Amazing Grace Fellowship perseveres
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.”
Even if you aren’t a believer you probably recognize the words and could hum the unforgettable melody.
The song’s author was John Newton. Unlike the song, the history behind its author is much less commonly known. A one-time slave ship captain, Newton transported slaves who were chained in the bowels of Newton’s ship. It is reported that the slaves could be heard groaning and/or humming the melody of the infamous song.Newton, convicted in his own heart, repented for his role in the slave trafficking and came to know the amazing grace of God’s forgiveness. Realizing his own salvation through grace by faith, Newton penned the now-famous lyrics.
In La Grande there is a little-known church that, like the song, has a history whose name is representative of that famous hymn. Amazing Grace Fellowship, according to Union County records, was constructed in 1920.
Originally an African-American church, there is a rich history to be revealed about a church that is still alive and well in La Grande today.
Amazing Grace Fellowship began on the corner of Monroe and T streets in the home of a gentleman by the name of Mr. Torrence. The congregation then moved to the existing building at 1320 T St.
In the late 1940s, longtime resident Dorothy Trice, the wife of well-known “Lucky” Trice, brought her family to the church. As the years passed, many of the congregation either passed away or moved. Despite having to send her children to other churches to find children’s ministry, Dorothy remained faithful as the rich tradition of the church moved into its next chapter.
One of Dorothy’s sons, Arthur, fondly recalls the hot dog roasts and games that were held at the church during his childhood. A pleasant smile that reflects the joy of those days shine in his face as those memories are spoken of. As the final touches were being made when the church had been painted inside and out, Arthur was heard to say, “The church is smiling again.”
The Rev. D.D. Banks from Walla Walla used to visit once a month to minister at the church. If he wasn’t able he sent his nephew, also a minister, to ensure that service was held for the faithful La Grande congregation.
During the remaining services each month Mr. Ester Wilfong served as the deacon and ensured that church went on. Despite the difficulties, the church was not to be stopped. Wednesday night prayer meetings, choir practices and Sunday night services were faithfully held.
Still faithfully attending, local resident Field Roberson and his wife, Lillian, came to the church in 1968. Actually married in the church, Field and his wife raised their children under the guidance of the church. Two of their children were married in the church, and all of them were baptized, though they had to travel to Pasco because the local church had no baptismal.
“The church has always been a blessing to me,” Lillian says.
Field remains a familiar face around La Grande, always smiling.
The church was once pastored by Rev. Joseph Poole of La Grande, remembered by many for his quality upholstery business in town. When Rev. Poole moved to Pendleton the church pulpit was assumed by Rev. Julius Coleman. Following the departure of Coleman, teachers periodically filled the pulpit, and the congregation slowly declined in numbers.
Field Roberson made a promise to God that he would keep the doors of the church open to accommodate anyone. Many times Sunday service would find only Field in the church. Most times, he and Dorothy Trice would faithfully be there. Church always started on time regardless of how many were there, complete with music and study of the Bible.
“Extraordinary” is how many describe the faithfulness that Field exhibited during these times.
Field speaks of his prayers to God for more than 10 years, believing that God would send a pastor to bring revival to the church. The long history of the church — the births, the deaths, the joys, the sorrows, the marriages and most of all, the miracle of lives changed — was something that Field believed needed to continue on.
Retiring from ministry (she thought), a local pastor was soon to be filling the pulpit at this “amazing” little church. Pastor Carlyn Ashlock was to fill the faithful prayer request of Field.
“I was retired from preaching, not from ministering,’’ Ashlock says. “The only explanation I can give to being in the pulpit once again is that Field got ahold of God, and God got ahold of me. The love and acceptance in this place is above and beyond. It truly has been ‘amazing grace’ given by them to me and all who enter.”
The church, until recently known as Boyd Memorial Baptist Church, is no longer all African-American. As the Body of Christ is made up of many different backgrounds and colors, so too is the little church with an amazing history. Everyone is welcome.
Services begin every Sunday morning at 10:30.
“We are a full gospel church ordained and under FCF ministries of Tulsa, Okla.,” Ashlock said. “God’s grace is still amazing to whosoever will call upon His Name.”