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Many Estacada area churches say membership is stable or increasing in recent years

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: WALLY MCDERMED - Members of Clackamas Valley Baptist Church strive to connect with community members of all ages.

For several years, a series of local churches came together to worship outside after the Estacada Summer Celebration. A pastor from one church would offer a sermon, and worship teams from different churches would facilitate other parts of the service.

Church in the Park is just one unique element of Estacada's religious community. Though the town is small, there is an abundance of opportunities for those who wish to practice their faith. The Estacada area is home to approximately 15 churches, most of which are Christian in denomination. Many local churches report an increase or stable number of attendees for the past several years, showing the important role faith holds for many in the community.

Wally McDermed, pastor at Clackamas Valley Baptist Church, said the number of churches in the area is indicative of the role faith has around town.

"It's a huge deal," he said. "People are looking to find God, and there's so much opportunity here to do that. I think that's the main role religion plays here."

Because the area is home to many places of worship, several pastors say it's easy to find one that fits your needs.

"We have a very diverse community, and that's probably reflected in the number of churches in Estacada," said Brent Dodrill, pastor at Estacada First Baptist Church and former mayor of the city. "We have a lot of things in common, but we do things quite differently as well. If you showed up on Sunday morning, you'd see some things the same, but you'd hear a lot of differences. The music would be different, the preaching style would be different, how media is used is different."

McDermed added that "Estacada has a lot of options."

"You can definitely find somewhere in Estacada that will fit how you want to feel and how you want to worship, whether it's contemporary or conservative or liberal," he said.

Estacada Community Fellowship, a nondenominational, Bible-based church, strives to connect people who might otherwise feel disenfranchised.

"We are a very different group. You could call us eclectic or a bunch of misfits," said co-pastor Bill Youngberg. "A lot of our people, in the beginning especially, were people that had been hurt in church. We keep it very simple. Our motto is to love God and love each other."

The church was formed approximately 10 years ago. Initially, members met in one another's homes until they expanded to their current location on Main Street.

"We found it was a great healing place for a lot of people," Youngberg said. "One thing I've learned is that your faith will not thrive if you're not in community with believers."

Many of Estacada's churches, particularly those that are smaller in size, offer a close-knit environment.

"We communicate like a family, and we share like a family," said Susan Graham, pastor at Springwater Presbyterian Church. Throughout its 127-year history, the church has typically had around 50 members, with 35-40 attending regularly. "Other congregations I've been a part of are a bit larger, so they get a little bit more corporate in the way they communicate. This is a very warm community, and those have been as well, but it's easier to kind of hide some place. It is clear when you walk in the door (here). You are seen and invited."

Many Estacada pastors believe the reason people attend church remains the same over the years.

"I don't see any other reason why they're coming except to know that they're loved, and it's a safe place and they're encouraged," said Palmer Crandell, lead pastor at Estacada Assembly of God Church. "They know they're not journeying alone."

McDermed also believes the opportunity for connection is valuable.

"(Church) offers a place where people can connect together in a way outside of their own family, where they call people outside of their family 'family,'" he said. "I think that's the biggest thing — finding a joy in being around other people. I don't know that that's changed a whole bunch (over time)."

Youngberg appreciates the support that Estacada Community Fellowship provides

its members during difficult times.

"It's good to have something to fall back on," he said. "That's what our people are the best at. If somebody's having any kind of problem, they're all over them, taking them meals and just helping them get through. That's the big thing about living in community. We're all kind of going through this journey together, so we need to help each other do that."

Dodrill noted that particularly today, belonging to a faith community is also valuable because it provides participants with a clear sense of truth.

"We live in a culture right now that makes truth kind of relative, what (truth) is to you may be different than what it is to me, but that relativism doesn't give us freedom," he said. "It actually puts us in a bondage because then it's like, 'I'm somehow left to deter-

mine what is truth? Am I capable of determining what is truth?'"

Dodrill described being in such a position as "binding and confining," which is why he believes it's valuable "to say this is truth, God's given us his word and that is truth.

"There are two things that encapsulate the needs of everybody," he continued. "One is a need for truth, and that truth will always point us to Jesus. That's why a church that is committed to God and to the truth of God's word is also going to be committed to presenting Jesus as the ultimate answer. I don't think that ever changes."

