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German Congregational Evangelical Brethren Church 1922-1967

The German Congregational Evangelical Brethren Church (known simply in the community as the Brethren Church) originally began as the Free Evangelical Brethren Church in December 1900. On September 13, 1922 the church was reorganized as the German Congregational Evangelical Brethren Church and shortly afterwards incorporated.

During its 44 years of existence, the church had the spiritual leadership of eight ministers.

Reverend Conrad J. Wagner was its first pastor and served until his death in November 1934. Under Reverend Wagner, the church moved from the location at 3605 NE Mallory to a newly built structure at 238 NE Mason in 1927. The new structure was erected at a cost of $24,880.75. Several members of the congregation were garbage haulers and they used their trucks to move the dirt excavated by hand for the church foundation and basement to 620 N. Fremont where it was used to fill the site for the new Eliot School (now Boise-Eliot). The church structure built in 1927 stands today.

Reverend Wagner was born in Frank, Russia on October 4, 1868 and came to McCook, Nebraska in 1899 with his wife Anna (Kissler) Wagner. He entered the Chicago Theological Seminary, graduated in 1906, and became ordained that year. He held pastorates in South Dakota for a number of years before moving to Walla Walla where he built a church and parsonage during his ten-year ministry there.  He later accepted a call from Endicott, Washington where he built another church. 

In 1926, the church reported 97 male members and 98 female members. In addition, there were 110 people in the Young People’s Society. 

Under Reverend Wagner, the congregation had a parting of the ways with some members migrating to the Ebenezer German Congregational Church and the others became members of the Zion Congregational Church.

A fight between two factions of the church was reported in a Portland newspaper around 1927: 

"The trouble at the church Sunday was the outgrowth of bad feelings which has prevailed among the two factions for many months. Last fall eight members of the then church council filed suit in circuit court seeking to oust the Rev. Conrad Wagner as pastor, assertedly because he preached almost exclusively in German and because he objected to having motion pictures exhibited in the church building. The plaintiffs in the suit alleged that the Rev. Mr. Wagner was a troublemaker. 

According to Conrad Krieger, one of the complaining witnesses, the first fight Sunday occurred at the afternoon prayer meeting when one of the elders nominated a former member who had been ex-communicated and a present member to lead the meeting. A number of persons present objected to having the ex-communicated member lead the service but he started to go to the platform, Krieger said.  Fists began to fly when some of the objecting members attempted to keep the ex-communicated member from going to the platform, Krieger said.

Several persons were scratched and bruised in the fight, which was resumed outside the church building after the night service, participants said.

Four police radio squad cars were called to quell the night disturbance.  Police reported that several blows were struck but that no arrests were made. They said the fighting was over when they arrived, but that groups were standing about discussing the matter.  The police were informed that a battled had occurred inside the church in the afternoon when some 100 were assertedly engaged.  It was said that between 50 and 75 men and women engaged in the night conflict. Police had been called to restore order on two or three occasions. 

The church fight was carried into court last fall, when eight members of the council brought suit seeking an injunction restraining the Rev. Mr. Wagner from continuing as pastor.  Circuit Judge Lusk on November 23 denied the injunction." 

In 1932, a fire partially destroyed the sanctuary. The $5,320.00 loss was insured and three months later the church was rebuilt and in use again.

Reverend Wagner died in Portland on November 17, 1934. 

Following Reverend Wagner’s death, Reverend Schmalle served as interim pastor for a period of six months. Reverend Graumann became the pastor in the spring of 1935 and served until the summer of 1944, he realized the necessity of changing the services by instituting the English language in order to captivate his audience. The Brotherhood clung tenaciously to their mother tongue and prayer groups until about 1980 when most of the older members had been laid to rest.

Reverend Eslinger was called to replace Reverend Graumann in 1944 and he served until November 1945. The following summer the Reverend Carl F. Brost became pastor and served the church until the fall of 1949. 

Mr. Oliver Ketterling, a student at the Western Theological Seminary of the Evangelical United Brethren (EUB) Church, served as student pastor from September 1949 to June 1951.  In August of that year, the Reverend John N. Sauer began his long ministry, retiring August 1963. He shared with the Reverend Conrad C. Wagner the honor of each serving the church for twelve years. Reverend Sauer was born in 1890 in Mannsburg, Bessarabia and died September 2, 1984 in Los Gatos, California. 

