A History of Wiley Heights Covenant Church

Wiley Heights Covenant Church is eighty-eight years old and has a story of human lives, which weave a tapestry that continues to build and color within a Covenant denominational framework. It begins with adventurous Swedes collecting from Sweden, others from the Midwest of the United States who were eager to build a good life for themselves as well as a bright future for their children.

Their numbers were such that the area they settled became known as Swede Hill. Swedes have always been colonists. When the horizon of their native land became too narrow they migrated to the wide prairies and homestead lands of America. There they set up their little Swedens. Like all migrants, they arrive with their stories, memories and hopes for the unknown future.

Wiley Heights Covenant Church is no different and has roots in the Alaskan Nome gold rush. As the nineteenth century faded into the twentieth, Alaska was calling men to its gold fields. Among those who hurried to find riches were two young men from Chicago’s Tabernacle Church, Fridolph Nelson, and Fingal Gothberg. The two worked hard but did not strike it rich. They resorted to working for others as well as prospecting on their own and were able to leave Alaska with enough money to join with another Alaskan friend to form an investment company which they called the Jupiter Investment Company.

Jupiter Investment Company bought up hundreds of acres of dry sagebrush country west of the pioneer settlement of Wiley City. Located in Washington State’s Yakima Valley, the treeless ridge was to get irrigation water from the Tieton Reclamation Project and was considered suitable land for orchards and apples were considered king. After the land purchase the investment company began to advertise its holdings for sale in the Swedish language paper, “Mission’s Vannen.” It wasn’t long before Swedish families from Omaha, St. Paul, and Chicago Swedish churches were coming to buy ten and twenty acre tracts of land from Jupiter Investment Company. Thus a predominantly Swedish colony was established on what is now called Wiley Heights and affectionately known as Swede Hill.

Those early pioneers were church people and they brought their church with them. The August Dahlin family was one of the first to come to Wiley Heights. In the summer of 1911 they started a Sunday School with an enrollment of ten. The community continued to grow and in 1914 a Ladies Aid Society was organized with twelve members. This group is now known as the Covenant Women’s Ministries.

In the early days, the men would take the afternoon off from their ranch duties and attend the Ladies Aid meetings. The women often found it convenient to have them along to drive the team, fix a broken harness, or guide an unruly horse over the rough roads. This society together with the Loyal Helpers, a group of younger women, had several auctions, selling articles completed by the members. This money was used for missions, and for the church treasury, which often had a deficiency in past years.

Many times the Treasurer of the church would ask for a loan of a considerable sum, “when hard times came a knockin’ at the door.” These amounts were always loaned to the church, and later presented as a gift. It has often been said that the treasury in this organization was always full and running over.

On September 15, 1915 the church was formally organized at a meeting in the Dahlin home. The Reverend David Swanson, Pastor of the Selah church, was the chairman of this meeting. The charter members of the new church were: Mr. and Mrs. Israel Anderson, Mr. and Mrs. August Dahlin, Mr. and Mrs. Fingal Gothberg, Mr. and Mrs. L.M. Nystrom, Mr. and Mrs. Nels Nystrom and Miss Ruth Nystrom. Reverend and Mrs. Nathaniel Gothberg and Mr. and Mrs. Oluf Lawrie joined the church a few weeks later.

In October 1916, it was decided that a church building was needed. Mr. Nels Nystrom, who was church treasurer, was appointed architect and building supervisor. Many of the men were experienced carpenters and builders so the labor on the building was donated. Gifts of money came from churches in the East and a loan of $250.00 was granted by the North Pacific Conference in which the church had membership. The work progressed rapidly and on July 15, 1920 the church was dedicated free of debt.

It is interesting to note that even in those early days the church had a choir and a cantata entitled “The Grace of God” was presented at the dedication. Distances were long in the “horse and buggy” days; nevertheless the dedication speaker was the Reverend Skogsbergh of Minneapolis.

So the picturesque little church located on a tract of orchard land given by Mr. Henry Carlson, began its ministry, a ministry that was to stretch out for nearly half a century. From its beginning the church emphasized the work of the Sunday School. Mr. August Dahlin, who started the first Sunday School in his time, continued to lead the Sunday School work for a number of years. Mr. L.M. Nystrom who was also a talented leader followed him.

