Natural continuity: Oak Street Church founder hands reins to successor

February 2018 Posted in Community
Breck Wilson retires (1)

John Friedrick, left, has taken over the role of pastor at Oak Street Church from its founder, Breck Wilson. Brenna Wiegand

By Brenna Wiegand

Breck Wilson, Silverton’s longest-running pastor, retired Jan. 1 after shepherding Oak Street Church for 40 years. John Friedrick is the church’s new pastor.

Wilson made his way from Northern California to Alaska, part of the Evangelical Christian ‘Jesus Movement’ of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

“At that time there were a lot of people hitchhiking and wandering; welcoming them was largely what our early days were about,” Wilson said.

Breck’s wife Cathy grew up in Silverton but the two met in Alaska at a farm recently purchased by a Jesus Movement group. The couple wound up in Silverton where they helped set up another community on some acreage in Central Howell. Their numbers ebbed and flowed with an average of 80 residents. As the 20-somethings married and had kids, the need for greater privacy caused them to end the commune – but not their pursuit of community.

Out of this emerged a new church body led by Wilson. In 1978 the fledgling congregation took up residence at its present Oak Street location, a building constructed in 1910 for a Woodmen of the World lodge.

They worked to make their church a place of welcome and safety to all.

“We want people to feel like they belong before they need to believe anything,” Breck said. “We don’t have an official membership; if you feel like you’re a member,
you are.”

Mary and Steve Lierman have been there from the beginning.

“I have not met many people as hospitable and welcoming as they are; I consider them both my pastors,” Mary Lierman said. “I think the more you learn about God and his grace and love the more you extend it to other people.”

“The church is less interested in dogma than in reaching out to people in the community,” said Craig Bazzi, also a 40-year member. “I’m almost sure they’ve never had their house totally to themselves. It goes beyond the Sunday morning service; it’s a way of life in little things and big things; it’s all the same to them.”

For the first 20 years Breck was both pastor and owned a landscaping business with employees. With time, his church work increased as the business decreased, but those decades were not without their ups and downs.

“At one time we had about 100 adults and 75 kids but in the late ‘90s we went through a difficult time where a lot of people left; seems like we were down to about 30 people,” Breck said. “That’s when I wanted to quit.”

The church supported several missionaries and they feared they wouldn’t be able to keep that up.

Out of the blue, Silverton’s Junior Women’s Club invited Oak Street Church to join forces with them in their fund-raising booth at Oktoberfest and Homer Davenport Days. After the first year the club sold the booth to the church in return for the following year’s earnings.

That year netted several hundred dollars; last year Oak Street Church’s corn dog booth brought in $20,000.

“We never had to stop supporting our missionaries because the corn dog money came,” Breck said. “I saw it as God’s provision.”

As Wilson prepared to retire, more provision came in the form of John Friedrick.

Friedrick, 27, always wanted to be a pastor. He grew up in a church, was homeschooled. In 2007 he came to Silverton as a Canyonview Camp intern. He soon found his way to Oak Street Church.

“I was struck by the sense of hospitality and vulnerability,” Friedrick said. “I thought these people were really themselves even if themselves were kind of messy, and there was kind of a joy and a freedom in that.” For years he was the church’s youngest member and loved it. When an office position opened in 2011 he joined the staff and it soon became apparent that Friedrick was the right person to take over for Breck. Breck has mentored him for several years and will be around for support. He and Cathy know what it takes to go the distance.

“We have had all kinds of joys and all kinds of sorrows and have learned even in the sorrows that there were valuable lessons,” Cathy said. “It’s a beautiful thing that we can continue to have our church family be our church family. John is not only a capable pastor; he’s like a
son, too.”

Friedrick, too, is grateful for the relationship and guidance as he steps in.

“I want to honor and respect what’s come before me and push forward on our values of community; get a richer sense of what that looks like,” Friedrick said. “I hope the things that drew me to Oak Street will just get deeper and richer as we move forward.

“I connect with a lot of really great young people in town outside of Oak Street and people just kind of find their way here; I think people my age and younger really feel a lack of that vulnerable, real honesty.”

Friedrick plays guitar, sings, writes songs and paints and hopes to integrate more creative outlets into church life. For the past five Aprils he has hosted a community art show at the church.

“Art; creativity is a great way to get to know people better and to welcome people who aren’t comfortable with church,” Friederick said.

“John feels that connection to the community and it just seemed like a natural handoff,” Bazzi said. “There was a momentum when we were a group of people in their 20s. Then we had families; the kids grew up…”

“One day you look around and everybody’s got white hair,” Cathy said. “We need to be an Abraham, Isaac and Jacob multigenerational church if we’re going to have any longevity. It’s been really rewarding to see young people coming in.”

John has partnered with Breck the past nine years putting on a free community dinner on Monday nights. They feed an average of 100 people and relish the event, including their weekly trips to Bill Schiedler’s organic farm near Scotts Mills. For years Schiedler has donated surplus produce to the church.

This winter they set up a warming shelter for people needing to get out of the cold – uncomfortable and extra work but a vital, important thing, Friedrick said, sounding a lot like his predecessor.

“We have no plans to leave; we plan to die here,” Breck said. “We feel fortunate to have been here so long and to be so rooted.”

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