but no aid was secured. The appointment of Rev. Ezra Fisher as a general missionary, or "Exploring Agent" was most heartily endorsed. To aid the feeble churches, a system of "Yearly Meetings" was inaugurated, when, at stated times, two or more ministers would meet with a church desiring them, and hold a meeting of several days, continuing as long as the interest appeared to justify, thus giving the feebler churches at least, "one good meeting" during the year. A few of the churches had regular preaching once a month, but with many of the earlier churches, the preaching was very irregular. But with the aid of prayer meetings, Sunday Schools, and an occasional sermon from some passing minister, they managed to keep up considerable interest. Nearly every family took some religious newspaper, and religious books were being introduced as fast as circumstances permitted. The A. B. P. Society early had a Colporteur here, of which work more will be said further on. The Report of Rev. G. C. Chandler in 1854 gives a flood of information on the denominational situation at that time, and is given entire.
The Missionary Committee beg leave to offer the following Report:
"As we were appointed to report on the ways and means for supplying the destitution of our Territory, we call attention to the fact that we have but 17 churches, and 442 communicants in the whole settled portion of our Territory, extending from the mouth of the Columbia river to The Dalles, above the Cascade mountains; and from the Columbia river up the Willamette embracing the Willamette valley, and still extending south, including the Umpqua and Rogue river valleys to the line of California. This Territory now has a population of about 4,500 inhabitants, and this number constantly increasing. Thus we find one Baptist communicant to 104 inhabitants. Among the scattered settlements through all this Territory, your committee find a very general inclination towards Baptist sentiments. Wherever your ministers travel and preach, they find the inhabitants not only generally inclined to listen to our doctrine and practices, but often expressing much anxiety to be supplied with our kind of preaching. We find many settlements already supplied with from 5 to 20 Baptist members, who are anxiously inquiring for a Baptist minister to come among them, organize them into a church, and break to them the Bread of Life. Among these we name the following: A settlement on the main road from the Willamette to the Umpqua valley, at the foot of the Calapooia mountains; a settlement on the south fork of the Yamhill river, at the foot of the Coast range of mountains; also, a new settlement in Powell's valley, between Oregon City and the mouth of Sandy. Others could be named with equal propriety. Each of these settlements, with many others, should have a minister of our denomination, whose only business is to study, pray, preach, and go from house to house gathering the sheep and lambs into the fold of Christ.
Your committee also call attention to our towns and villages. We have on the Columbia river, Astoria, St. Helens, Fort Vancouver, Cascades, and The Dalles. On the Willamette and its tributaries, Portland, Milwaukie, Oregon City, Lafayette, Salem, Albany, Corvallis; in the Rogue River valley, Table Rock. There should be a Baptist minister located in each of these towns, who should give himself wholly to the ministry in the town and the surrounding country. There is a church at Oregon City, one at Corvallis and one at Table Rock, leaving 10 towns without a Baptist church. These towns are in various stages of progress, but all of them evidently places of commanding influence, and should be immediately supplied with the Gospel as sustained by our churches. Your committee further solicit the attention of the Association to the painful fact that among all the churches of the Territory there is not one church supplied with constant preaching and pastoral labor. By constant preaching and pastoral labor, we mean preaching every Lord's day, and labor, public and private in the social circle, in the family, in the conference meeting and Sunday School, for the religious improvement of the people. We say it is a painful fact that we have not a Baptist church in the Territory supplied with the constant labors of a minister of the cross of Christ, whose only business is to labor to win souls to Christ, and to feed the sheep and lambs of the flocks. If there are exceptions, they are Oregon City and West Union churches. Since the organization of the Oregon City church in 1847, it has been supplied with preaching on the Sabbath regularly; mostly by Brethren Johnson and Fisher, but these brethren have always been so connected with other business, that they have been able to give but a very small amount of time to labor for the church and people aside from Sabbath preaching. The West Union church, since its organization in 1844, has been supplied with monthly