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Pastor to mark 40 years of Grace

Celebration to feature timeline, will take place Sunday, Oct. 9
by: contributed photo Pastor Dennis Friesen, right, and his wife, Sally, will celebrate 40 years spent at Grace Community Church on Sunday.

Grace Community Church, 800 S.E. Hogan Road, will celebrate '40 Years of Pastoral Ministry,' honoring Pastor Dennis Friesen and his wife, Sally Friesen, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 9.

Guests and family will enjoy a dessert buffet while viewing a pictorial tour of the pastor's ministry career.

Bill Russell, executive director of Union Gospel Mission in downtown Portland, and a prior elder of Grace Community will emcee the event.

The evening's program will feature a timeline of the minister's pastoral career with speakers sharing their experiences of working with Friesen in various capacities.

O Canada

A native of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, Friesen, 65, grew up with Mennonite parents who also attended a Baptist church. Around the age of 20, he began to feel a calling to serve God, he said.

'During college I felt increasingly a concern for the spiritual welfare for people,' he said. 'Increasingly, there was this sense this was a right thing. God was leading me in this direction.'

He went to college and studied the ministry in Omaha, Neb., and eventually made his way to Oregon, where on a retreat he met his wife, a native of Dallas, Ore. The couple married in 1971 and has two grown children and one grandchild. Friesen officially became a U.S. citizen 15 years ago.

In Oregon, Friesen attended Western Seminary, where he received his Master of Divinity degree in 1975. He worked as a youth and then associate pastor at Montavilla Baptist Church in Southeast Portland, becoming an integral member of the leadership team.

Montavilla commissioned the Friesens and a group of families to establish a church called Gresham Hills Baptist on Easter Sunday 1981. Under the pastor's leadership, a team of pastors and elders merged with two other churches to become Grace Community Church in 1988. Land was purchased and the current Grace Community building was built in 1997. Friesen also received his Doctorate of Ministry in 1991.

Making connections

The pastor has continued to serve Grace as a preacher, teacher and pastoral caregiver, and noted the church has occupied eight different locations throughout its existence. He is gradually reducing his role as he prepares to retire in a few years, and the church's lead pastor is now Jay Messenger.

'We started out in a climate that was pretty similar to now,' Friesen said, noting Oregon suffered a deep recession in the first half of the 1980s.

As they did then, folks are trying to sort out the meaning of life when they've lost their jobs, their homes and their material goods, he said. Hard times prompt people to ask: 'What am I here for? What's my purpose? Where am I going? Where is my hope?' he said.

His favorite part of being a minister is people, Friesen said, 'connecting with people either who don't know how to spell the word 'Bible,' or people who really have been in the church forever but who are really trying to have their connection with God be significant and life-changing.'

He credited his wife for sustaining him through his decades of service, saying of her, 'She has adapted and adjusted and been my biggest supporter.'

Layman's view

Dale Hadley belonged to one of Grace Community's founding families, and he and his wife, Shirley, have attended the church along with daughters Alicia and Rebecca. The lay leader spoke fondly of his pastor.

'Dennis is the glue that has held our church together through the years, through the ups and downs,' he said, noting the church now boasts about 600 members. 'Dennis has the unique ability to relate to everyone. He's got this pastoral ability to care for and love people genuinely.'

Grace Community

• For more information about Grace Community Church, 800 S.E. Hogan Road, call 503-492-9966 or visit gracecc.net.