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A community refuge 100 years strong


Church in Corbett celebrates a century in the community on Sunday

Below the bell-tower in front of Corbett Community Church off Historic Columbia River Highway on Northeast Mershon Road, volunteers are digging up dirt and planting flowers in raised garden beds.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Early church members listed in old church registry.Around the church, 22 windows are being replaced with triple-pane glass. Inside, panels decorated with paint sit waiting to be put up on the walls of the Fellowship Hall.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Photographs of the church being constructed in 1913.The oldest Christian congregation in Corbett is sprucing up its church for its big day.

Corbett Community Church turns 100 years old this summer.

At 10 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 25, members will celebrate with a regular morning worship, historic photo display, bell dedication, music and a community picnic.

Also beloved former Pastor Chuck Bowman will return to speak to the congregation.

Much of the church’s history isn’t written. It lives within stories of the people who have come and gone in the past 100 years.

Susan Mershon, who joined the church in 1976 and works as the office clerk, said she’s done her best to preserve what’s left — old registry books of longtime Corbett family names and letters written from memory by early church members such as Virginia Chamberlain.

“Typical of most country churches, people met in someone’s home or school before the community was able to build a church,” said Susan’s husband, Paul Mershon, who lives on the road named after his family — the same road where the church is.

In the early 1900s, Corbett folks, many of whom have roads named after them, met to talk about God and hold community functions in the “old Hurlburt Hall,” a well-kept white house with a picket fence where Basil and Aloha Lampert lived.

Sunday school was taught in the town grade school, and church services were held whenever a preacher or “circuit rider” could make it up the hill to preach to the town.

The church was founded mostly by women, likely the wives of the farmers, loggers and commercial fishermen who decided the town needed a church, Paul Mershon said.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - From left, Paul Mershon, his wife Susan, and Pastor Paul Auble. In the spring of 1913, the community got together and erected Corbett Christian Church, later renamed Corbett Community Church. W.F. Reeder was the first minister. The original church sits across the street from the post office.

Remodeled several times over the years, it is now occupied by a business called Service Pro.

Back then, there was little separation between church and school, said Paul Mershon, who remembers playing hide and seek in the old church as a child, exploring its nooks and crannies up the stairs into the attic.

“In small communities, people didn’t care,” he said. “Church and school intermingled.”

People met in the school when the church was being built, and when the school burned, the church held classes for its students.

“People just joined together and did what they could,” Paul Mershon said. They’d bring fish, potatoes and corn, along with firewood to keep the old church’s giant furnace burning, he said.

In 1986, a mile down the road from the old church, members built a new home for their congregation at 34309 N.E. Mershon Road. It continues to serve as a community resource.

On 19 acres, it is big enough to seat up to 450 people, with a Sunday school room, fellowship hall and game room for kids.

“Besides the school, it is the only significant large building east of the Sandy River where everyone can gather for the funeral of a family member, a wedding or graduation,” said Pastor Paul Auble, who joined the church as a member in 1996 before stepping in as pastor in 2001.

Auble, 55, said if everyone came for Sunday service, about 120 people would fill the room.

People come and go, he said. They always have. The older generations stay. The younger generations go. Kids graduate from high school and move to the city to find jobs or get an apartment with friends, while young couples move to the country to raise children with good values.

Many don’t carry official membership, Auble said. “If you want to go to church,” he said, “it doesn’t matter.”

Some who attend the church have lived in Corbett their whole lives.

They live in homes on land passed down generation to generation by old families, including the Mershons, Chamberlains, Woodles, Loftsteads, Smiths and Evanses.

“Corbett is not a growing community,” Paul Mershon said.

There are about 2,300 people living in the small, rural community 18 miles or so outside of Portland.

As a small church, Susan Mershon said, “we can’t offer the glitz of mega-churches (outside of Corbett), but if you don’t show up on Sunday, someone will miss you.”

The cast-iron bell that hangs in the bell tower sat in a storage room before church members put it up. Thousands of those bells were made for the United States, British and Russian military maritime services in the early 1900s.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - The school district gave the Taylor bell to the church in the summer of 1915.In 1915, Corbett’s Taylor Grade School dedicated its bell to the church.

Just a few years back, a snowstorm knocked the bell into the flower bed.

“God didn’t want it there,” Pastor Auble joked.

Local resident Tony Jacobs built the bell its own steepled tower where it will hang permanently.

The church will rededicate the bell Sunday at its anniversary celebration.

That day, the church also will celebrate its original vision and purpose in the community, Auble said, “to preach the gospel, minister to the people’s needs, teach the children and be a part of what we’ve been called to do.”