preaching only, and but little pastoral labor till the fall of 1852, when Elder R. Weston settled on a claim among them. Since then, (about 18 months) he has supplied them with preaching on the Sabbath, but he has been able to perform but a small amount of pastoral labor, and to give himself but very little time to study, as he felt compelled to devote himself very much to manual labor for the maintenance of his family. Other churches have been supplied with preaching some two Sabbaths in the month; mostly, only one; and some at longer, irregular intervals, with little or no pastoral labor. In passing from this gloomy picture of the great Baptist wants of our country generally, our particular settlements, our towns and villages, and our beloved churches, your committee can but stop and rejoice, and bless God for His great grace in bestowing such blessings upon the country, and especially upon the feeble churches, ever since the organization of the first one in May, 1844; only 10 years last May. In 1846, 2 churches were organized; in 1847, 1 ; 1848, 2; in 1849, 1850, 1851, 3; in 1853, 2; in 1854, 4; making 18 received by the Association, and 17 now remaining. At the first meeting of the Association in 1848 the churches numbered 87 communicants; at the meeting in 1854, they numbered 442. During the last year many of our churches have been visited by the special influences of God's Spirit in quickening the hearts of His children, and in the conversion of souls, so that 106 have been added to the Association by baptism. Surely, God has exceeded our anticipations, and it becomes us to praise Him for His goodness. From the above we learn that only one church that has been received into the Association has lost its existence, whilst most of the others have been growing in numbers, and we trust in Christian efficiency. But whilst God has blessed us in the midst of our infantile weakness and deficiencies, we feel that we cannot stop to rejoice over these precious fruits, but that we must still be more abundant in labor, that by the grace of God we may extend our borders and be permitted to rejoice in the exhibitions of His grace in the salvation of a great multitude of souls around us.
In order to do this, your committee believe that the Gospel must be more fully, more constantly, more faithfully, and with more dependence on God, preached to both saint and sinner. They therefore suggest that the Association recommend that each church be most earnestly solicited to make immediate effort to secure the services of some minister already in the Territory; and
that they make an effort, even if it costs them some sacrifices of property beyond what might be duty under other circumstances, to pay him a fair compensation for his entire labor as a minister of the Gospel, and if they can spare him a part of the time, let him be at liberty to preach in the surrounding settlements where there are no churches. Let every church and every individual be earnestly requested to take this matter into prayerful consideration, and not rest satisfied without making some sacrifice on their part to have the gospel preached among them and their neighbors regularly, and to have their brethren in the ministry engaged in their appropriate work. And if the churches think it would assist them in carrying it forward, let them solicit the cooperation of the Exploring agent of the A. B. H. M. Society, Elder E. Fisher, in raising funds among themselves and in the settlements around them. Your committee considered the propriety of an effort in the Association to sustain one or more ministers as evangelists, and they find it difficult forming an opinion on this important subject, and prefer leaving it for the more direct consideration of the Association. They also feel oppressively anxious that something should be done to place ministers of our denomination in the towns of the Territory. As they have said before, each of the 11 towns named should have a Baptist minister located in it to labor entirely to supply the spiritual wants of the people. But we call the attention of the Association more particularly to Portland, Oregon City, Salem, Albany, Corvallis and Table Rock. The church at Oregon City will never, by the Grace of God, rest until they see this accomplished. They are now anxiously awaiting the arrival of one who shall give his entire time to the improvement of the church and community. We trust the churches at Corvallis and Table Rock will do the same. Portland, Salem and Albany, are substantially missionary ground. Can the Association unite their wisdom and devise a plan by which we can plant the standard of the cross, as we understand it, in each of these permanently growing places?
Respectfully submitted. .
"GEORGE C. CHANDLER, Chairman of Committee."
Brother Chandler's statistics are from the Minutes. Records, counting unassociated and extinct churches make 23 churches organized in all at that time.
