Faith and Fervor in Corvallis, Religious or Otherwise

Oregon is still holding strong in its place among the unholy states. A 2015 Gallup poll found Oregon fifth on the list of the country’s least religious, with 45% of pollees identifying as nonreligious. Nestled along the “Unchurched Belt,” Benton County is said—by Wikipedia at least—to harbor the most impious populous in the US, according to an unspecified study from 2003, supposedly conducted once every 10 years, yet which never manifested in 2013. The stats could have been skewed by the fact that some spiritual affiliations and lesser famed religions went unrepresented and yes, you’ve heard this all before, so let’s not digress.

OK, so we’re not the holy rollers we once were. Literally. The term is rumored to originate from a cult of groveling “naked ladies” led by the infamous Edmund Creffeild in 20th century Corvallis. The tale encompasses fatal debauchery, after Creffeild preached his way into countless hearts and homes and began “purifying” lady-faithfuls via his nether regions, landing him a two-year stint in prison and ultimately a bullet in the back of his head from one vengeful brother—who then also got shot the same way by his thankless “victim” sister.

Maybe our doubts date back to these troubling times, and we can blame our bad faith on this blasphemous Creffeild character. But don’t let these records deter you. Despite our irreligious reputation, Corvallis is teeming with sanctuaries and spiritualism, and to show you, I’m laying down the city’s breadth of belief in a few broad strokes.

Corvallis’ Noteworthy Christian Offshoots
Catholicism trumps other religions among Benton County believers. Of the county’s population in 2010, 8.3% identified as Catholic. St. Mary’s Church in Corvallis is reported as having 5,415 registered members.

The largest sect of Christianity, dating back to around 33 A.D., Catholicism comes with some key distinctions. Like most Christians, Catholics believe baptism is a sure ticket to salvation, but mandate that the ritual be performed in infancy. Repentance can be earned in the old forgive-me-father box, and Catholics participate in the consumption of Jesus via bread and wine during Mass. Most importantly, most Catholics believe the Catholic Roman Church and pope hold supreme authority over matters of God.

The Church has stayed strict to the belief that homosexual acts are against natural law and is traditionally anti-abortion or artificial insemination, plus opposes the death penalty, for the sake of life’s sacredness. While views may differ between believers and present-day Pope Francis is at least allowing for repentance amongst contrite abortion-havers, there is still a general sense of shame and stigma attached to “unnatural” acts as defined by Catholic faith.

The First United Methodist Church boasts a more progressive agenda. Pastor Barbara Nixon relays an understanding of Jesus’ teachings “about loving our neighbors and enemies, about forgiveness and acceptance, [and] about nonviolently working for justice and peace.” For these reasons, FUMC welcomes LGBTQ members “without conditions or exceptions.”

The 450 followers plus informal participants at FUMC also endeavor to protect the environment, address racism, stand with persecuted persons, show concern for refugees, and so on. “We do this sincerely and imperfectly. We trust that we are loved in the midst of it all and try to share that love whenever we can,” said Pastor Nixon.

Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church and its 50 followers are currently in the process of finding a pastor, but Vacancy Pastor Craig Wasser anticipates positive changes ahead. Pastor Wasser praises Corvallis for its diverse community, which warrants respect instead of mere toleration. “We can have the most conservative Christian or the most liberal atheist standing on public ground, speaking their own views, and both groups respecting the rights of each to do this. Our community is not about winning arguments. It is about the privilege of sharing our views with each other,” said Pastor Wasser.

Lutherans represent a branch of Protestantism which disagrees with the foundations of Catholicism. Among Lutheran beliefs is that God seeks out believers, and that salvation can’t be earned but is intended for everyone, leaving it up to each person to avoid damnation.

The Unitarian Universalist Church is probably the most diverse in terms of beliefs and opinions. According to member and seminarian Monica Jacobson Tennessen, the UUFC sees a mix of followers from varying faiths that identify predominantly as Unitarian Universalist. Among them are UU-Christians, Jews, Muslims, Humanists, and even atheists.

In combining the two liberal strings of Unitarianism and Universalism, UU supporters believe in non-trinitarianism and universal salvation—that God would never condemn any person to hell—as well as humanism over theism. Two core values of any UU association are love and truth—respecting each individual’s inherent worth and fostering discovery via open-minded discussion. “You get closer to truth by talking to other people, not only about where you agree but where you differ,” said Jacobson Tennessen.

UUFC has special interest in community service; a motto of UU associations is “We pray with our feet.” Currently, some UUFC members take part in a climate and environmental justice group.

