The history of the Columbia River Foursquare Church is a strong testimony of the power of prayer and the faithfulness of the Lord to those who follow Him with their whole heart. The following is a collection of the best records and eyewitness testimony of those who were there.
From the earliest accounts, the original Columbia City church building was built around 1924, two years before the town itself was chartered. Columbia City was a small mill community, and the school and community hall were built around the same time. The church was called Baptist Mission Alliance during its early years, and subsequently shut down due to lack of funds.
In 1932, Roy and Hattie Hayes and Charleton and Eva Steves (back row) were attending the Free Methodist Church of St. Helens. Mr. Hayes proposed starting a Sunday School in the afternoons in his home town of Columbia City, where he had the keys to the closed down church. After much prayer and consideration, the families sensed the leading of the Lord and began.
The Hayes knew an evangelist by the name of Rose Fidler (center) from the Kelso, Washington, and asked if she would come and hold services, which she did. As the ministry grew, the meetings were moved to the community hall. Sister Fidler’s ministry was strongly evangelistic and involved many musical instruments and a powerful gospel message. She also brought along her children’s group to minister during the entire service. The only complaints were from some of the neighbors who weren’t accustomed to so much noise coming from the middle of such a quiet town.
As Sister Fidler and her husband Albert sensed the call to start a new church across the river in Woodland, they went to Dr. Harold W. Jeffries of the Portland Foursquare Church and asked if there wasn’t anyone who could come and pastor the church in Columbia City.
He sent Nina Butler, a member of his church and a graduate of LIFE Bible College. She married Elvin Swanson of Clatskanie and they became the first pastors of the Columbia City Foursquare Church.
The Original Church Charter
During the early years most in the community predicted the church wouldn’t last longer than a year. The general consensus was “If the Baptists couldn’t make it, no one could.” What they failed to realize is that the Lord had opened this church as a lighthouse to Columbia County, and as Elvin Swanson put it, “When He calls, He builds—when the people have in mind to work.” (Nehemiah 4:6)
In 1934, Northwest District Supervisor Dr. Herman D. Mitzner came to explain to the congregation what was involved in joining the Foursquare Movement. At that time some were hesitant as a requirement of the charter was to turn over the property to Foursquare. Dr. Mitzner encouraged the church to pray about it and promised to return one month later to hear their answer. Upon his arrival, and with a total of 38 original members, the church voted unanimously to join the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. The church charter was granted on December 17, 1935, under the ministry of Elvin and Nina Swanson, and signed by Foursquare Founder Aimee Semple McPherson.
In 1939 the property and church, which were valued at $750, were generously sold to the church for a price of $150 by the Oregon Baptist State Convention. The agreement was for $10 down, and $5 per month, and was overseen by then Supervisor Dr. Jeffries.
During the early years pastors received five dollars a week to administer services for the church. It is not difficult to understand why there was such a high turnover rate. In fact, until 1957 the church had more pastors come and go than it had years in its history. Nevertheless, each of those pastors contributed physically and spiritually to the community of Columbia City.
In 1940 Lloyd and Mary Goodman added Sunday School rooms to the south side of the church, which were subsequently converted to storage areas.
In 1942, under the leadership of Pastor Joe and Virginia Knapp, the church purchased the lot next to the church and built a parsonage out of wood salvaged from an old torn down saloon. The Knapps went on to many years of fruitful missionary work Columbia, South America.
In 1943, Lloyd and Gladys Johnson built a “Crusader Chapel” behind the existing church for outreach to children and youth. This area is presently known as the annex.
In 1947, Dorothy Jean Furlong and Juanita Conger kept the doors open and saw record attendance in their Sunday School outreach. During that time a young girl by the name of Arlene Ready came to know the Lord, met her husband Lewis Zeigler in bible college, and went on to oversee Foursquare in South Africa for 35 years. The Zeiglers and their grandchildren are still an integral part of the church.
Sisters Furlong and Conger went on to teach at LIFE Bible College for many years and mentored may generations of Foursquare Pastors.
John and Leona Wheeler were the first pastors to stay longer than 17 months, pastoring faithfully for nearly seven years (1955-62).
In 1963, the church celebrated the 25 year milestone under the leadership of Pastors Hugh and Bobbie Isaacs. During their time 800 square feet were added to the south end of the annex adding two more classrooms, a kitchen, and a furnace.
During the pastorate of Jerry and Joan Sanford, the church broke new barriers in attendance and fruitfulness. In 1973, the church built an addition on the south side of the church, including a basement and several more classrooms, bringing the building to its final size of just under 10,000 square feet.
Phil and Diane Franklin pastored the church for nearly 11 years, celebrating the 50 year anniversary and remodeling the sanctuary during their time. They laid a strong foundation of discipleship and missions giving before returning to the mission field themselves.
Coming to serve in 1995, Mike and Molly Cooke (left) have been the pastors of the church now for longer than the first 18 pastors combined. Under their leadership, the church has seen record growth and continues the heritage of evangelism and community outreach that began in the early years. In December of 2010, Foursquare President Glen Burris Jr. (right) visited the church to help celebrate 75 years of faithful ministry to the community.
In 2003 the church purchased 7 acres in North St. Helens, just two miles
from its historic location, and changed its name to Columbia River
Foursquare Church in anticipation of the move. After years of hard work
and struggle, the brand new building was finished just in time for
Easter of 2010. The church continues to see record attendance and lives
being touched each week.