St. Michael’s History

In 1908, a group of Episcopalians in the Rose City Park area of Portland began discussing the challenges of getting to church on Sundays, typically a long, dusty (or muddy) trip to St. David’s in southeast Portland. They submitted a formal appeal for a new mission in their area to the Rt. Rev. Charles Scadding, third Episcopal bishop of Oregon. In 1910, the bishop responded by purchasing two lots at 38th Avenue and Broadway. With the carpentry assistance of the archdeacon and community members, the “little brown church” was built. 

St. Michael’s held its first services on Christmas day 1910, a Sunday that year. With a donated organ, a woodstove for heat, and a small volunteer choir, records show that 41 people attended, and the offering was $10.80 (approximately $300 now). The Rev. Thomas F. Bowen was appointed Vicar in 1912 and served until 1930, the first of a number of faithful, long-tenured priests. He faced the many challenges of a new and growing congregation and was described as “an English gentleman and a grand pastor, and he and Mrs. Bowen were beloved by all who knew them, in and out of the church.” To find space large enough for permanent buildings, in 1914 the little church was moved five blocks to the newly purchased current location at 43rd Avenue and Broadway. Two laypersons began their long and significant service to the parish during this period: Earl Gardner as Sunday School Superintendent from 1922 to 1962 and John Vassie as Parish Treasurer from 1926 to 1969.

After a few years of planning and fundraising, it was time to start building. The cornerstone was laid on September 17, 1922, by the Rt. Rev. Daniel Sylvester Tuttle, Presiding Bishop.  Bishop Tuttle was in Portland for the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. The Oregonian described the service as ”rendered impressive by the concourse of vested bishops and clerics…”  On the Feast of St. Michael & All Angels on September 29, 1923, the first service was held in the new church, designed by noted architect Ellis Lawrence. The original church was used as a parish hall. In 1930, Mr. Bowen resigned his position, having grown the congregation from about 30 members in 1912 to about 500. Members of the congregation donated two stained-glass windows in honor of and in gratitude for the ministry of the Bowens.

In 1932, the Rev. Richard Flagg Ayers became vicar and served until 1944. Fr. Ayres was a catalyst for changes in worship. Among his innovations were more frequent Eucharists and the use of colorful vestments. In 1937, St. Michael’s became a Parish, and Bishop Dagwell officiated at the formal consecration. Fr. Ayers thus became St. Michael’s last vicar and first rector. Bareme Tyler Stone was hired as the Senior Choir Director and primary organist, a position that she held for nearly forty years. Both a girls’ choir and a boys’ choir were well-established by this period, with the girls’ choir in particular thriving in the 1950s.

In 1938, a new parish house was opened. (Present east portion of the complex is  made up of the parish hall and kitchen, offices, gallery, classrooms and music room). The “little brown church” was torn down 27 years after its construction.

In 1947, the Rev. George R. Turney became St. Michael’s fourth rector. He was extremely outgoing and well-liked. In time, he would become known as the Hollywood district’s “inspirational padre.” By the mid-1950s, church school numbers were close to 500. The music program gained strength, and the pipe organ was enlarged and improved. In 1950, a new building program was inaugurated. Three years later, the Nativity Chapel wing was completed, consisting of the children’s chapel and additional classrooms, offices and restrooms. New stained glass windows were installed in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The first staff assistant priest was hired in 1951. This position continued to the present day when candidates and funding were available.

In 1959, The Rev. Eric G. Gration was called as rector. He not only increased lay involvement in liturgy but also arranged for the congregation to become a “Trial Use Parish” for the next version of the Book of Common Prayer in the 1960s and 1970s. In addition, in response to a desire to see women involved in the vestry, Ann Brown was elected to the vestry in 1968. She also became the first woman to serve as Senior Warden. In 1961, the boys’ choir transitioned to a well-regarded men and boys’ choir that  recorded and toured nationally and internationally.

In 1973, a new Balcolm & Vaughan pipe organ with sixteen ranks and 977 pipes was installed. Changes in the chancel and related spaces to accommodate the organ and improve the acoustics were accomplished by a team of parish volunteers headed by Caroline and Wayne Litzenberger. Fr. Gration began allowing girls to serve as acolytes and women as eucharistic ministers, known at the time as licensed lay readers. He was also a strong early supporter of women’s ordination. The continuing spirit of lay ministry involvement and inclusiveness are hallmarks of the openness that Fr. Gration shared and encouraged. Fr. Gration became the first rector to retire from St. Michael’s on December 31, 1978.

The Rev. John S. Scannell became St. Michael’s sixth rector in 1979. Fr. Scannell recognized the gifts and talents among the members of the congregation and encouraged each one to express those talents for the greater good, regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation. He supported the developmental experience in newly ordained priests by providing short-term assistant roles. In 1984, Casey Long (Longwood) became the first woman priest ordained at St. Michael’s and was the first woman assistant. In 1986, the parish was profoundly affected by the Oregon Episcopal School Mt. Hood climbing tragedy. Nine students and teachers died, (two, Alison Litzenberger and Patrick McGinnis, were members of St. Michael’s).

A master plan for St. Michael’s was developed in 1981, and a series of renovations occurred from 1987 to 2011. A gallery was constructed to improve connections between the original three buildings, and a bell tower was installed as part of a project to provide an accessible lift and expand the main entry. In 1990, Fr. Scannell led a reordering of the sanctuary and choir areas that resulted in moving the altar and the choir and organ console, which created better sound and put the liturgy more in the midst of the people.

