The Lutherans were a small congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), Shepherd of the Mountains. The Episcopalians worshiped informally once a month in peoples’ homes.
The Reverend Nancy Sargent McGrath moved to Sunriver. She was asked to preach as a “supply clergy” at Trinity in Bend. Several Sunriver Episcopalians who were at the service asked if she would be willing to preach in Sunriver on a regular basis, hoping to build a community of regular worshipers. The Sunriver Nature Center had just built a new building and was willing to rent it to the Episcopalians on Sunday mornings for $20 per week. Nancy agreed to celebrate and preach two Sundays a month. The Lutherans moved to the same building and had worship services immediately following the Episcopal services.
Nancy McGrath agreed to lead the Lutheran service for the same two Sundays she led Episcopal worship. The same lessons were read and the same sermon given.
Pastor Nancy led worship for the Episcopalians at 8:30 am, followed by a coffee hour with the Lutherans who arrived at 9:30, and then at 9:45, having exchanged the Book of Common Prayer for the Lutheran Book of Worship, she led the Lutheran worship.
Outreach seemed to come naturally from all denominations. The two congregations had joint ecumenical outdoor Christmas Eve and Easter sunrise services planned by the laity around a bonfire at the Nature Center.
In the summer, the Lutherans chose to disband for three months, and then joined the Episcopalians for worship at 8:30. By the end of the summer it became clear that joint worship made sense from a theological, social and economic point of view.
On any given Sunday, the community was about 40-50 people. That is not large by any standard, but it functioned well as a worshiping, care-giving, outreach-motivated family.
Nancy McGrath said in a letter to a friend, “We are, without a doubt, a lot better off together than we would be apart.”
A monthly newsletter was started in June in order to facilitate better communication between all members. The first issue was sent to 47 households.
The Episcopalians voted to petition the Diocese for status as a separate parish and, at the Convention in October, the Diocese recognized Sunriver as its first newly created parish in eighteen years. The parish was named All Saints of the Cascades.
The members found that having two strong congregations made their combination stronger and even more amicable. It was decided to adopt the name of Sunriver Christian Fellowship (“SCF”) to identify the combined congregations and to reflect the ecumenical unity the people felt toward one another.
Frank Brocker, a Lutheran minister, Edith Parrish, a Disciples of Christ minister, Jack Kiekel, an American Baptist minister, all took turns in rotation serving the congregation once a month and as needed to substitute.
The congregation held an all day retreat to help define and examine itself in October. The major conclusions were: (1) The congregation felt as if they were one body— united in their worship—and all felt this was a unique attribute of the congregation, (2) The members considered themselves a traditional, liturgically based congregation sponsored by two mainstream denominations, (3) Everyone — not just the Episcopalians and the Lutherans — treasured the practice of following the traditional Episcopal and Lutheran liturgies in worship services, (4) The group took pride and pleasure in their easy acceptance of their ecumenicity.
During the later part of the year SCF was approached by the Catholic Church in Sunriver and asked if it would be interested in helping them acquire a building — which they would convert to a church. Needless to say, the congregation was overjoyed at this opportunity and quickly agreed. SCF conducted a fund drive and received pledges for over $60,000 over three years. This was another example of ecumenism at work in the Sunriver community.
Members were given the opportunity of identifying themselves as Episcopalians, Lutherans or members of the Sunriver Christian Fellowship. The Episcopalians and Lutherans were also told that their pledges would be counted in calculating the Diocesan/Synod assessments. Worship commenced worship at the new Catholic Church mid-year.
2000 to present
Sunriver Christian Fellowship settled into the ecumenical life sharing services, ministries, budgets, pastors, and also sharing Holy Trinity Church with our Catholic brothers and sisters.
Our musical worship has vastly grown; our dedicated service to helping through our outreach programs has been vigorous; our numbers and variety of assisting pastors has increased; our membership has grown four-fold and includes Christians of many denominations. We are focused by an in-depth vision statement; we remain flexible to trying new, hopefully better organization arrangements; we look to the needs of today and the hopes of tomorrow; we seek guidance from the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as we continue on our ecumenical journey.