A History of Valley Covenant Church, 1975 – 2015
The first seeds of Valley Covenant Church were planted in the Spring of 1972 when Ralph Hanson, the Evangelical Covenant North Pacific Conference Superintendent, visited Eugene to talk to former Covenanters about developing a Covenant work in this area. Several of the families he talked to were interested in being part of a fellowship group.
As a result, weekly Bible studies in private homes began later that year. In 1973, Jim and Madge Morgan from Trinity Covenant Church in Salem began driving down each week to provide leadership to the small study group. This was the beginning of the mothering that the Salem church would provide during the infancy of the church in Eugene.
Although some families moved, new families came to join the group, which involved five to seven families. Members of the group learned to support and encourage one another. Dorothy and Ray Haase, and Ralph and Ruth Carlson were part of that first group. Jim and Joyce Young soon joined. Art and Doris Elowson were also interested but found it difficult to get out on week nights.
Small groups such as this initial fellowship continued to be an important part of Valley Covenant for many years.
On May 22, 1972, Conference Superintendent Ralph Hanson held the first meeting to discuss a Covenant Fellowship in Eugene. The meeting was held at the Elowson’s home and attendees signed Doris Elowson’s guest book.
The leadership of the Covenant was apparently very sure that there would eventually be a Covenant Church in Eugene, because in the summer of 1972 representatives from Covenant Properties visited here to purchase property for a church.
Jim Young remembers that one of the criteria for selecting a site was “Would it be a good location for a gas station?” It had to be on an accessible corner where lots of people would pass by.
Covenant Properties purchased a 3.8 acre site in West Eugene, at the corner of 18th and Bailey Hill Road. A Frontier Friends appeal raised over $11,000 to help with the purchase.
The group continued to meet throughout 1973 and 1974. In the Spring of 1974, Jim Morgan resigned his leadership role. In August of that year Alton Peterson, the pastor at Trinity Covenant in Salem, and Ray Dahlberg, the North Pacific Conference Superintendent, met with the fellowship group to explain what they needed to do to incorporate and expand the ministry.
The step of incorporation was a big decision, so the group took several months to pray about and discuss what they should do. In October of 1974, they elected a five-member board and began the steps necessary to incorporate. In January 1975, the group became Valley Covenant Fellowship, a non-profit corporation in the State of Oregon. The documents for incorporation were signed by Ralph Carlson, Dorothy Haase, John Linquist, Bev Munkres and James Young.
The New Church
The spring of 1975 was a busy one for the little group as they found a place to meet and prepared to start Sunday services. There were many details to handle — insurance, supplies, rental expenses, equipment, finding speakers for the services, among a myriad of other issues.
After looking into several possible locations to hold Sunday services, the board decided on the Central Lane YMCA chapel. The rental was $17.50 a week. The date for the first service was set, and the board planned the service.
June 1, 1975, was a very special day as Jim Morgan led the new church in its first Sunday morning service. Members from each of the six core families participated in some way in the service.
In the weeks that followed, a variety of Covenant pastors and missionaries made their way to Eugene to share in the Sunday services.
Shortly after that first Sunday service, one group member described the new church this way: “The venture in faith is awesome, exciting and challenging. We have seen as many as 38 in the worship service in our second month. Pray with us as we discover our individual and corporate selves as members of the body of Christ.”
In January 1976, the new congregation was chartered as Valley Covenant Church, a member of the Evangelical Covenant Church, with 24 members signing the original charter.
The Tradition of Molalla
On October 10, 11, and 12, 1975, Valley Covenant Fellowship held its first family retreat at Molalla. It was an informal weekend for fellowship and fun, the first of the annual Molalla weekend retreats that continued until 1996. Many members over the years were baptized in the Molalla River.
The First Pastor
Among the attendees at the first retreat were David and Karen Erickson. David had come as a pastoral candidate. The following week the church extended a call to him to be their pastor, and he promptly accepted.
Late in 1975, the Ericksons and their two children made the move from St. Cloud, Minnesota to Eugene. An installation service was held on January 4, 1976. The new pastor and his family quickly went to work. The bulletin from January 11, 1976 indicates that Karen sang a solo.