Marla McGarry-Lawrence was raised up from the community and ordained a deacon in 1994. In addition to her deacon’s role in the liturgy, Marla used her strong pastoral, organizational and incorporation skills to strengthen and help grow the many ministry areas that she helped lead: pastoral care, liturgical ministries, outreach and justice, and Hispanic ministry. She served until 2010 when she accepted a new assignment from the bishop.

In 1994, the catechumenate adult-formation process began as a process of Christian conversion. It is rooted in early church tradition to accompany those who are seeking life in Christ and to incorporate them into the life of St. Michael & All Angels. Weekly sessions have typically been scheduled beginning around the first Sunday in Advent and ending in late spring. Participants may choose to be confirmed, received or reaffirm their faith at the Bishop’s Visitation which usually occurs in May or early June.

The Mission Endowment Fund was created by the 1992 annual parish meeting. Its intent is to provide a safe repository for funds to provide continuing support for the mission of our parish. Grants may be made for scholarships and to parishioners to enable them to grow in Christian faith and service; for community outreach, for agencies who minister to persons in spiritual and/or economic need; for local and other Episcopal church projects; for new mission development; for leadership; and for capital improvement, debt reduction, and the building program, when needed. In any year, no more than half the income will be spent in any one area. 140 grants totaling nearly $240,000 have been awarded from 1996 to 2021.

“¿A qué hora es la misa?– What time is mass?”–was asked by a nameless man receiving immigration counseling at St. Michael’s House in fall 1994. Juan Guerra, now a priest, was helping undocumented persons obtain legal residence. Juan kept telling Fr. Scannell, “Our clients always point to the church and ask, ¿A qué hora es la misa?” A missionary at heart, Juan convinced Fr. Scannell and Deacon Marla McGarry-Lawrence to give a Spanish language service a try. In January, 1995 the first Misa en español was celebrated with fewer than ten people. By 2001, the Sunday attendance grew to 28. In 2019 attendance was 75. For the first several years, Fr. Scannell preached and presided, and Deacon Marla provided strong pastoral and organizational support. Carlos Núñez came to us in 1998 and was soon our preacher and supply priest from 2002 to 2007. From 2010, bilingual assistant rectors presided until 2015, when the Rev. Roberto Arciniega was hired as half-time associate rector.

John Scannell learned that the Executive Council and Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori would be holding their spring 2007 meeting in Portland, and that it was their custom to visit a local parish during these sessions. We invited them to St. Michael’s for worship and fellowship on March 4, 2007. 535 people attended the 9:00 service that day with seating in the Church, Nativity, and Parish Halls, followed by a welcoming coffee hour following worship. Unfortunately, Fr. Scannell was recovering from heart surgery and wasn’t able to attend in person. Because of the technology in place for the closed circuit broadcast and with the help of his tech-savvy sons, he was able to view the service with them from the hospital. Deacon Marla led a big wave to him at our first ever live-streamed service! Other guests from the Executive Council preached at the 11:00 am and 1:00 pm services. Total attendance for the day was 727.

The vestry and Rector John Scannell began discussing his upcoming retirement in 2007, and a transition team was appointed in mid-2006. In early 2007, John announced that he would be retiring at the end of the summer and his last Sunday would be July 1, 2007. A weekend of celebration and thanksgiving occurred with a gala dinner and program at the Melody Ballroom on Friday, a Laurelhurst Park picnic on Saturday, and Sunday Eucharists with Fr. Scannell preaching and presiding, followed by  receptions with apple pie.

During the interim time after Fr. Scannell departed, David Perry served as assisting priest until Interim Rector Joan Yetter arrived. The Transition, Profile, and Search Committees were appointed and began their work. It took some time to be ready to move ahead with creating the profile and beginning the search. The prayer-shawl ministry started during this period. A very successful auction was held to raise funds for the Rector search and relocation. Over $27,000 was raised thanks to the many participants and volunteers. We rejoiced when we received the Senior Warden’s August 2009 letter announcing that Christopher B. Craun had been called as Rector and would begin her ministry in September. 

The tenure of the Rev. Christopher Craun (2009-2021) was a time of dynamic growth in the mission and ministries of St. Michael’s. As the congregation looked to its centennial, they called a young rector who brought a new energy and vision. With prayer, study and discernment, the church became an Immigrant Welcoming Congregation (2013) and a Sanctuary Church (2015). In 2018 we earned our GreenFaith certification. In addition, we had building renovations and expansions that increased accessibility and our ability to serve our neighbors. People in the Portland region have been drawn to St. Michael’s by seeing our theology in action in the streets, on the picket line, at community forums, and through the witness of our faith.

Our community faced two major challenges in the past couple of years: the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and a shift in leadership as our rector took a position with the diocese and our assistant rector elected to step away from ministry. Contending with these internal stressors and a global health crisis, our church family rallied to stay connected to each other, engaged with our wider community and attuned to the Gospel. 

Today, St. Michael’s is known as a welcoming and inclusive community, especially to Spanish-speaking persons, some of whom are recent immigrants, and to the LGBTQIA+ community. St. Michael’s continually seeks to steward our buildings and grounds consistent with our commitments to creation care and radical hospitality. We endeavor to serve and engage with our neighbors through numerous ministries that provide or augment direct services and that seek systemic change through Gospel-values based advocacy and action.