Later when the change was made from Swedish to English Mr. Oluf Lawrie became Sunday School Superintendent, a post that he held for many years. He was also instrumental in starting Sunday Schools in Tampico, Cottonwood and Wiley City. There was always plenty of work for Sunday School teachers and this was a vital training ground for many of the church’s young people.

Music played a large part in the church’s program. For many years Miss Marie Torrell served as organist and choir director. A string band was organized early in the church’s history and enlivened many Sunday night services.

Space does not permit a fuller account of all those who took part in leading the church in those early days but mention should be made of Mr. Israel Anderson, affectionately known as “Uncle I” to his Sunday School pupils. And then there were those old timers, Mr. Grell and Mr. Torrell. Their fervor for the things of the Lord gave the church in the orchard an “Amen Corner” second to none.

For these early leaders we give God praise — they being dead, yet they speak.

In 1936, despite a prevailing depression, it was decided to build a parsonage. Since the Augustana Lutheran Church had discontinued its services in the community, the Covenant Church acquired title to its one-acre property, and the parsonage was built on this land. Again the men of the church did the work and in a short time a new home stood ready to receive its first occupants.

The first pastor of Wiley Heights Covenant Church was Rev. Nathaniel Gothberg. He served as pastor from 1917-1929. He was one of the original settlers on Wiley Heights. Rev. Gothberg was well suited and trained for the task of pastor as he had been a missionary in China until failing health had forced him to come home. He had come to the Yakima Valley and had taught for several years in public schools.

Then he had taken an orchard on Wiley Heights and willingly accepted the pastoral responsibility to help the new church. For twelve years he served as part time pastor and orchardist and for several years without salary for the work he preformed for the young church. From 1920-1929 he received a salary of $25.00 a month. Most of his services were conducted in the Swedish language. Rev. Gothberg taught the first confirmation class in 1928. In 1929 he resigned as pastor but continued to teach the adult Bible class for many years and was a pillar in the church until his death in 1954.

After Rev. Nathaniel Gothberg resigned in 1929, Rev. Milton Opsahl, a recent graduate of Moody Bible Institute accepted the call to pastor Wiley Heights Covenant Church. Coming from Chicago he arrived at a church which still chose to have services in Swedish. In a board meeting dated August 5, 1929 it was moved and passed that $50.00 be given to the new pastor to help with his moving expenses. Elmer Tissell promised the loan of a kitchen stove for the Opsahl family and the old Gust Anderson home on the Torell place was used for the parsonage. The Opsahl’s family was with Wiley Heights Covenant Church for two years and after resigning in July of 1931 found a new home in Tacoma Washington. After leaving for Tacoma the pastorate was not filled until 1937.

Though there was no permanent pastor during those years Wiley Heights Covenant Church was not without pastoral assistance. Help came from Selah Covenant church. Pastor C.F. Pihlstrom, pastor of Selah Covenant Church held services on Sunday afternoons. In spite of the unusual hour services were well attended. A ministry forum that was not unusual for the time was the use of tents for meetings. Rev. Pihlstrom conducted tent meetings at Carlson and Occidental roads for one summer, which were well received. He also taught a confirmation class for the young people of the church.

It was also during this time that Mr. R.S. Kelly, a Yakima businessman and lay preacher often filled the pulpit. His booming Scotch brogue and prophetic messages remain a strong memory for those still living who heard him. Two home missionaries from the North Pacific Conference also filled in often during that time. Rev. Axel Anderson, known as “Sunshine Anderson” and Rev. M. Anderson were appreciated for their ministry and were always received gladly.

In 1936 it was decided that a permanent parsonage be constructed to accommodate future ministers. In spite of the depression a parsonage was built with donated labor and materials. Shortly after the congregation gave the go ahead to the building project a well groomed home stood ready to receive new occupants.

The first Pastor and family to occupy the new parsonage was Rev. Arvid Johnson (June 4, 1937). He and his family arrived from serving in Idaho Falls, Idaho with Wiley Heights Covenant Church as their new station of service. During his stay a church bell was purchased and a cast iron furnace was placed in the parsonage. Writing his first annual report (Jan. 1938 for 1937) Rev. Johnson encouraged the congregation, "… God knows what the new year will bring forth. Be thou faithful unto death, and thou shalt receive the crown of life.” During the February 20, 1939 board meeting it was decided to set aside money to build a chicken coop for the pastor’s family. June 2, 1940 was noted to be the last Sunday for the Johnson’s. Arvid Johnson was known as a strong preacher of the Word and was sought after to hold special meetings all over the Northwest. His ministry was appreciated and was missed after he left.

