Our Church

Church History

The First Presbyterian Church in La Grande began with six charter members on April 25, 1886, served by the Reverends J.C. Willert of Summerville and C.R. Shields of Joseph. A building was dedicated that December, built near the new town on a triangular site donated by the railroad. The Board of Home Missions subsidized the Church until 1902, when its 133 members became self-supporting.

The Church grew to 315 members by 1912, when Dr. A.G. Lane became pastor. He introduced the first Session committee system and saw the construction of a branch Sunday School chapel before his death in 1914. Before the Church sold it in 1923, Lane Chapel enrolled up to 115 Sunday Scholars on La Grande's north side. The Good Shepherd window, in the back of the sanctuary, memorializes Dr. Lane.

World War I called away not only members, but the Church's permanent pastor, when the Rev. George L. Clark became YMCA field secretary for southern France. Whitman College professors helped fill the gap but, at one point, a harried pulpit committee recommended that local Protestant churches confederate for the duration of the war. Following the war, fortunes improved rapidly. After receiving 90 new members in a year, the Church appointed a building committee in 1921, dedicated a new sanctuary on the site of the original building in May 1924, and added a new pipe organ the following year.

The prosperous 1920's left the Church with 400 members and an average Sunday School attendance of 200, but the Depression dealt a harsh blow. The Rev. J. George Walz, who arrived in 1927 at a salary of $2700, would see his salary fall to $800 and find the Church unable to make payments on the manse (Presbyterian for “minister's residence”). There was gradual recovery by the late 1930's and renewed strength during the war and postwar periods.

The 20 year pastorate of the Rev. Louis Samson saw membership exceed 500 during the 1950's, and saw, as well, the building of a Christian Education wing in 1951, with the third story added in 1958. During the 1970's, under Pastors Jack MacLeod and Barry Heath, lay leadership expanded, the Church sponsored two Cambodian refugee families, and Reynolds Hall was remodeled. Dr. Stephen Kliewer brought the Church into its second century with two Sunday morning services and a thriving Sunday School.

The Rev. Norman L. Shrumm next served the congregation as pastor from 1988 until 2004. During his years of service, Church Fellowship Night, a Wednesday event offering food, fellowship, education, and outreach was added to the ministries of the Church. The congregation also developed the old Hub City Foods property into the Presbyterian Friendship Center, which serves both Church and community.

Eighteen months without full-time clergy followed Pastor Norm's departure. Many lay members and area clergy filled in as worship leaders, reaffirming the strength of the Church family. In December 2005, the Rev. Andrew M. Kennaly arrived to begin his ministry with this congregation. Pastor Kennaly served the Church through December 2007, and again the congregation found itself without a pastor. Reverend Larry Loftus (a retired Methodist minister) graciously agreed to provide pulpit supply and pastoral support from April 2008 until a new pastor was found.

In November 2009 prayers were answered with the arrival of the Reverends Keith and Laura Hudson, who were installed as the new pastors of First Presbyterian Church Thanksgiving weekend 2009.

Fun Facts:

The Congregation
Organized on April 25, 1886 with six charter members. Served by 23 pastors over 120 years (longest tenure: Rev. Louis M. Samson, 1948-1968) Highest reported membership: 560 in 1968. Current active membership: 203.

The Sanctuary
Dedicated May 4, 1924, built at a cost of $30,000. Built on the site of the original church building, on land donated by the railroad. The original building was dedicated in December 1886 and built at a cost of $2122. Seating capacity: main floor: 160; balcony 50.

The Organ
The first organ was dedicated March 6, 1925, purchased at a cost of $5500. A new organ was acquired in 1991, built by Bond Organ Builders at a total cost of about $109,000, funded in large part by a generous donation from the Nell Mahaffey estate and numerous other gifts and memorials. The new organ uses the chimes and some of the pipes and framework from the old organ. The two manual organ has about 2000 pipes, with 16 stops and 18 ranks.

The Piano
The piano is a Kohler Campbell grand. It was given in 2001 by a family of this church as a memorial to their mother, who died in 1999.

The Handbells
5 octaves of English handbells, 3 octaves of MelodyChimes, generously funded by the Hoffman-Waller Memorials.

The Christian Education Wing
Dedicated April 22, 1951, and built at a cost of $34,990. Third floor addition dedicated January 26, 1958. Offices remodeled in 2005. Sunday School rooms, meeting rooms, staff offices.

Reynolds Hall
Named for Lee Reynolds, Church School Superintendent 1942-1955, Trustee, and Boy Scout leader until his death in1981 Church basement meeting room beneath the sanctuary with full kitchen. Maximum capacity: 80.

Richardson Parlor
Named for Mrs. Lillian B. Richardson, Director of Music from 1912-1944. Livingroom-style meeting area in the Christian Education wing. Maximum capacity: 30.