History of Grace Lutheran Church, Molalla, Oregon



Grace Lutheran Church had its beginning as the result of a Trailer Mission that was conducted in August of 1945. The first regular services were held in the Seventh Day Adventist Church building, beginning in November of 1946, with an attendance of 47 people. Pastor John Werth who was currently serving at Trinity Lutheran Church of Mt. Angel then began to serve as the Pastor for this new Mission as well. In May of 1947, Grace Lutheran Church was organized.


The first church council was formed on June 12th, 1947. Frank Borkenhagen acted as chairman and secretary until January of 1948 and the roles of trustees and elders were filled by Ernest Hillman and William Lucht. Claude DeFrates served as both a trustee/elder and as treasurer until January of 1948. On January 14th, 1948, an election of offers was held, at which, the following people were elected to hold office:

Chairman: Pastor John Werth

Secretary: Wes Kolshinski

Trustee/Elder/Treasurer: George Polack


The first resident pastor was Kenneth Benson, (1949-50). A seminary graduate, Pastor Martin Heinicke, served Grace from August of 1950 until 1952, when he resigned to go into the military service as a chaplain. Pastor Karl Durdel served Grace Lutheran from 1952 to 1955. Beginning in June of 1955, Pastor Joseph Mann served as a dual pastor to the congregations of both Trinity Mt. Angel and Grace Lutheran, until he retired in 1976.

Pastor Walter Gustav was installed in February of 1976 and served until 1983. During his ministry with Grace, the outside wheelchair ramp was completed; a Consecration Service for Deaconess Debbie Lucht was held; “Lutheran Book of Worship” hymnals were purchased; Grandma Eda Hillman celebrated her 100th birthday (May 20th, 1979); the constitution was changed in December of 1980 allowing women to hold office; Grace celebrated its 30th anniversary in 1980; and in July of 1982, Cathy Sandberg was elected as the first woman to be council president at Grace Molalla.

Pastor Robert Bjornstad was installed in October of 1983 and served until January of 1994. During his ministry, the Altar Guild was formed (1984); Shrove Tuesday/Pancake Supper and Lenten Soup Suppers started in 1985; the constitution and bylaws were revised; job descriptions for all officers were developed; the church council started to meet monthly; sidewalks, curbing, and the south parking lot were all completed; the congregation purchased 22 oak pews from Westminister Presbyterian Church in Portland for $3950; Grace celebrated its 40th anniversary in June of 1987; and a congregational self-evaluation, as well as a pastor’s activity survey, were both completed.

Pastor Leroy Rittenbach was installed on November 13th, 1994 and served until April of 2004. During his ministry, new cabinets were installed in the church office; Grace celebrated it’s 50th Anniversary; Sunday School was moved to coincide with worship; Grace began to use guitars to provide the musical support for worship, instead of the organ, on the fourth Sunday of each month; and the church started operating a Montessori pre-school in November of 2003. Pastor Rittenbach resigns in April of 2004, due to health reasons.

Pastor Grant Francis was installed on May 15th, 2005. During his time as Pastor at Grace, he visited every household in the congregation; started bible studies; and also began to put together a monthly newsletter. Pastor Francis later retired.


The congregation purchased the land for $750 in 1948. The current building was built for a cost of $12,500 and dedicated in December of 1950. In 1950, the parsonage next to the church was purchased for $5500, and was used for the Montessori school program when it operated. Dormers (Sunday School classrooms and fire escape) were started in July of 1956 and completed in 1960. The church loan was paid in full by July of 1964. In 1992, the 48’ x 150’ vacant lot next to the church was purchased for $6500. In 2004-2005, outside ramps were added to the front of the church and to the fellowship hall downstairs to make our access points meet disability requirements. New landscaping was added to make the outside more inviting. In 2019, both of the bathrooms in the building were completely renovated, in order to meet ADA accessibility requirements. 


The first organ, equipped with loud speakers, was purchased in June of 1953 for $80. A new organ was purchased in May of 1967. Billie Lou (Polack) Kober had been the organist for many, many years. Over the course of several years, the music on the Fourth Sunday of the month was provided by various members who played guitar. This provided a little variety in our worship services and music.



August, 1945:

Trailer Mission begun in Molalla

November, 1946:

First Lutheran Service was held in Molalla Seventh Day Adventist Church building. Pastor John Werth of Trinity Mount Angel was the minister.

March, 18, 1948:

Congregation voted to buy a 100' x 150' plot of land, at 6th & May Streets. Cost was a total of $750.

August 14th, 1949:

Pastor Kenneth Benson Installed

May 1st, 1950:

Pastor Benson Resigns

August 5th, 1950:

Decision made to purchase the house and property adjacent to the church, from Frank Dicken.

August 27th, 1950:

Pastor Martin Heinicke Installed

December 17th, 1950:

Dedication of Grace Lutheran Church

April 3rd, 1952:

Pastor Heinicke reads his letter of resignation to the church; He is entering military service as a chaplain.

October, 1952:

Pastor Karl Durdell from Flaxton, ND, is installed.

