Keeping the Faith
Calvary Baptist Church celebrates 150 years preaching the gospel
By Rodger Nichols
A milestone for a church that has been a part of the spiritual history of The Dalles came as a bit of a revelation for its leader, Pastor David Odell.
Calvary Baptist Church hosted a block party in September to commemorate its 150th anniversary, but the gathering almost didn’t happen.
“This celebration caught us a little bit off guard because we had gone through so much with the pandemic,” David says. “About six months ago, somebody who doesn’t even attend our church sent us a letter asking, ‘What do we have planned for the 150th celebration?’ We did some math really quick and saw that it really was 150, so we’ve been planning.”
A grassy area on the church’s 6-acre lot was transformed into a fortress of bounce houses, with an inflatable climbing castle and carnival-style games. Pork sliders, popcorn and cotton candy were available.
“We wanted to have a party and invite the community to celebrate with us and celebrate God’s faithfulness,” David says.
David could be forgiven for almost missing the church’s sesquicentennial.
He arrived in The Dalles during a particularly tough time: March 2020.
“The first week of the COVID shutdown was my first week as the pastor here,” he says. “Things are a lot better now. We’ve had a lot of opportunities to grow closer together, to work through misunderstandings or differences of opinion, like all churches. God’s been really faithful and kind to us.”
David says he felt called to be a pastor during his youth.
“When I was in high school, I was really involved at my church and a youth ministry for skateboarders,” says the fifth-generation Oregonian who grew up in Portland. “It was an outreach program that built ramps, invited kids to come skateboard and preached the gospel. Through that, I got serious about my faith and was discipled and felt drawn to be in the ministry. I worked for that organization for 8 or 9 years and then went to Multnomah Bible College and started pastoring.”
David is about halfway through a doctorate degree in ministry at Western Seminary, which he says “is a lot of work.”
Prior to coming to The Dalles, he led congregations in Washington, starting in 2002.
“We planted a church in Washington, and I pastored that church for about 10 years,” David says. “We were having kids and living between Tacoma and Seattle. We had a real desire to get back to Oregon because it’s home. My folks are aging, and we wanted to be closer to family and somewhere more rural.
“Through a denominational connection, I found out about the opportunity here. The Lord opened some doors, so here we are, and we love it.”
On the day of the block party, David says he was thinking of what to say in his sermon the following day.
“For a church in Oregon to survive for 150 years really bears witness to God’s goodness and his faithfulness to us, and when we have not always been faithful to him,” David says. “Here we are 150 years later and, praise God, we hope to be here proclaiming the gospel for years to come.”
A Timeline of The Dalles & the Church
16,000 to 12,000 BC—Ice Age floods shape the present Columbia River Gorge, cutting through the vast volcanic plateau. For 10,000 years, Native American tribes live and trade in the area that encompasses The Dalles.
1805 to 1806—Lewis and Clark camp at the mouth of Mill Creek on their western journey, as well as on their return trip.
1838—Missionaries arrive to convert the Native Americans, making their headquarters at Amotan Springs, now on the campus of The Dalles High School.
1843—Oregon Trail emigrants begin to arrive.
1870—Missionary Sterling Hill organizes a Baptist Sunday school in Wasco County.
1872—The Reverend Ezra Fisher organizes First Baptist Church in The Dalles. Meetings are held in the original Wasco County Courthouse.
1874—The church buys property and builds a church at Third and Washington streets.
1874—The second preacher, George Chandler, delivers his first sermon. He immediately suffers a massive stroke and is paralyzed and speechless for the last six years of his life. The church is served by circuit-riding preachers.
1880—A huge fire burns 20 blocks of downtown The Dalles to the ground, destroying the church building, which is rebuilt.
1884—The church changes locations to Fifth and Washington. The Rev. O.D. Taylor arrives. His unscrupulous business dealings constitute an unfortunate chapter in the church history, with most members leaving and forming Second Baptist Church.
1891—The church building is destroyed by fire and once again rebuilt.
1894—The name of the church is changed to Calvary Baptist Church.
1898—The church is incorporated.
1899—The Reverend William Cliffton arrives and leads the church for nine years. With membership at 84, the church buys new property.
1900—A new church building is erected at Seventh and Union streets. Many evangelistic meetings are held, increasing membership.
1928—Pastor Edgar Luther leads expansion and remodeling of church buildings. Membership and spiritual growth increase.
1940—With Lloyd Anderson as pastor, the church adopts a constitution, supports foreign missionaries and begins Sunday broadcasts on KODL.
1950—A new church building is built at 12th and Federal streets.
1952—Pastor Herbert Anderson arrives.
1954—Calvary participates in a national Sunday school contest and wins first place with attendance of 1,048 on the final Sunday.
1966—Calvary plants a satellite church, Chenowith Baptist Church.
1987—Calvary buys 6 acres on Columbia View Heights and begins construction of a new church building.
1997—The addition to Calvary’s current building is completed, adding a sancturary, lobby and classrooms.
2022—Being led through the years by a number of godly men, Calvary continues to glorify the Lord, working to fulfill its mission statement of “Disciples Making Disciples.”