By Midge Pierce
Some 2000 Portlanders pass through the broad doors of Mt. Tabor Presbyterian Church every week. They attend 5,000 annual events, take classes, network or drink coffee at the TaborSpace Coffeehouse. Others come to worship or find peace beneath the bright, stained glass windows that bring warmth even on the gloomiest days. Most are oblivious to the financial crisis the facility faces.
The landmark building at SE Belmont and 55th. needs hundreds of thousands of dollars for roof repairs and electrical upgrades. Costs for utilities, maintenance, groundskeeping and custodial care for the 36,000 square foot building are staggering. The brass bell, among the oldest in the nation, no longer rings because of cracks in the tower’s plaster walls.
Despite thriving as a community hub, budgetary struggles worsen every year. Now, the many neighbors and organizations that have found welcome at Mt. Tabor Presbyterian are being asked to participate in fundraising.
“We are property rich and cash poor,” explains church member Carol Moore who has given Mt. Tabor Presbyterian a lifetime of service. “More and more people come here and find a home-away-from home. We hope they care enough to help.”
Moore calls the situation urgent. But she dismisses rumors the church might soon sell the parking lot or parcels of its land to cover costs, “We do not want to sell. We will look at leasing and other options that arise.”
Ideas range from an historic, holiday house tour to sponsorships. The first fundraiser is The Second Time Around Sale on June 6th and 7th, part of an initial effort to raise $10,000 for immediate building maintenance. Fundraising chair Marsha Johnson says the sale is an easy way for neighbors to get involved by bringing and buying items. Cash donations to the Heritage Building Fund are also welcome.
Johnson is one of the dedicated volunteers who give countless hours to the church. She says preserving the beloved building should be a matter of community pride. “The architecture is a piece of history. It’s like music. It makes the heart sing.”
Volunteer Mary Louise Ott, who leads a visioning process to connect the church’s past and present, says the facility is a huge neighborhood asset. “It’s a glorious, historic structure fully utilized by community groups. But it’s an old building that needs constant care.”
Community involvement in caring for the church is tradition, according to Ott. Neighbors helped build the original structure in 1892 for $799. In 1910, door-to-door donations helped raise $22,000 to replace the wood structure with the current stone church. In the 40s, neighbors helped settle debts from the Great Depression.
Mid-century, the church expanded with a robust congregation and six choirs. Then, 15 years ago, as membership declined, congregants dug deep into their own pockets to finance seismic upgrades.
But the congregation can no longer carry the financial burden alone, according to building and grounds volunteer Michael Gnat. “Mt. Tabor has become a community center with a church in it. The community needs to provide more support for the many events that transpire here.”
Expenses are partially offset by organizations and activities that use the church for art, music, education, healing and meet-ups. Reverend Carley Friesen is the force behind revitalizing the facility, turning otherwise empty rooms into incubators for small, nonprofit businesses and establishing TaborSpace, an independently managed community gathering spot.
“This is what I dreamed would happen,” says Friesen. “We have a building that is a treasure, space that promotes interactions with neighbors and a worshipping Congregation.” Friesen, aka Pastor Carley, guides thought-provoking, dialogue at the Sunday morning 9 a.m. Coffee Service.
Reverend Pat Thompson leads the traditional sanctuary service with music by acclaimed composer, organist Jim Day at 11 a.m. Pastor Pat says community support redefines what it means to be a church. “We are reinventing ourselves with love, acceptance, grace and a sense of belonging.”
Next month: TaborSpace Celebrates its Fifth Anniversary
For more information or to make donations go to www.mttaborchurch.net,
Click Heritage Building Fund