June 2nd, 1953:

Decision made to buy an organ. Cost of $800.00

June 20th, 1954:

Decision by Voters Assembly to canvass each member to raise money to pay current and overdue bills.

September 8th, 1955:

Pastor Durdell accepts a call to Wallace, Idaho.

November 6, 1955:

Pastor Joseph Mann of Trinity Lutheran Church, Mt. Angel, begins serving as vacancy pastor.

April 15, 1956:

Decision to retain Pastor Mann on a permanent basis.

October 6, 1959:

Will build a dormer on church to serve as Sunday school rooms. Also installed a fire escape. Approximate cost $600.00.

May 7, 1967:

New organ is purchased for Grace Lutheran. Cost $1370.00.

June 16, 1968:

Reception at Grace Lutheran Church in honor of Bill Warren’s graduation from Concordia College, Seward, Nebraska. He will begin teaching at Trinity Lutheran School, Portland, Oregon, this fall.

October 4, 1971:

Women join Voters Assembly as voting members.

May 1973:

Bill Warren accepts call as Director of Christian Education at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

April 1975:

Congregation discusses Pastor Mann’s retirement in 1976. Dual parish with Mt. Angel or Full-time Pastor for Molalla.

December 14, 1975:

25th Anniversary of Dedication of church is celebrated. Chaplain Martin Heinicke was guest speaker.

January 31, 1976:

Ordination of Pastor Wally Gustav at St. Michaels Lutheran Church, Portland, Oregon.

February 1, 1976:

Potluck at Grace marking end of Pastor Mann’s ministry at Grace Lutheran Church.

February 8, 1976:

Pastor Gustav installed at Grace Lutheran Church.

August 13, 1978:

Consecration service at Grace for Deaconess Debbie Lucht.

January 31, 1979:

Decision to purchase new hymnals “Lutheran Book of Worship”

May 20, 1979:

Grandma Eda Hillman celebrates 100th birthday with worship service and reception at Grace.

December 14, 1980:

The 30th anniversary of the dedication of the church which was on December 17, 1950.

March 1, 1981:

Pastor Mann was honored on his 70th birthday and his 40th anniversary of his ordination.

October 23, 1983:

Pastor Robert Bjornstad was installed at Grace.

February 1994:

Pastor Bjornstad accepts call to Immanuel Lutheran Church, Albany, Oregon.

February 1994:

Pastor Wallace Misterek serves as vacancy Pastor until October 1994.

November 1994:

Sound System installed that contains assistance for those who are hearing impaired.

November 13, 1994:

Pastor Lee Rittenbach is installed at Grace.

May 1996:

Earthquake –Dormer damaged

November 1996:

New cabinets are installed in church office.

December 1997:

Kurzwell keyboard bought for use during worship.

May 31, 1998:

A party is held celebrating Grace’s 50th Anniversary.

Summer 2002:

Damaged dormer removed.

January 2003:

Sunday School time was moved to between Children’s sermon and the end of church. The kids were kept occupied and learning about God, while the parents concentrated on pastor’s sermon.

July 2003:

Added remote to sound system to allow singers and keyboard to be heard by hearing impaired.

August 2003:

The fourth Sunday of every month, a group of members who play guitar started providing the music for worship.

October 2003:

The Molalla Montessori school started accepting enrollment of kids to begin operation in November.

January 2004:

Pastor Rittenbach becomes seriously ill and church elders must take over the daily running of the church and providing of a worship service.

February 200

Pastor Harry Sholz becomes interim pastor while Pastor Rittenbach tries to recover from his illness.

April 2004:

Pastor Rittenbach retires due to health reasons. Pastor Harry Sholz becomes our vacancy pastor.

October 2004-March 2005:

Work was completed to add a new ADA compliant ramp to the front doors and a ADA compliant ramp and entrance to the basement fellowship hall.

May 15, 2005:

Pastor Grant Francis is installed at Grace Lutheran.

Spring 2005:

Landscape revitalized.

August 2005:

Brick street sign installation completed.

Stained Glass windows are installed in memory of: Ernie Martin-1986; Bill Williams-1990; Paul Lucht; and Emma Polack-1998

June 2008:   Montessori-preschool closes due to teacher relocating.

January 26, 2012:  The old parsonage is burned downed due to arson.

June 30, 2013:  Pastor Francis retires and Pastor Sid Johnson becomes our vacancy pastor.

Oct 2013-May 2014:  New Parsonage is built.

June 1, 2014:  Pastor Eric Bohlmann is ordained and installed at Grace Lutheran.

May 31, 2018 Pastor Bohlmann moved on to a new church.

July 2018 Pastor John Karay became our vacancy pastor.

October 2019  Bathrooms made ADA accessible

July 2020 Gave Cambodia Lutheran church money to create a school house.

December 2020 Disbursed funds to Fire victims from GoFundMe fundraiser.

May 2, 2021 Pastor Karay moves on to another church and we start having different guest speakers every week for 2 years.

July 1, 2023 Outreach Director Vance Miller starts working for Grace Lutheran.

August 6, 2023 Begin a weekly worship service at Bear Creek Memory Center

August 16, 2023 Started Youth group again at Grace Lutheran.