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Distinguished Service: John Friedrick – pastor, champion, safety net

By James Day

Sometimes your ability to make a difference in your community can be as simple as how often you say ”yes.”

That’s been the case in recent years with Oak Street Church and its pastor John Friedrick. Yes to continuing its Monday meal tradition. Yes to using the church building for a warming shelter. Yes to hosting listening sessions for young people during polarizing times.

Oak Street Church is celebrating 50 years this year and Friedrick has been on staff for 13 of those.

“In some ways, I feel like I’m spending the dividends of my community’s investment in our beautiful town when I’m able to say yes to someone, or their project, or an event, and I’m thankful for the support of the folks at Oak Street to do that,” he told Our Town.

“I didn’t start Monday Meal or Sheltering Silverton’s emergency warming shelter. In both instances the people who did start them invited me into their work. None of us operates alone; we’re all dependent on each other. It’s good to recognize that, as much as we might help, we are also helped … because I need this community as much as anyone else.  

“Any good I’ve been able to do has been supported and encouraged by more people than I realize. I’m grateful for this town.”

And Silverton is happy to return the favor. Friedrick is being honored with the Silverton Chamber of Commerce’s  Distinguished Service Award for 2023 at the Feb. 17 First Citizen Awards Night at The Oregon Garden.

The nominating papers note that when Friedrick took over the Oak Street congregation from Breck Wilson in 2018, Wilson was the longest tenured pastor in Silverton.

“You don’t hand over your church after 40 years to just anyone,” the nomination form says, “and John has proven over and over again what an asset he is to our community.”

Friedrick noted that part of the journey has involved learning lessons and facing challenges. Take the warming shelter for example.

“When Sarah White [of Sheltering Silverton] approached Breck Wilson… about hosting an emergency warming shelter in our building, it made sense for us and our values and he said yes on the spot,” Friedrick said. “I’m glad that he did, because at the time I was afraid of folks who lived outside. Getting to know people who were homeless was good for me. They showed me that they’re just as wonderful and important as anyone else. By opening our doors to host Sheltering Silverton and welcoming our unhoused neighbors, we were blessed and our community was invited to grow.”

Or Monday Meal.  

“Monday Meal brings a variety of challenges. We rely on a large number of volunteers from our church and the broader community and our folks are so dedicated,” he said. “COVID was a really rough time for our meal, but we adapted and served meals to go for a couple years. Mostly we have to find ways to not let people burn out. We have to keep our dinner guests and their experience central to what we do and how we do it. Monday Meal isn’t merely about nutrition, it’s about building community.”

During the interview Friedrick consistently praised others and championed a collective spirit in town. He noted First Christian and First Trinity also have done meal services. Immanuel Lutheran also served as a warming shelter. Bill Schiedler and Mel Pylipow with Garden Ripe have helped with the meals.

“My hope is that Oak Street is a place where people can grow deeper as a community, moving toward abundant love, holding difficult conversations, and welcoming each stranger as a new friend,” he said. “Can we be a place where everyone who wants to can belong?”

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