The Ericksons served the church until March 1979 and added a son to their family during that time.
The “Little Pink Building”
The church met in several places over the next few years. From August, 1976 to July 1977 the congregation used facilities in Churchill High School. Those were the years of our country’s energy crisis, so the building was not heated on the week-ends. The rental contract with the school district includes this statement: HEAT THERMOSTATS WILL BE SET AT 55. Churchill High School was definitely not comfortable!
The next meeting place for church was a building in the River Road area that everyone referred to as the “little pink building.” This was a small building that belonged to a women’s garden club. It consisted of two meeting rooms and a small kitchen. The worship services and adult Sunday School were held in the larger room and children’s Sunday School was held in the smaller room.
The little pink building was home to the church for about two years. Ray Haase remembers that there was a restaurant next door, which was nice since he could get a cup of coffee before church.
The heart of Valley Covenant continued to be the small groups that met in homes during the week.
A New Pastor and New Home
In October 1979, Jim Gaderlund, with his wife Pam and two sons, came from Portland to serve as pastor. Six months later the little church moved its services to the Grange hall on Bailey Hill Road, where it would meet for the next seven years.
Pastor Jim remembers that services at the Grange had some interesting distractions. Because the building was so old, fire drills were held on a regular basis to make sure that everyone knew what to do. A persistent woodpecker provided a noisy accompaniment for a number of sermons, and everyone could hear when somebody flushed the toilet. The building was cold in the winter, so it was a good idea to dress warmly.
Some who were here during the years in the Grange remember that the circular formation of the seating gave an intimacy and community to the services. Banners also became a part of the worship setting at the Grange.
Many of the traditions that we observe as a church were started during this period of time. One of those traditions is for someone to stand in front of the church on Sunday mornings to greet people as they arrive. This was started by Pastor Jim as he stood in front of the Grange to greet people every Sunday morning.
In spite of the distractions, Valley Covenant church grew during the years at the Grange. On one Sunday in the Fall of 1980, four new families attended the service and doubled the size of the congregation! That Sunday seemed to be a real catalyst that started a period of steady growth.
The church began to hold Sunday night seminars each quarter with classes such as Christian Thinking taught by Greg Spencer.
Toward the end of the time at the Grange the attendance reached 60 -70 people each week, and the hall was getting crowded.
The time had come for Valley Covenant Church to have its own building. Arrangements were made to purchase the property on 18th and Bailey Hill from the Covenant, and the design of the building was agreed upon.
The congregation gathered at the site for a ground-breaking ceremony in the summer of 1986, and on September 25, 1976, the contractor’s trailer was moved onto the site. Bit by bit the building went up as the excited congregation watched.
One long-time member would never see the completed building. One day after a doctor’s appointment, charter member Art Elowson asked Doris to drive him by the site, knowing that it might be the last time he saw it. Although she was concerned that it might tire him, Doris drove them out to see the beginning of the building. On October 21, 1986, Art went to live in his heavenly home. The stained glass window which eventually graced the front of the sanctuary is a memorial to Art Elowson who served faithfully for many years. It depicts the Covenant logo which shows people gathered around the center of the Cross of Jesus. Hands are outstretched in caring love.
A Home of Our Own
As the building neared completion, many members pitched in to add the finishing touches and get the building ready to use.
The big day finally arrived on April 7, 1987. The congregation assembled for the last time at the Grange and formed a caravan. Honking and waving, they drove down Bailey Hill Road to the new building. Pastor Jim took his place in front of the church to greet everyone that entered, then went inside to preach his first sermon there.
On May 31, 1987 many friends shared in the service of dedication. The parking lot and the building were full.
Home Fellowship Groups remained an important emphasis of the Church and weekend seminars brought in a variety of speakers for a focused study on topics such as spiritual disciplines, and Old Testament themes.
As the new building was going up, events in the Pacific Northwest were about to bring some new challenges to the congregation. The base economy of our area centered around the timber industry. As several mills and other timber-related businesses began to downsize or close, the effect was felt among our members. Within a couple of years, a number of committed people, including several on the Church Council, were forced to move away for the sake of employment.
