A cornerstone near the corner of SE 35th and Yamhill Streets tells an old story which, until recently, could have been headed for an unfortunate ending. But now there is hope that the cornerstone will instead soon become the inspiration for a new story stretching well into the future of Sunnyside neighborhood.
The Old Story
The old story begins in the late 19th century when Sunnyside Methodist Episcopal Church was created in the burgeoning new Sunnyside neighborhood. In 1910 this new congregation built the imposing, stone edifice at the corner of SE 35th and Yamhill. Then 12 years later, in an expression of commitment to the neighborhood of which it was a part, the congregation added a handsome addition to the east of the original structure and called it the “Community House.” It was designed as an activity space not just for members of the congregation but for the community at large. It contained, among other features, a second floor gymnasium (still in use by neighbors in the community) and a basement swimming pool (since abandoned and converted to other uses).
Unfortunately, in retrospect, as members of the congregation moved to other parts of the city, the congregation’s self-identity as a neighborhood church began to wane. Yet even as the worshiping congregation continued to diminish in size, and most of the members commuted from other parts of the city to participate in church activities, the “Community House” and the original solid stone structure continued to provide gathering spaces for neighborhood activities.
Then in 2015 the dwindling Sunnyside congregation voted to discontinue its life together. Consequently, according to denominational polity, the ownership of the building was transferred to the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
The initial impulse of the Conference Board of Trustees was to offer the property for sale to the highest bidder. But a group of concerned folks were able to convince the Board to consider a different outcome, and, in effect, to write a new story for this building that has served the neighborhood so well in the past and that still has many years of life yet to give the community.
A New Story
The first chapter of a new story is currently being written by a Discernment Team appointed by the newly appointed United Methodist District Superintendent Erin Martin. She asked the team to develop a workable long-range plan to assure that the building is not sold to a private party but remains a significant available asset for the people of Sunnyside neighborhood. The Discernment Team envisions a renewed “Community House” as it were, both a legacy from the pioneer members of the Sunnyside Methodist congregation, and an expression of the motto of the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association: “Proud Past, Bright Future.”
The team of nine persons is co-chaired by Mantu Joshi, a current resident of the Sunnyside neighborhood, and pat Schwiebert, a long-time director of the “Hard Times Supper” ministry that has occupied the Sunnyside church dining hall on Wednesday nights for more than thirty years. Since the discontinuance of the Sunnyside church congregation the supper is now sponsored solely by Metanoia Peace Community UMC, with the help of volunteers from several other congregations.
As part of the discernment process, Pat and Mantu and other members of the discernment team have already begun conversations with Sunnyside neighborhood leaders and residents, and current and potential building users. The team is working to create a non-profit corporation that can assume responsibility for the ongoing operation of the new Sunnyside Community House. The are also looking for ways to make the building fully ADA accessible for persons with disabilities.
Join the conversation:
If you would like to be a part of the conversation, we’d like to hear from you.
Pat can be reached at (503) 706-658three or pat[at]tearsoup.com.
Mantu can be reached at (503) 799-667nine or mantuhome[at]gmail.com.