College Place Village Church Celebrates 125th Anniversary

December 17, 2017 | Donna Casebolt

College Place (Wash.) Village Church members and friends spent Oct. 13 and 14, 2017, celebrating the 125th anniversary of the church's founding. On the church podium furnishings of the era reproduced as authentically as possible the Ragsdale parlor of 1892, where the first members met.

Pastoral staff in traditional dress led the worship hour with a congregation considerably larger than the 36-member group established by R.S. Donnell in early summer of 1892.

On Friday evening at 6:30 p.m. Terry Koch, church choir director, orchestrated a historical hymnfest accompanied by his wife, Terri, on the old-fashioned pump organ in the podium “parlor.” At 7 p.m. Daniel Jackson, North American Division president, spoke. He also presented the Sabbath morning sermon at the 8:15 and 10:45 a.m. worship hours. The adult Sabbath School special feature at 9:30 a.m. included historical sketches of God's providential leading.

The celebration continued at 2:30 p.m. Sabbath afternoon with another historical advent hymnfest followed by a seminar 3–5 p.m. featuring several historians and theologians from nearby Walla Walla University who, along with Jackson, challenged the audience to consider carefully its place in history and its calling as God's people. A panel discussion and question/answer period followed as the holy hours of the Sabbath drew to an end with sundown worship.

Of course the weekend would not be complete without a good old-fashioned social arranged by the church social committee at the youth center. Beginning at 6:45 p.m. with games, food and fun reminiscent of 1892 and complete with the traditional garb of the era, the celebration came to a historic close.

The Three Angels’ Messages arrived in the Walla Walla Valley in 1869 by way of a most unlikely person — a layman convert from the Church of the Brethren, Franklin Wood, who had moved to California to escape the Sabbath promoted by a Walla Walla Valley neighbor. In California the family attended a series of evangelistic meetings and became Seventh-day Adventists with a strong desire to share the message back in the Walla Walla Valley.

However it wasn’t until the summer of 1874 that I.B. Van Horn — the first Seventh-day Adventist minister to visit the Northwest — set up his tent for an evangelistic series in Walla Walla, and the work began to “go forth with power.”

Seventeen years later, by 1891, it had grown to such an extent the need for an education facility led to a decision to build a college in the valley. This was not just for “higher” education and included primary and secondary schools. Adventist believers began to settle in droves near the proposed school site, and, in 1892, a full year before the opening of the school, a Sabbath School began meeting.

Its first meeting place was the T.S. Ragsdale home, a brick farmhouse near the college site. They gathered for services in the Ragsdales' parlor or, on sunny days, met in the shade of the majestic trees surrounding the home. When tithes and offerings began coming in and going off to the conference, the name “College Place” was chosen to identify their origin.

That year the parlor soon filled to overflowing. Once construction of the college administration building had progressed sufficiently, the congregation began meeting in the administration building’s unfinished basement. Later a chapel built on the second floor of the ad building became the church’s home.

Twenty years later the need for a building of its own became obvious to the growing congregation. Financial pledges were called for and came in with such rapidity that on Aug. 4, 1912, H.W. Decker laid the cornerstone. With a seating capacity of 700 the church opened for Sabbath services on March 28, 1913. By the time the church was dedicated debt-free on Dec. 28, 1918, it had already begun to outgrow its capacity and was again using the college facilities for Sabbath School classes.

Of course this was no reason for the building to come down. But it did. Three weeks after the dedication ceremony, it burned to the ground. Undaunted, the congregation commenced construction of a new building in September 1919. With a seating capacity of 950, it nicely accommodated its first worship service on Feb. 7, 1920.

As the town of College Place continued to grow, so did the congregation, which soon surpassed the church’s seating capacity. Once more college facilities became dual purpose accommodations — school five days a week, then Sabbath School and worship overflow every Sabbath.

By the end of 1947, the Walla Walla College Church was established with 636 members, leaving a congregation of 1,178 members in the Village Church. The large Village congregation necessitated two Sabbath services each week. A plethora of committees began meeting to discuss the feasibility of building yet another church.

Young couples who started their families at the end of World War II would see their children enrolled in Walla Walla College before church building plans became finalized. Purchase of a lot at 12th and Larch in College Place opened the way for construction of the present facility, and a groundbreaking ceremony took place on March 3, 1968.

Nine years later, on Feb. 5, 1977, the cost of $700,000 had been retired and the church, with a seating capacity of 1,500, was dedicated debt-free. In the intervening years a chapel and Sabbath School wing have been added.

Today’s membership of 1,600-plus is rejoicing in the ways the Lord has led in His work in the Walla Walla Valley, through Blue Mountain Television, and around the world. With a 50-year renewal project underway for its aging building, Village Church can continue to look forward to providing facilities to carry the Three Angels’ Messages to all the world, “for a witness unto all nations — and then shall the end come.”

May God continue to lead and bless as we go forward in His name.