Reverend Matt Gough of the First Presbyterian Church also alludes to a communicative congregation, explaining how representatives from each Presbytery or regional governing body are selected bi-annually to attend gatherings in which “policies, positions, and other matters” are addressed. Reverend Gough references the recent change in allowing “churches the freedom to host, participate, and officiate same-sex marriage where legal.”

First Presbyterian is also a huge supporter of local arts and music. “Our worship is a blend of jazz, choir, organ, and occasionally bells. We have very talented musicians who blend it all together very well,” said Reverend Gough.

Now, I could continue with the many offshoots and denominations of Christian faith in Corvallis, but I don’t think either of us has time for that. Suffice it to say the list could go on, but we’ll save that for another story.

Outliers and Oddities
Perhaps there are some holy rollers still in town, a.k.a. the Pentecostalists. Corvallis is home to three Pentecostal denominations: King’s Circle Corvallis, Corvallis Foursquare Church, and United Pentecostal. Pentecostalism has some pretty prize beliefs. Modesty for example—they prefer women not invest in haircuts, pants, jewelry, or makeup and keep hemlines below the knees and elbows. Men, on the other hand, should show full earlobe, and neither should swim together or partake in fun and healthy activities like sports, dancing, and films. Pentecostalists believe in divine healing and the experience of God through the Holy Spirit, and are known to speak in tongues and participate in ceremonial foot-washings.

We’ve got some Scientologists. And, we have Christian Science supporters in our midst too. First Church-Christ Scientist and the Christian Science Reading Room belong to the metaphysical movement started by Mary Baker Eddy in 1875. Christian Science fundamentally sees all sickness as illusory, and capable of cure via prayer.

The Corvallis Mennonite Fellowship is led by a community of voluntary supporters. Mennonites are seriously committed to resisting sinfulness and tend to interpret the Bible literally. Mark Hazleton of the Pastoral Team considers the fellowship fairly liberal. Followers support nonviolence and charity; their ultimate mission is one of peace and justice.

Committed to “peace, simplicity, truth, and love,” the Quakers of Corvallis come together at the Friends Meeting House. On any given Sunday, about 20 of the 30 members meet and sit quietly until those “called” to speak break the silence to convey brief messages. Meeting Clerk John Selker elaborated, “There is no creed, only a belief that each and every person has a connection to the Divine and thus has direct access to infinite wisdom, and all lives are thus sacred and inviolate.”

The Mormons have some representation, too, in town, in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, but no word from them, nor the Salman Alfarisi Islamic Center or Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witness, so moving on…

Supporters of the Bahá’í faith—believers in divine teachers and human equality—can find companionship at The OSU Bahá’í Campus Association. And the Jewish community may seek out Beit Am, consisting of around 140 households that gather “to learn, pray, and celebrate the cycles of Jewish time, infusing [their] lives with joy and meaning, and revealing kedushah [holiness] within and around [them].”

“We are a center for Jewish life that embraces a diversity of religious and cultural traditions,” said Rabbi Benjamin Barnett.

The Buddhist community at Five Stones Sangha operates in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh and the Community of Mindful Living. “We practice mindfulness and loving kindness, and seek peace within ourselves and within the world,” said Ken Oefelein. Similarly, the Corvallis Zen Circle offers Dharma talks and discussions, as well as “private meetings during times of formal practice.”

While I know there are practicing pagans in our area, I’ve been unsuccessful in seeking them out. There is, however, a Night Coven listed in Corvallis, which worships the mythological Greek goddess Nyx and her companion Erebus. The Coven claims to teach and worship Wiccanism and vampirism. While no bites or disappearances have been reported, it is suggested you give your neck a fresh garlic rub before roaming the alleys at night.

Satanism has no researchable representation, but struck Corvallis most horrifically during the 2004 disappearance and murder of Brooke Wilberger, committed by Joel Courtney, who upon questioning, claimed to dabble in Satanism at an early age.

As for atheists and agnostics, the Corvallis Agnostic Atheist Secular Humanists Meetup group is composed of 100 “like-minded non-theists… dedicated to positive atheism and the separation of church and state.”

 To Each His Own Religion
Clearly Corvallis has no shortage of spiritual or religious affiliations. Maybe the rest of the country is just full of overachievers. Or maybe we’re more or less evolved (depending on how you look at it), our citizens’ beliefs composed of fluid or personalized theologies and intuitiveness. This goes for me at least. Like Einstein, I find solace in science and the stars. Like Socrates, I believe that if death means eternal nothingness, we will perish unawares. I prefer death be open-ended, and to seek out the secrets of life instead. Perhaps you beg to differ, or would rather take part in some fine-lined theism. Point being, the choice is yours.

By Stevie Beisswanger