History of St. Michael’s
St Michael’s Lutheran Church was formally organized on Reformation Day (October 31), 1948 as a mission of the Northwest District of the LCMS (at the time it was known as the Oregon – Washington District). From its inception it was closely associated with Concordia Academy (later University), meeting on campus and counting all the students as “Associate Members.” Many of its leaders and members were drawn from the CU community and in the first decade of the 20th century its pastor also served as the campus Pastor for the students of Concordia.
The congregation purchased the property on which the church is now located almost immediately (1948). A parsonage was erected in 1951 (it stood on the open space between Faubion and Concordia’s campus). After worshiping in several spaces within the Concordia campus, the congregation explored the construction of a church building in 1957. The responses were enthusiastic and in 1959 the current building was dedicated to the Glory of God in a festive series of services spanning three days and attended by over 1000 people. We recently found some footage made during the construction of the church. You can watch this brief (8 minute) video here.
At its 25th anniversary (1973) the congregation had 542 baptized members of whom 361 were communicant members. The booklet prepared at that time noted the highly transient nature of the St. Michael’s membership. Of the original members, only 4 were still on the roster. Of the first 100 members of the congregation, only eight remained in the community. The pastor at the time, Rev. Oswald Wagner, was sounding an alarm that the parish had entered a decline, citing its struggles to reach into the local neighborhood and the departure of many families to distant neighborhoods and suburbs of the city.
The intervening years have seen the members of St. Michael’s work hard to reverse its decline but with little numerical success. At the same time, St Michael’s has remained a vibrant congregation. Here is a video from its 50th anniversary in 1998 which includes photos from the founding of the congregation. As Concordia University and the neighborhood changed, the original mission of the congregation also was forced to change from being focused on the faculty, staff, and students at a small Lutheran college. That was dramatically brought home by the closure of Concordia University in 2020. We continue to benefit from Concordia’s proximity and our long relationship with the university. Our organist retired as the CU music director. Several members of the congregation are either former faculty/staff or are the children of faculty/staff of the university, but we also are eager to see what the coming years will bring.
In the post-COVID-19 world, St. Michael’s is redefining itself and eager for the new tasks which our Lord Jesus has in mind for us. In 2019 Phillip Brandt, a faculty member at Concordia, was asked to serve as our regular preacher. Upon the closure of the university in 2020, he accepted the call to be the pastor. We have seen new opportunities to reach both into our immediate community and into the larger world open up for us. We have become a hub of activities serving the children and families of our community through summer camps, after school programming, and more. Portland Chamber Orchestra has made St. Michael’s their NE Portland site, and These Numbers Have Faces, an organization which helps young people in Rwanda has moved into our building.