What do a surgical assistant, a clown, and a pastor have in common?
Give up? They are all lines on the resume of Pastor Marilyn Danielson. Pastor Marilyn, came to Portland in 1998 after earning degrees from Spring Arbor University and Ashland Theological Seminary. Recently retired after 20 years as pastor of First Congregational Church of Portland (FCC), she took the time to look back to the beginning of her career as a pastor. Pastor Marilyn recounts how her mentor, when she first entered the ministry, strongly advised her to leave the part about being a clown off her resume because no church would take her seriously. She ignored that advice. The people of FCC Portland “loved the idea,” and hired her to be pastor of their church, where she has served for 20 years.
Many in the community will remember Pastor Marilyn dressing in costumes, riding on FCC’s floats in parades. Danielson recounted how she wore her clown costume in Portland’s Fourth of July parade her first year as pastor. “I’m marching down the road following the high school band. I don’t know many people. I’m following the parade...and we come close to the middle school and the band disperses...and I’m standing there. I’m by myself….somehow I lost the parade so I’m the clown walking by myself down Lincoln Street. And nobody paid any attention!” Just a normal day in Portland.
When a tornado devastated much of Portland in June 2015, Pastor Marilyn was out of town. About a year beforehand, the congregation had made the difficult decision to remove the iconic bell tower from their historic church on the corner of Church of Warren Streets. Finishing touches were just being put on the reconstructed bell tower on the morning of June 22nd, when the tornado hit, collapsing the new tower into the sanctuary, almost completely demolishing the building.
Reflecting on how her congregation and the community has rebuilt since then Pastor Marilyn found it remarkable, “how resilient people can be...come through devastating things...and keep on going.” She says unequivocally, that her favorite part of being pastor at FCC is the people. “The people in Portland are a cut above average,” she says.
The devastation was actually a blessing in disguise, according to Danielson. When the remains of the church were being demolished, the head of the demolition crew told them that the beams holding up the sanctuary were,”powder” due probably to termite damage years ago. “We had no idea,” said Danielson. Now, FCC has the, “oldest newest church” in town she says with a laugh.
Pastor Marilyn recounted with a quite sense of pride, the numerous ways her congregation serves the needs of the Portland community. Most people know that FCC Portland runs a food pantry, and started the Monday community meals program. Every Monday, volunteers serve a free meal from 4-6 PM at the FCC fellowship hall to anyone in need of a hot meal and friendly conversation. While originally started by the members of First Congregational Church, the meal program has since expanded to incorporate many other local churches.
Significantly less well know is that on a daily basis, the church also feeds breakfast to a group of about twelve neighborhood children who ride the school bus to Westwood Elementary and St. Patrick School. “Right on the sidewalk...is the bus stop,” says Danielson, “the kids are standing there, and I though, it’s cold, it’s dark. And so, come in. Just come in.” She says she will miss her “breakfast kids,” but is glad to know that other volunteers have stepped forward to continue watching over the children of the neighborhood.
Danielson says she will miss worship and especially singing in the choir. “I love singing in the choir. I will miss that,” she says. Pastor Marilyn says she looks forward to the finding other ways to be involved in ministry. She is particularly interested in volunteering her time with Positive Solutions Informed Choices, the local pregnancy resources center. She recounts how her daughter became a mother while a teenager. “It’s touched close to home and so part of my heart lends itself to that,” says Danielson.
Pastor Marilyn and her husband Warren will continue living in Portland and look forward to more time spent with their children and grandchildren.