Though many of the reasons why those in the Estacada community attend church have stayed constant, the way in which some people worship has changed with time.

Dodrill noted that many parishioners of Estacada First Baptist Church attend Sunday services several times a month rather than every week.

"I think culturally, in general, not as many people (think), 'We're going to go to church.' We try to engage them through other avenues," he said. "We have life groups that meet during the week that many of our people participate in, which is another way to connect. I recognize that Sunday morning is not the only time and only way that people can connect with each other spiritually or connect with the Lord."

Dodrill thinks these groups are helpful because they meet attendees spiritual needs, potentially in a different way than attending church on Sundays does.

"(Our service on Sunday is) not really participant oriented. It's more you come, sing some songs, and then you listen, and then you go out," he said. "Whereas what happens (in the groups) is much more personal involvement and discussion. It's really taking God's word and not just having somebody tell you what it means. We believe that the Bible is not just for information — it really is for transforming our lives as it's applied."

Dodrill sees value in elements of Christianity that provide different ways for people to explore their faith.

"That's just what Jesus did," he said. "He really didn't live his life in a way where he expected people to come to him. He went out and he was with them, and he was teaching in their synagogues, he was talking with them on the seashore and he was walking through the cities and he engaged people."

Many Estacada churchgoers strive to engage with their fellow community members through service.

Churches organize weekly community meals, fundraise for the less fortunate and serve the community in several other ways. Clackamas Valley Baptist Church has a group called Estacada Community Outreach that is focused on serving the community in several different ways, including a free breakfast each month.

"Part of the reason for being in community in a church is to train up a group of people for service, because if you're not reaching out and taking care of your community, you're just not doing it right," Youngberg said.

In addition to local service activities, some churches serve communities outside of the area. For example, this past summer Springwater Presbyterian Church went on a mission trip to help a family in West Virginia rebuild their home.

"The church goes about every other year for an outward, traveling mission," Graham said. "We also want to make sure we're constantly involved locally."

Church leaders strive to maintain an atmosphere of collaboration around town.

"I think one of the main attributes of Estacada is that we look for ways to do things together," said Crandell, citing the Church in the Park tradition. For several years after the annual Summer Celebration, multiple denominations would gather in the field near Clackamas River Elementary School for a worship service.

"Even though we go to different places of fellowship, we're still in the family of God together," Crandell added. "I think that's important for everyone to see. We're about contributing hope to the entire community and whoever is making inroads in one area, we want to encourage them in that and strengthen them in that and honor them in that. Jesus said the kingdom of God is to expand, not your local church is to expand."

In addition to Church in the Park, Estacada's faith communities collaborate with one another on several projects, including one that provides backpacks with food to students who need them.

"The fact that churches come together on these things, we really like to see that," Graham said.

To further the spirit of connectivity and collaboration, a group of pastors meet weekly for prayer and fellowship. Facilitated by Estacada First Baptist Church, the group consists of leaders from approximately eight churches in the area and is called the Evangelical Ministerial Association of Greater Estacada, or EMAGE.

Participating pastors appreciate the opportunity to come together.

Graham noted that it "has been neat to see the way that (other churches) are earnestly loving this community."

Dodrill enjoys celebrating similarities and differences.

"Everybody's preaching something different," he said. "We're all coming from different denominations, so we all preach differently and look at the scripture differently, but the point is, we all go to scripture for direction, for truth. And so how do we present truth? That's our challenge, and that's how we support one another."

Though Estacada's churches enjoy a collaborative nature, some would like to see even more inter-denominational involvement.

"Sometimes people don't like to go outside their own walls," McDermed said, noting that he believes it would be great to see people from different churches coming together for more programs. "I think people have in their mind it's some sort of competition."

Dodrill encouraged increased collaboration as well.

"The Bible uses the word church in a couple different ways. It uses it in a local context of gatherings of people, and it also uses it in a more universal sense," he said. "There's actually one church on the planet — all of the followers of Jesus, and we're united in Jesus."

In addition to collaboration, Crandell noted that hope is also a valuable element of many Estacada churches.

"Our motto is that we're real people living real life with real hope, and we want to make sure that everybody knows they have a place when they come here and attend," he said. "It's really about belonging to a family and knowing that you're loved."

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