Ministers' and deacons' meetings were usually held in connection with Associations, at which various denominational questions were discussed. Occasionally a candidate was baptized. At nearly every session committees were appointed on domestic missions, and advised to employ itinerant ministers, consider fields, provide means for their support if possible, and to exercise a general supervision over these matters. Reports of ministerial labor were often called for. Thanks were offered the H. M. Society for aid rendered, and prayers, sympathy, and means promised, to the extent of ability , In 1850, an Educational Society was organized which recommended Oregon City as a suitable place to found a College, and before the close of this period, ( 1856 ) had expended in work and cash over $4,000 for this purpose, at that place. Often the membership was so scattered that night sessions were impracticable, and some kind of religious service would be held at the places of hospitality; neighbors collecting. At the general place of meeting, two sermons a day was the rule, with three or four on Sunday.
In 1855, the churches had so increased in numbers and membership, that the question of dividing the Association for local convenience was discussed and in 1856, the time of meeting to thus organize, together with the place, and the preacher of the Introductory Sermon, were all provided for. Also, in 1855, the Association recommended that measures be taken to secure, as early as possible, a depository of the books of the A. B. P. Society at some convenient point in Oregon, and a committee appointed to carry the same into effect. In 1856, the death of Rev. Vincent Snelling, was reported--the first death of an ordained Baptist minister in Oregon, and it was
"Resolved: That in the death of Brother Snelling we deeply feel the loss of one of our strong pillars and active and efficient co-laborers for the cause of Christ within our denomination."
And after paying for the printing of the Minutes, the surplus, money in the treasury was ordered to be paid to his widow. ($46.35). The Luckiamute and the Santiam rivers was recommended as the dividing line between the two Associations. McMinnville school, a private enterprise, was offered to the Baptists, and a report on Education adopted, relating mostly to selecting a site for a proposed school.
In 1853, the brethren began to talk of a denominational paper, and in 1854, recommended the organization of a publishing company for that purpose, and in 1855, the following action was taken:
Whereas: The time has come in the providence of God when the denomination in Oregon Territory should have a denominational paper; our wants imperiously demand one; our increase in numbers and means encourage us to believe that we can now sustain one; therefore,
"Resolved: That we make an effort to establish a Baptist newspaper as a medium of denominational correspondence and improvement, in size suitable to our wants; and that Brethren Boyakin, Fisher, and Chandler be appointed a committee to take such measures as in their judgment would be likely to secure and establish the same, and report at the next meeting of the Association."
In the spring of 1856, there being little or no indications of any practical action by the committee, and being stimulated by this apparent desire of the denomination for something of the kind, C. H. Mattoon organized a stock company, bought a press and material, and started a Baptist newspaper in Oregon, called "THE RELIGIOUS EXPOSITOR." The first issue was at Eola, Polk County, May 6, 1856, but afterwards in was moved to Corvallis. It favored prohibition on the Temperance question, but no particular issue being then before the people, the discussion was only general. It was anti-slavery, so far as Oregon was concerned, but otherwise discussion was thought unnecessary and dangerous to the peace and harmony of the churches because the larger per cent of the Baptists of Oregon, at that time were from the Southern States. Otherwise the paper was Baptist; outspoken, first, last, and foremost. With 26 issues, the publication ceased. The causes of the failure were, the denominational strength was too weak, (about 1,000 , strong), the paper on too large a scale, the expenses too high, "Patent Aids" unknown in Oregon at that time, and possibly some other causes. The Editor sold the outfit at a fair figure, bought up the most of the stock, and with an empty pocket, and a plenty of experience, determined to let newspaper publishing alone. Possibly, the paper had its mission, and it is hoped the money and labor was not all spent for naught. The paper was voted in 1856, as "a medium of denominational correspondences."