However, God left a dedicated core of people at Valley Covenant, and they continued to minister to each other and to reach out in love to our community. Our church was an island of stability for many in a time when economic changes were upsetting lives.
The loss of those who had to move for jobs was in fact another wave of what has seemed to be characteristic of Valley Covenant through the years. In 1985 one member commented on the number of university students who become part of the church while here and then move on to jobs after completion. Because it is common place, saying goodbye to those in the congregation who move from the Eugene-Springfield area to take jobs or to be closer to families has become seen as a sending out to a new assignment.
In May of 1992, Pastor Jim Gaderlund left Valley Covenant to become the pastor of Foothill Covenant Church in Los Altos, California. Valley Covenant was without a pastor for sixteen months while the pastor search took place. However, God used the interim period to grow Valley Covenant both in numbers and in commitment. Lay members provided capable and faithful leadership for all the ministries of the Church, and Mike Fargo from Trinity Covenant Church in Salem was a frequent speaker.
Meanwhile, the Lord was working to prepare a family in Lincoln, Nebraska, to pull up their roots and move to Eugene. Steve and Beth Bilynskyj weren’t planning to move anywhere, but Steve’s friend North Pacific Conference Superintendent Glenn Palmberg had other ideas. He called Steve and asked him to come to Eugene and visit Valley Covenant. Steve agreed to come and see. The congregation prepared a video tape about Eugene and Valley Covenant to send to Beth, who had not been able to come.
The Lord confirmed to Steve and Beth that this was where they should be. Beth recalls especially the provision of a place to live. They found the house at 4:00 on a Sunday afternoon before their flight back to Nebraska on Monday morning. Beth says it happened so fast that after she left she couldn’t even remember what the house looked like. However, it was a house that served the needs of their family for several years and where they began their tradition of hosting a January open house for the congregation and friends.
Pastor Steve, Beth, and daughters Susan and Joanna moved to Springfield in late July to begin ministry August 1, 1993.
A Faith Odyssey
After Pastor Steve’s arrival, Valley Covenant began a time of stewardship focus, trying to address a mortgage too large for the congregation to maintain. Because of missed payments, the amount owed was higher in 1993 than it was at the beginning of the mortgage in 1987. It became apparent that future growth in size would not be swift enough to allow us to service that size debt and at the same time end dependence on appropriation money being given to us by our conference and denomination.
In response to the need in 1996, the 2001: A Faith Odyssey capital funds campaign was born. It was designed to reduce the principle of our mortgage to a manageable size, with the goal that mortgage payments could be much smaller and that appropriations could end by the beginning of the year 2001.
In a nutshell, the denomination agreed to match our giving 1.5 times, providing $180,000 if we would raise $120,000 over three years. God’s blessing on the plan was amazing, and pledges totaled $134,000. Over the three years more than $140,000 was actually given by Valley Covenant and friends to reduce the mortgage. With regular payments and the matching funds, our mortgage balance went from about $536,000 at the beginning of 1996 to $166,000 when the campaign ended in 1999. Mortgage payments went from over $5,000/month to about $1,300.
Because of the overwhelming blessing, the campaign was always ahead of schedule and appropriations were discontinued a year before planned, at the beginning of 2000. Valley Covenant is now a self-supporting ministry, relying solely on God’s provision through the giving of its members and friends.
In 1998 an on-going discussion about our sanctuary’s acoustics, appearance, and “feel” bore fruit in a project which added carpet, new furniture, a new pulpit platform and backdrop, and new sound system. The Hilton and Merrifield families were instrumental in planning and then actually doing much of the work which made it all possible. Today we worship in an inviting, warm space which continues to glorify God and reinforce the community we feel with each other in Christ.
With the reduction of financial worries, Valley Covenant was able to focus outward in new ways. In 1997 – 1999, new interest in evangelism and outreach grew. In addition to our existing yearly week of housing homeless families, we experimented with Bring a Friend Sundays and with an “absolutely free” car wash, offered to the community as a gift in Jesus’ name.
In 1995 we embraced a brand new means of outreach and launched a web site created by Pastor Steve, becoming one of the first churches in Oregon to have a presence on the Internet.