The process of calling a pastor is often long and following the process of pastoral call is slow. However demanding the ordeal the end result can be encouraging if there is a good fit between congregation and pastor. Rev. Irving Erickson was eager to begin his ministerial career and Wiley Heights Covenant Church was eager to have a pastor, so both being eager they quickly embraced and a call was extended to Erickson. He was just out of Seminary and had been a part of a mens’ quartette that had passed through the area so mutual need brought them together. 1941 was the year that Rev. Erickson came to minister and having a background in music gave attention to developing the church choir. Erickson was also an able preacher of the Gospel and he provided leadership for the next three years.

The Rev. Carl Janson was the next pastor to accept the call extended to him from Wiley Heights Covenant Church. He arrived in 1945 and was another individual just out of North Park Seminary and was said to be a blessing to both young and old alike.

The church and the next pastor got to know each other and there was a mutual respect that kept this union together from 1949 until 1956. Rev. Raymond L. Johnson had served in Spokane Washington and was acquainted with the Pacific Northwest so there was not a geographical adjustment to his relocation to Wiley Heights Covenant Church. He reached beyond the walls of the church to the community and had a servant’s heart. His ministry touched not only a church but also a community. He was especially remembered for his faithful visitation ministry. The congregation was beginning to age and families with young children were filling in the ranks of Church leadership. It was a good time for the pastor and congregation.

Rev. Alfred Johnson was the next pastor of Wiley Heights Covenant Church. He arrived in 1957 with his wife and two children. Al Johnson’s ministry took off and soon the little country church was in need of more space. Rev. Al was a man’s man and led the men of the church in things that many loved to do. Activities like hunting and fishing and a certain charismaticism made others attracted to him like iron filings to a magnate.

Rev. Johnson’s leadership positioned the church to entertain and then begin making plans to rebuild in a better location. From Wiley Heights Covenant Church archives this explains the times: The decades slipped by. A basement was dug under the old church and a kitchen and church school rooms were also added. An electric organ took the place of the old reed pump organ. Modern pews and pulpit furniture and uncounted coats of paint marked the passage of years. Yet in spite of continued refurbishing, the old church finally began to look out of place with the times. The road to the church was much too narrow and parking became an increasing headache.

Mr. and Mrs. Gotfred Clasen donated property overlooking the beautiful Ahtanum Valley. The new church would be on top of a hill exposed to the public where the old church was hidden in the rows of apple orchards.

Rev. Alfred Johnson pastored Wiley Heights Covenant Church until 1961. The next pastor was Rev. Vern on Anderson; he served from 1961 till 1966. He was able in leadership and provided direction for the congregation throughout the building program. There are all kinds of challenges for pastor and congregations to endure during a strenuous building campaign. But the hard was made more easy to bear because of good people in key positions. Mr. Heb Grant was hired to build the structure and construction took a year. The church was dedicated on May 26, 1963.

Members of the building committee were: Stan Anderson - Chairman, Robert Barrett, Russ Carlson, Purdy Crosno, Frank Engquist, Norman Kelly, Alex Mowatt, Paul Nystrom, Ed Worman, Gotfred Clasen, David Johnson, Rev. Vernon Anderson - Pastor, and Marvin Anderson - Church Chairman. Members of the finance committee were: Mrs. G.E. Clasen;- Chairman, Mrs. Purdy Crosno, Kermit Gothburg, Mrs. Norman Kelly, and Ben Larsen.