Reverend Strobel returned to Portland from California to live in retirement but he consented to lead the church for four years after Reverend Sauer stepped down. Reverend Strobel and his wife died in each other’s arms on February 13, 1983 – both from heart failure.  

When the Congregational Christian Churches united with the Evangelical and Reformed Synod, the church joined the merger and became part of the United Church of Christ in America.  This period was one of transition and readjustment. In 1966, Reverend Strobel wrote “We trust God’s guidance for the future.”  

In December of 1966, the Brethren and Zion Churches voted and approved a merger of the two churches. In April 1967, a consolidation plan to merge the congregations was adopted and the Zion parsonage was sold. 

The first service of the newly merged congregation was held in July 1967. 

The farewell service at the Brethren Church was held on August 6, 1967 and 155 members joined the Zion Congregational Church with its 265 members to become the Zion Brethren Church of the United Church of Christ. The congregation would later become the Rivercrest Community Church.

Following the merger, the Brethren Church building was sold in October 1967 for $35,000. 


Sources:

Local Church Report for the year ending December 31, 1926 for the Congregational Year Book submitted by Rev. C. J. Wagner.

The Oregon Daily Journal, clipping circa 1927, p. unknown.

Churches Along The Oregon Trail, (Portland, Oregon:  Central Pacific Conference of the United Church of Christ, 1976), p. 68.

The Sunday Oregonian, September 9, 1984, p. D13.

The Sunday Oregonian, February 13, 1983, p. D11.

The Oregonian, February 12, 1983, article titled “Family finds couple in death’s embrace”.

Pastors of the Zion Church

Chronological List of the German Congregational Evangelical Brethren Church Pastors

Rev. Wagner

Rev. C. J. Wagner

Confirmation Classes

Confirmation was a rite of initiation in the Volga German Protestant churches and tended to be seen as a mature statement of faith by an already baptized person. Confirmation was typically required to become a member of the church and the public ceremony was usually held as part of the Palm Sunday service each year.

A list of the confirmation class members and photographs (if available) for each year are linked below:

  • March 25, 1923
  • April 13, 1924
  • April, 1925
  • March 28, 1926
  • April 8, 1927
  • April 1, 1928
  • March 24, 1929
  • April 13, 1930
  • March 29, 1931
  • March 20, 1932
  • April 9, 1933
  • March 25, 1934
  • April 14, 1935
  • April 5, 1936
  • March 21, 1937
  • 1938 - No confirmation class is listed in the church register
  • 1939
  • 1940
  • 1941
  • 1942 - No confirmation class is listed in the church register
  • 1943
  • 1944 - No confirmation class is listed in the church register
  • March 25, 1945
  • 1946 - No confirmation class is listed in the church register
  • March 30, 1947
  • 1948 - No confirmation class is listed in the church register
  • April 10, 1949
  • April 2, 1950
  • 1951 - No confirmation class is listed in the church register
  • April 6, 1952
  • 1953
  • 1954 - No confirmation class is listed in the church register
  • April 3, 1955
  • March 25, 1956
  • April 14, 1957
  • 1958 - No confirmation class is listed in the church register
  • March 22, 1959
  • April 10, 1960
  • 1961 - No confirmation class is listed in the church register
  • April 15, 1962
  • 1963 - No confirmation class is listed in the church register
  • 1964 - No confirmation class is listed in the church register
  • April 11, 1965
  • March 19, 1967

Please contact the webmaster if you have additional information or photographs of the Brethren confirmation classes.

German Congregation Evangelical Brethren Church Registers available to researchers

Photographs and Stories

German Congregagtional Brethren Church in Portland Oregon

The congregation of the German Congregational Evangelical Brethren Church. This photo was likely taken around 1927 when the newly built structure on NE Mason Street was completed. Reverend Wagner is standing the left of the utility pole. Photograph courtesy of Steve Schreiber.

German Brethren Choir in 1935 

German Brethren Church Choir of 1935.

German Brethren Church

German Brethren Church Cornerstone

Photographs of the former German Congregational Evangelical Brethren Church located at NE Mason and Garfield taken in 1999 . Photographs courtesy of Steve Schreiber.