Much interest was excited at the Association in 1856, on the passage of a resolution recommending churches to purchase libraries for their ministers. Hardly had it been adopted when Rev. Boyakin offered to furnish the first church that would buy a $20 library for its pastor, with a complete set of Fuller's works; and the next two churches that would do the same, with Bunyan's complete works in 8 volumes. The offer was at once accepted by at least half a dozen messengers from as many different churches. Rev. Boyakin was bothered, for each claimed precedence. He finally urged that the library must first be purchased, and they were only advancing the money on this condition. The Corvallis church took the first premium for brother Rexford; who took the other premiums is unknown. (Forgotten). A somewhat singular discussion arose from an oversight, possibly. In passing two resolutions which apparently conflicted, the first stated our further need of "a missionary board," and the second disapproved of any "organization having money for its basis." Some thought this was an indirect movement towards an endorsement of the Free Mission Society, instead of the A. B. H. M. Society. A reconsideration of the vote was secured and the decision reversed. But the strangest part of the discussion was that the advocates of the first two resolutions were for the most part Northern and anti-slavery men, whilst their opponents were Southern men, accused of being pro-slavery, and it was these men who held the Association true to its allegiance to the A. B. H. M. Society of New York.
A synopsis of statistics may aid in giving clearer views of the situation at the close of this period. Of the 36 church organizations, or efforts at organization, a half a dozen or so had not reported, and some never did report. Two had died, and some had hard work to live. Of ordained ministers, 28 had arrived, and three licentiates; 5 had been aided by the A. B. H. M. Society of New York; the others came at their own charges. From the North came 18; 13 from the South. They came from nearly every State east of the Rocky mountains, Iowa and Missouri predominating. Three or four were well educated; the others had only common school advantages. The Oregon churches licensed 11; 5 of these were afterwards ordained; 4 had died, or afterwards left the Territory, 1 was excluded, and the others labored mostly in their own immediate neighborhoods. The most of them had families, and all were poor. A few had trades; R. C. Hill was a physician; Berkley was a painter; Weston was a blacksmith; Magers was a house builder; Chandler, Post and Mattoon were school teachers; the rest were farmers, but the most of them were not experts, and no record shows that any of them got rich at that business. With a slight exception or two for some short interval, no church had preaching oftener than once a month, and some not even that; but all were workers. With three or four exceptions the churches were in the country, and religion was regarded as an earnest, living reality for every day life. Hence, the prospects of the denomination at the end of this period were more encouraging. Many circumstances gave stimulus to action, and the results began to be manifest. Even with all the depressions and disadvantages of the first twelve years of labor, 420 converts had been baptized, we had spent nearly $2,000 for itinerant missionary work, helped our pastors to the best of our ability, paid some $4,000 to start a high school at Oregon City , built a half a dozen small, neat meeting houses, costing over $6,000, and seating 1,400 people, and felt very well satisfied with our work. In fact, considering our weak force, the poverty of our people, and the magnitude of our work, the old Oregonians of today look back upon it with thankfulness, and imagine that we were as well equipped, and as able, and as valiant to meet the issues and demands then made upon us; and that we then organized our forces; spread the work of evangelization, established, built up, and indoctrinated our churches, fully as thoroughly, and as successfully as our brethren of today for their requirements.
And the brethren worked on, and prayed, and hoped, trusting in God. All were inured to hardships, and ready for future conquests. Revival followed revival in many parts of the Territory, and Zion, which had languished, now began to bud and blossom. Churches flourished, and the influence of the Baptists began to be felt in the surrounding communities. No questions had arisen to cause any serious disturbance in the denomination, although some brethren of wise experience and careful forethought, were somewhat apprehensive of the slavery issues. But as yet there was nothing imminent. The troubles, if any, were local, and mostly arose from cases of discipline, or from efforts at harmonizing conflicting early customs and teachings. At this early day, among the early Baptists of Oregon, there were no jarring discords worthy the name, and the stories sometimes reported, or even published, have not, as a general thing, enough truth about them to call for any attention whatever. Such was the situation, and such were the prospects of the Baptists of Oregon at the close of the first period of their existence. They felt that their strength was in God, and "they rejoiced and took courage."