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Resurrection Lutheran blends traditions to celebrate 50th year

by: Shanda Tice, The Rev. Al Jensen holds up the communion chalice, which will be served to the congregation.

As you approach one of the larger rooms on the lower level of the Portland Airport Holiday Inn, you could swear the 1960s pop band the Moody Blues was playing a concert inside.

Wait a minute. That is a familiar melody - it's 'The Story In Your Eyes,' a staple of FM rock radio, penned by Moody Blues vocalist Justin Hayward. However, someone seems to have changed his lyrics.

'I believe in God the Father/I believe in God the Son/I believe in God the Spirit/Together they exist as three in one,' more than 400 people sing. Apparently, Hayward's lyrics have been replaced by words adapted from the Apostles' Creed.

And it's not some group of British Invasion baby boomers belting out the tune; it's the congregation of Resurrection Lutheran Church. The church, at 1700 N.E. 132nd Ave., celebrated its 50th anniversary Sunday, April 15, at the Holiday Inn.

The church's vibrant celebration featured its praise team rocking out the Moody Blues melody, as well as a choir singing more traditional fare and a handbell choir adding to the ambiance.

Jon Helgerson plays guitar and sings for the praise team. Adapting ancient Christian beliefs to modern music helps connect worshipers to church, he says.

'It's a ticket to say 'It's OK to go to church,' ' he says. 'There's normal people here, too.'

The celebration drew church leaders past and present, including the Rev. Elmer W. Wenzel, Resurrection's founding pastor.

'It's a nice feeling for me to be able to do this, to be part of the church here again,' he says.

The church's history notes that Resurrection was established after the Northwest District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod perceived a need for a mission church in northeast Multnomah County. Steve Brose, who attends Resurrection, says he thanked Wenzel at the celebration for being among those who helped to fulfill that original vision.

'He and other first members laid the first bricks there and started the foundation of a very healthy church that I am proud to belong to,' Brose says. 'It is a meaningful place to worship and (is) deeply involved in ministries both in the community and abroad.'

Lorraine Holte, who served as head usher at the celebration, has attended Resurrection since the mid-1960s.

'We're just like a family,' she says. 'We just know everybody so well.'

More than 900 people call Resurrection their spiritual home, according to the Rev. Al Jensen, pastor, who expressed pleasure at the sight of the many attending the celebration.

'I think the many traditions of Resurrection were expressed today,' he says.

Bishop Paul Swanson of the Oregon Synod shared that sentiment. He praised the church for creating a service that featured traditional and contemporary worship music and styles.

'I think churches are working hard at blending these different traditions,' he says.

In addition to varied styles of worship services, Jensen says Resurrection offers several ministries, including a Tuesday morning Bible study group; religious education for adults and children every Sunday; and shelter for homeless families four weeks of every year.

Resurrection is one of several area churches that serve as host churches for Daybreak Shelter, a program operated by Human Solutions, a Portland-based anti-poverty agency. As a host church, Resurrection volunteers stay overnight in church facilities to provide temporary housing and food to homeless families, a church history notes.

Ben Fredericks chaired the 50th anniversary committee and has attended Resurrection for about a decade. Fredericks says the church is blessed with many members who have 'unique gifts' and is connected to the wider community through its outreach ministry. He adds that he was pleased with how the celebration went.

'Everybody really stepped up to the plate and did some miraculous things to put it all together,' he says. 'We were very blessed that everything went smoothly.'