Rev. Anderson was also the pastor that led the congregation to celebrate the 50-year Jubilee of Wiley Heights Covenant Church in 1966. These are his words for that special day: “How appropriately the words of the Psalmist when he wrote 'Not to us, O Lord, not to us, But to thy name give glory, For the sake of thy steadfast love and thy faithfulness (Ps. 115:1)'. We come to this occasion thankful for the past and acknowledging that every blessing has come from the Heavenly Father. May His name be glorified. This does not diminish our memories of those pioneers whose labors and vision gave us so rich an inheritance. Nor does it cause us to forget the many others who during these fifty years have so faithfully sustained the work of the church by their love, prayers, and sacrificial labors. Long ago God’s Word said, 'You shall hallow the fiftieth year- it shall be a jubilee unto you.' This year needs to be just that for us in order that we may find spiritual strength, fresh vision, and spiritual fervor to face the future. God’s Word also says, 'There remains much land to be possessed.' Thoughtfulness for the past with its colorful people and events is a good and appropriate act of thankfulness. Yet as we turn our eyes from the past to what lies ahead we realize the great land we have yet to possess. When Thorwaldsen, the Danish sculptor, was asked which was his finest statue he replied, 'The next one!' It is this forward-looking spirit which we covet and pray for. Therefore, let us in these days of Jubilee dedicate ourselves with renewed vigor To Christ – Who is the head and the glory of the Church; To Deeper Consecration – Recognizing this as our primary need; To Gospel Proclamation – Proclaiming a timeless message with the power to change human lives.”

From the east came Rev. Rollin Swanson and his family. Hailing from Rhode Island the six Swanson’s’ arrived with spirit and ready to begin their legacy of work at Wiley Heights Covenant Church. Rev. Rollin Swanson was not afraid to challenge the congregation to be and to do more than they had in the past. He wrote, “If the teaching ministry of the Church is to be strengthened, all must aid the pastor in visitation … Sunday school teachers and others alike. New times also demand new methods and new materials. If we are to be alive to the work of Jesus Christ, we must also be alive to people’s needs and ways of living in this modern age. The basic message of the Gospel remains the same, but methods do change and we must learn to live with change.” Rev. Swanson did not direct traffic from the backseat but rather led the charge. In 1971 he was instrumental in starting a Sunday School in Tampico, a little burg nine miles west of Wiley Heights Covenant Church. Rev. Swanson served as pastor from 1966-1972. Those of us old enough to remember know those years were turbulent for our Nation and can appreciate the challenge to pastor during that time.

Rev. George W. Laug, a seasoned pastor and former missionary to Japan was called as the next pastor. Rev. Laug and Mrs. Laug had a wonderful passion for lost souls. It is evident in his first report to Wiley Heights Covenant Church. He asked: “What is our biggest need? As I see it in this church I believe we need a new vision and a genuine revival sent from God through his Holy Spirit. There must be a greater burden for the lost and a deepening sense of our own spiritual complacency. As someone has said in a challenging message, we need to set high goals. There must be targets at which we aim, by the grace of God. This applies to each individual in this church. This hill of Wiley Heights must be set on fire for God and this can come only in answer to urgent prayer that God may have His way and then 'many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord' (Ps. 40:3b).

One year went by and he stated: “We believe there is a tone of yearning and expectancy for the Lord to work in renewing.” Rev. Laug finished his ministry at Wiley Heights Covenant Church still sounding a call for revival. As he left Wiley Heights words spilled out of him that a genuine spirit of revival would sweep through the church and community, to the glory of God and that individuals would all be filled with all the fullness of God. G.W. served God at Wiley Heights Covenant Church from 1972-1975.

Then thirty-year-old John Miller answered the call to pastor at Wiley Heights. What is lacking in experience can be made up with zeal. To season as a minister takes time, exposure to many different situations and circumstances, and a people to practice on. Rev. Miller was well educated and was sought out by the conference office to help lead diverse ministries from youth to pastors in crisis. In his first annual report he quoted from the New Covenant Hymnal (red book) “Change is hard, it always comes with a great deal of difficulty … but also adds a breath of fresh air to our lives. May God help us to continue to give us songs for those who have lost their spirit, to give us new ideas we never had before, so that alleluia and gloria and amen are like the experiences we know in daily living.” John Miller stated that twenty-five percent of his life was spent at Wiley Heights Covenant Church and he retorted that the congregation had mellowed him and had added skin to his nose. John was good for Wiley Heights Covenant Church, as was Wiley Heights Covenant Church good for him. Rev. Miller served for ten years in Wiley Heights Covenant Church, until 1985, before moving his family to Minnesota.

