“Saints in the City of Roses,” Ensign, Apr. 1992, 76–77
The Willamette River winds north through many of Oregon’s major cities, reaching Portland just before joining the Columbia River in its path to the Pacific Ocean. A beautiful waterfront city renowned for its parks and roses, Portland has grown considerably—becoming a major U.S. West Coast port and industrial center—since a fur trapper built the first log cabin there in 1829. Representing another kind of growth is the Portland Oregon Temple, its spires topping the surrounding tall trees.
But that growth didn’t come easily. In 1857, Latter-day Saint missionaries were met by mobs throwing eggs, and newspaper articles charged them with treason. The next missionaries arrived nearly forty years later and were so coldly received that they prepared to leave, but not before Danish immigrant Jens Westergaard tracked them down. Having read in a local newspaper about the missionaries’ lack of success, Jens, who had been introduced to the Church in Denmark, urged them to send more missionaries to Portland.
Elders Joseph G. Nelson and W. J. Barnes soon arrived and found lodging with Jens and his wife, Petrine. The Westergaards were soon baptized, and in 1899, Jens became president of the first Portland branch of the Church. Released when LeGrand Richards was called as bishop in 1909, Brother Westergaard, along with his wife, continued to devote his life to shepherding the Portland Saints. Portland’s first stake was organized in 1938.
Today, thirteen stakes in the greater Portland area comprise some forty-seven thousand members. A recent factor in the growth there is the Portland temple, completed in 1989.
“A lot of people went through the temple open house, and it really touched them,” says Elder Donald Anway, a missionary serving in the Oregon Portland Mission. Elder Jean-Pierre Bartier of France adds that the temple sparks people’s curiosity about the Church and helps reinforce the importance of eternal families.
Longtime member John Goodding, a high priest in the Lake Oswego Oregon Stake, recalls taking his family on week-long vacations to Idaho to do temple work. Now he lives minutes away from the Portland temple, and its presence nearby comforts him. “If the Church and members didn’t have me by the hand, I don’t know where I’d be,” he says, reflecting how fellow members of the Metzger Ward helped him deal with the death of his wife.
The Church’s “Homefront” television commercials and videos are another effective missionary tool, the latter garnering numerous referrals, according to Brian Smith, Church public affairs director in Portland.
Danny and Naomi Kelly grew interested in the Church upon seeing “Our Heavenly Father’s Plan” on television. They hesitated at first to receive the missionaries, but after getting to know the parents of two LDS boys who worked with them, they felt ready. After the third missionary lesson, they asked to be baptized.
“It is the best thing that ever happened to us—it has changed our entire lives,” says Brother Kelly. “We still have problems, but we deal with them better.” The Kellys were sealed to their four children soon after the dedication of the Portland temple.
Also heard over the Portland airwaves is a New Testament class taught by Brian Smith, who is also director of the Church’s institute of religion in Portland. As a result of the program, which reaches 210,000 homes via all six local cable stations, 350 viewers (many of other faiths) have requested class handouts and information about the class.
“There’s been a great response,” Brother Smith says. The class, which is aired three or four times weekly, benefits members as well as develops good rapport with other community members.
Church members extend their influence to the community in other ways, too. Last Christmas, members of the Lake Oswego stake gave gifts, blankets, and food to families of migrant workers who often lack work during the winter.
As stake missionaries in nearby Vancouver, Washington, Kris and John Bennett headed a program that recognized twelve local teachers for their outstanding contributions to youth in the community. They were chosen from five schools by seminary students who honored them with a slide presentation and plaques.
Myron Child, a high priest in the Portland East stake, involves the youth in preparing floats for the Portland Grand Floral Parade, a nationally televised event. The nearby Portland stake also involves youth in community service. The youth have collected toys for a children’s hospital as well as blankets for a shelter for battered women. A popular summer project is cleaning and improving city parks, followed by a picnic. Other stakes in the area build community relations by participating in blood drives, hosting preparedness fairs and open houses, and taking part in civic affairs.
At the Portland temple dedication, President Thomas S. Monson of the First Presidency compared the Willamette River, a freshwater port where ships lose their barnacles, to the temple—a refuge where our concerns are washed away. The greater Portland area offers a similar purifying effect, as much from the vibrant testimonies of the Saints there as from its scenic beauty.