Another symbol of our spirit of outreach was the clearing of the woody undergrowth to the west of the church. Several work days eliminated the natural barrier which hid our building from Bailey Hill Road, showing in a physical way that we are present on this corner to share Christ with our neighbors.
In the fall of 1999, a partnership with Church of the Servant King generated an on-going conference series entitled “Church and Culture,” which continued for several years. Well-known speakers from various disciplines engaged our churches and others from the community in lectures and discussions about the way our faith relates to the world around us.
As we moved into the 2000’s the number of older Valley Covenant children grew. For the first time a large group of both middle and high school students led to a needed expansion of ministries to youth. Adult volunteers including Hope Anderson, Stan and Linda Honn, and Sue Iverson taught them in the faith and brought them many opportunities for growth and fellowship.
Pastor Steve continued to lead confirmation classes for middle school students. Each year confirmands were honored in a Sunday worship service at which they participated in leading the service and reading their papers.
Our children and youth had an opportunity in 2000 to express both faith and talent in the production of “Sometimes It’s Tough Bein’ Me,” an original musical written and directed by Pam Rudeen. Two performances of this fun and inspiring play brought a message of friendship and trust in God to packed houses. The following year they produced “Jonah and the Jail” (2001).
In 2000 the Church embarked on a plan to create a new staff ministry position in partnership with Young Life. Valley Covenant called a part-time youth minister, Peter Osborne, to serve kids in our church and bring them into deeper discipleship with Christ while at the same time he began to work with Young Life’s middle school outreach, Wyld Life. The kid.net Campaign was created to provide initial funding for the new position and ended successfully in 2002.
Peter Osborne served from 2000 to 2003. Luke Johnson arrived in the fall of 2003 to continue the ministry and outreach to youth full time until summer 2007. Subsequent leaders helped carry on the ministry with youth including Reed Webster, Emma Jensen (Pearsall), Eric Dixon, and intern Haley Meshnik.
The various youth leaders engaged our own Valley Covenant youth as well as visitors in regular youth meetings as well as numerous events such as winter trips, 30-hour famine, missions outreaches, attendance at CHIC (the national Covenant High in Christ held every 3 years), hosting Java House with music and speakers, atmosphere and coffee drinks, and doing local service projects.
With these Stones
With growing needs for space to accommodate gatherings of youth who were using the “Church House” but also meet larger needs of the whole congregation, discussions about expansion of our physical facility began. An architect was engaged and a new master plan created for our property. The next stage would be a building that included large, flexible space for gatherings of all sorts and new offices for the church staff.
In the fall of 2004, the With these Stones campaign raised pledges of over $200,000 and a new building project began in earnest. We broke ground in June 2005, but permit problems delayed the actual start until late in the year. The Gathering Place was completed and ready for use in June 2006 and was officially dedicated in September 2006. The building has provided new, welcoming office space as well as a venue for youth activities, committee meetings, gatherings such as showers, lunches and receptions, and worship services when needed. It has also become a venue for community and neighborhood groups who have rented the space.
Worship and Outreach
In 2006 Dawn Taloyo led the beginning of Encounter, a Saturday evening service experience focused on relationships around Holy Communion. After the Taloyos moved away in 2007, Kim Shepherd led Encounter until its conclusion that fall. An early Sunday morning communion service was begun in 2008 and continues with a loyal core of attendees who enjoy the opportunity to come to the Lord’s Table every week.
Our worship services have consistently integrated a blend of traditional liturgical elements with informal greeting, prayer and contemporary music. Having several capable pianists to play for the services and numerous volunteers who read Scripture or share brief meditations provides significant opportunity for lay involvement in worship services. In 2012 Shelley Houston offered to begin a choir, which sang frequently and continues to reconvene for celebrations such as Christmas and Easter.
Around 2011 a small group of new members interested in missions joined with Trudy Kutz, Larissa Rudeen and Kent and Bethel Willocks to rekindle an active mission committee. Since then we have had frequent mission speakers and presenters and continue our support for both Covenant missions and other work in Asia and elsewhere around the world.
In 2012, Kay Strom and Larissa Rudeen began to call our attention to the evil of human trafficking and we hosted a weekend seminar to educate ourselves on how to help. We continue to seek ways to participate in ministry both to stop trafficking and to aid the victims.