Pastor Eric Josephson came to Wiley Heights Covenant Church with his wife Esther and stayed until he retired in 1994. Pastor Joe began ministry at Wiley Heights with a steady hand and faithful background of service to various Covenant churches from Canada’s high plains to the mid-west of America as well as the Pacific Northwest. He answered God’s call on his life as a young man and did not look back. Pastor Joe’s years at Wiley Heights provided the congregation a minister who had great experience and a stability of spiritual witness that inspired trust in the older congregants and devotion from the younger individuals of the congregation. He was genuine, Biblical, sound in his life and ministry.

Pastor Josephson became an institution for many. He developed friendships and provided the light of Christ to the community and in words of others was dependable, faithful, compassionate and kind, and had a calming effect on individuals. When Pastor Joe retired, Ed Field reported that he would be missed deeply, that the years of pastoral service were years that the congregation was thankful for, and the congregation had experienced a unity that brought the congregation together. Though Pastor Joe had retired he continued to have a steadying influence such as Nathaniel Gothberg had on the congregation in the early days. He continues to serve as visitation pastor to the elderly in the congretation to the present.

In 1995 Pastor Peter Kozushko accepted the call to come to Wiley Heights Covenant Church. Peter was born and raised in Canada. Peter felt God’s calling into ministry and attended Trinity Western University where he completed his undergraduate degree. Peter then continued his education at Regent College where he attained his Masters of Divinity. Peter attended North Park Seminary for his orientation. Pastor Peter spent an internship year at his home church in Surrey, British Columbia. Peter found that preaching, teaching, worship leading, and discipleship were the most fulfilling areas of ministry for him. Other interests of Peter’s are writing music, guitar, skiing, wind surfing and fishing.

Pastor Peter came to us with his wife, Clare, and a one-year-old son, Sheldon. During their time here at Wiley Heights Covenant Church they added another son, Nicholas, to their family. Pastor Peter was not afraid to try new things. Such as, during Lent he led the congregation through the 50 days spiritual adventure entitled “Untapped Miracles For Tapped Out Christians”. Some liked it, some didn’t and some were indifferent. He was responsible for moving our worship service style to a style better suited to the younger congregants. He tried to aim for a style that would please the older, more established congregation as well as attracting younger members. In 2000 Pastor Peter accepted a call to be an associate pastor in Oregon.

Between Peter and the arrival of the next pastor, Stan Shipley, pastoral duties were shared by retired pastors, Eric Josephson, Carl King and Harold Swanberg. Together they gave spiritual direction providing pulpit supply, counseling, teaching confirmation and other shepherding duties. It was a help to the congregation to have two seasoned ministers that complemented each other’s giftedness to hold Wiley Heights Covenant Church congregation stable.

In September 2001, Pastor Stan Shipley accepted the call to become Wiley Heights Covenant Church interim pastor. He was voted in as senior pastor in January 2002. With the arrival of Pastor Shipley there was a deviation from past practice. Pastor Stan was raised in an Assembly of God home, educated in a Church of Christ Bible College and was youth pastor at a Presbyterian church before serving as solo pastor at two Assembly of God churches. After two successful pastorates, leading both congregations through building programs, Stan took a break from ministry. In 1991 he and his wife were once again students. In 1994 Stan graduated with a Bachelors in Family Studies and in 1998 completed a Masters in Education Administration. From the middle 1990s through September 2000 Stan worked as a supervisor at Boise Cascade Plywood Plant in Yakima. During half of that time he was promoted to green end superintendent. While still at the plywood plant he felt the tug to return to his heart's passion of ministry. And following the Lord’s leading and His opening of ministry doors he arrived at Wiley Heights Covenant Church to pastor once again. He continues to serve as senior pastor at Wiley Heights Covenant Church and considers himself blessed to have received the call to serve such a wonderful congregation.

Wiley Heights Covenant Church began with a small colony of Swedes drawn from various places in America to settle Swede Hill and build a church. The first language was Swedish and all in attendance were Northern European in ethnicity. Over the years that changed.

The congregation of Wiley Heights Covenant Church is presently a diverse congregation. We are multi-generational, multi-ethnic and diverse economically and educationally as well. The Lord has been faithful, as has the congregation over the years. As the church in 2003 has a solid and healthy history, the congregation and church leadership looks to the future with hope and faith. The best and most fruitful days of ministry and service to the community lie ahead. Today’s congregation stands on the shoulders of those who have gone before but the ideas, values, dreams and aspirations remain constant throughout the years.

Stan Shipley, Pastor
July 2003