Dating back to the days of the Oregon Trail, the story of Portland is a tale filled with adventure, risk, and independent thinkers. Evolving in the early 20th century, Portland positioned itself as a gritty, but innovative city. Testified by features such as urban design and the early municipal use of electricity, Portland became a cultural pacesetter for the country. In more recent times, Portland’s identity has made it a haven for creatives who flocked to the city when the dot-com bubble burst. Emerging from traditional socioeconomic groups such as blue collar and white collar, the new creative class of the city continues to tell Portland’s story in microcosm. Amidst the beauty, intellect and industry Portland is now the least religious city in America. As a cultural trendsetter, does Portland gives us a glimpse into the future of cities? Is the city better off without God?
To answer this question we must look into the heart of the city, its people. In 1830 Alexis de Tocqueville observed American culture and noted a “strange melancholy that haunts the inhabitants...in the midst of abundance.” Portland is a city that is culturally rich and yet haunted by a restlessness of the soul. Is the art form, the newly created product, or the seasonal ale an end unto itself? One author notes
“Whatever controls us is our Lord. The person who seeks power is controlled by power. The person who seeks acceptance is controlled by the people he or she wants to please. We do not control ourselves. We are controlled by the lord of our lives.”
From this vantage point a city without God is not a reality. Simply stated the term “irreligion” means that other aspects of culture are being worshipped besides the living God. Could it be that instead of leading us toward freedom irreligion is leading us toward slavery? Furthermore, is it possible that the culture of a city is more vibrant and best understood within the larger narrative of God?
Oaks Parish is seeking to be a church that leads people to the person and work of Christ in order to explore and ultimately answer such questions. We aspire to create a community where people can belong before they believe. Over the next five years we will join others in the city of Portland in developing medium sized missional communities in the southeast sector of the city that embody and articulate the historic Christian gospel bringing about spiritual, social, and cultural renewal. These missional communities will worship Christ together, enjoy authentic friendships, and pursue shared needs amongst neighbors.
Portland is a brilliant city, but what could happen if God became a more prevalent character its story? If Jesus is true it means that the addict can know freedom, the hopeless meaning, and the marred beauty. The glory of Portland compels you to declare “surely God is in this place”! So imagine what it would be like to know the creator of such splendor. Will you join this endeavor to plant a church that fosters this kind of relationship with God?