Outreach to the community became an increasing focus of the congregation. The “Dirty Hands” effort gave opportunity for giving organized assistance to local organizations such as Food for Lane County. In addition to continuing the annual week of cooperation with First Place Family Shelter to house homeless families in our church sanctuary, in 2009 VCC became one of several churches in the Eugene-Springfield area to host the Egan Warming Center, which opens doors to homeless for overnight sleeping when the temperatures turn cold. In 2014 Love INC began an affiliate in Eugene in which the Church has participated through Pastor Steve’s involvement on the development board and by hosting the first Love INC office in the Church House.
Valley Covenant has also cooperated with One Hope, a group of churches in Eugene/Springfield, to assist with projects such as a day of cleaning and maintenance at Kennedy Middle School each year and an annual event that provides supplies for needy school children.
Ebb and Flow
The early years of the 2010 decade saw significant change, some of it painful. As many young people graduated from high school and others moved on, the youth group dwindled. Several families who had been part of Valley Covenant left the church because of conflict, moves or other personal reasons. For two or three years the children’s ministries were at a minimum because there were few families with children attending.
The season of evaluating and rebuilding saw struggles and joys. In 2007 the Church established a Pastoral Relations Committee to serve as liaison between the pastoral staff and the congregation and to provide a sounding board for the pastor. To expand congregational care in 2012 the Council and congregation appointed Deacons, each of whom is responsible for maintaining contact with and caring for a small group of individuals or families within the congregation.
New individuals and families were welcomed into the body and various ministries of the church changed and grew. Even though the ebb and flow of those who attend here for awhile only to be led out of the area continues, we celebrate a body with a breadth of ages – infants to seniors – as well as some ethnic and cultural diversity.
As we moved into 2012 the congregation watched with joy as a nucleus of young children again became a part of the Church. The pastor’s children’s sermon was revived, a group of those interested in children’s ministry reestablished the Sunday school and Children’s Church program. A new curriculum spanning all ages of children for both Sunday school and children’s church was created by Kay Strom.
Financial challenges have been part of Valley Covenant’s story, but we have also seen God provide consistently, including with added challenges for capital funds campaigns. In 2013 the Stewardship Committee proposed what became known as the Comfort Campaign to fund replacement of the aging heating system in the sanctuary building and at the same time add air conditioning. The campaign received gifts and/or pledges of $ 77,000 including a tithe for missions. The full amount was given or pledged and in 2015 the loan to provide the system was retired. The addition of air conditioning was a welcome change which made the sanctuary usable during hot summer months.
Opportunities for fellowship, fun, outreach and spiritual growth have been added to Valley Covenant’s traditions: a men’s fishing trip in early June, outdoor worship each year at the Pavilion on Warren Street, an outreach barbeque picnic welcoming neighbors each September, an annual church campout. Following each Sunday morning service a fellowship time which members take turns hosting remains one of the most valued opportunities for making connections, maintaining encouraging relationships and welcoming newcomers.
A men’s weekly breakfast Bible study and one or two other small groups continue to meet for learning, encouragement and growth in Christian discipleship. Occasional women’s gatherings and participation by some in the fall Covenant Women retreat have provided opportunities for women to connect with each other.
We celebrated our 25th anniversary as a congregation in the year 2000 and also geared up to host the North Pacific Conference annual meeting that year in our newly renovated sanctuary space.
In July 2013 the church recognized the 20th anniversary of Pastor Steve and Beth Bilynskyj’s coming to Valley Covenant with a special celebration.
On May 30-31, 2015 the church hosted a 40th anniversary celebration (2020 Vision/Vision 2020). Pastors David Erickson (1975-79), Jim Gaderlund (1979-1992), and Steve Bilynskyj (1993 – present) and Pacific Northwest Conference Superintendent Greg Yee all attended and spoke. The aim of the celebration and our on-going aim as a congregation is to remember and praise God for all that He has done in our midst and to look forward to the great blessings and ministry He has for us in the future. As we often say in celebration of Holy Communion in words from The Covenant Hymnal, we thank God “for beauty we have seen and wonders still to come.”
by Sheila Reitz, Trudy Kutz
Last updated January 29, 2013