With national awards for church growth and evangelism earned during his 25 years in the ministry, Pastor Walt Chamberlain has many plans for the Madras First Christian Church.
Chamberlain began June 1 at the Madras church and has a wide variety of experience to draw on. He graduated from Cottage Grove High School, and was active in track there, winning the Oregon State Champion and National Champion titles in the javelin throw.
That led to his attending the University of Texas in Austin on an athletic scholarship from 1968-71, to throw javelin for its track squad. Not long after entering college, on Jan. 30, 1969, he and his wife Susan were married.
In 1971 he returned to Oregon, and Chamberlain worked seven years at the Western Craft Paper Mill in Albany.
"During that time my wife and I both became Christians, and spent two years at Boise Christian Children's Ranch near Boise, Idaho," he said.
At the ranch he was encouraged to enter the ministry, so enrolled at Puget Sound College of the Bible, in Edwards, Wash., from 1980-84, earning a bachelor of arts degree in preaching and Bible, and graduating with a class of just nine students.
While attending college he also gained experience as the youth minister at McKinley Park Christian Church for two years, and as the preacher in the town of Marysville, Wash., for the other two years.
Adventure followed his graduation, when the Chamberlains traveled to Zimbabwe to fill in for two missionaries who were going on a year's furlough.
"It was an unbelievable experience," Chamberlain said, noting the country was dangerous even back then, but also intriguing. His office sports the mounted skull of a wart hog as a reminder of that time.
Returning to the U.S., he took a job as associate minister from 1985 to 1990 at Eastside Christian Church in Albany, then was called to serve as pastor at Sunrise Christian Church in Ontario from 1990 to 1995.
The Ontario assignment was a difficult one which brought him to a crossroads in his life. "I decided I either needed to leave the ministry, or get more education," he admitted.
Choosing education, he entered the graduate school program at Cincinnati Ohio Bible Seminary, and earned master's degrees in arts, ministry, and divinity. In Ohio, he ministered nine years with Countryside Church of Christ. The next step was to enter Ashland Theological Seminary in Ohio, where he earned a doctorate of ministry degree in 2002.
The Chamberlains moved back to their home state of Oregon to be near family, since Susan's mother lived in Roseburg. All those years she had worked as a secretary in school systems, and will be employed in the Madras High School office when school starts in the fall. While Chamberlain enjoys hiking, hunting and fishing, his wife's interests include crafts of all kinds.
The Chamberlains have two sons, Michael of Napa, Idaho, and Keefe of Eagle, Idaho; two grandsons and two granddaughters.
The Madras Christian Church has been in decline lately, with only 40 to 50 people attending, but its new pastor hopes to change that.
"I have two national church growth awards and hope to turn it around," he said, adding, "there are only a few younger people in the church now, and I want to reach out to younger families."
To get started, a Round-Up Sunday with Buckaroo Breakfast has been slated for the community on Sept. 7, which he hopes will attract at least 100 people.
Another project will be to establish a church radio program on a local station, which would air half-hour sermons by Chamberlain on Sunday mornings. He did a similar program while in Ohio.
"You try to reach people in ways that are not offensive, in ways where you're invited -- and radio is an excellent way to do that," he said.