Olalla faithful fighting to save historic church building

Dave Campbell once thought himself to be more of a fill-in before accepting the title of pastor in late 2018 at the quaint little white church off Olalla Valley Road, referred by some locals as simply the chapel building.

He has since led the most recent of over 65 years of activity in the Olalla Bible Church, a sizable chunk of over a century’s worth of worship services in the small structure, but now he hopes to lead his congregation through its latest challenge of coming to terms with the age of its building.

It began as many dreaded discovery processes do. Campbell said that a cheap small repair led to the discovery of a far bigger problem. “We asked just how far it would go. We had found some rot, and we paid somebody to inspect the entire foundational area and wood supports,” he said.

It was discovered that excessive rains and all that comes with Pacific Northwest wear and tear had created major foundation issues on one side of the building—Campbell saying the entire length had rotted out underneath. “There just isn’t any wood supporting that side of the church between the foundation and the floor.”

The cracks were bound to show at some point. The church had been erected in 1907 at an initial cost of $1,600 to serve the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Olalla, which had been formed the year prior. The building lacked siding or a completed interior for its first five years, and the building was not even painted until 1922.

Services were discontinued in late 1952, church records citing dropping attendance. The building was eventually rented and later sold to the up-and-coming non-denominational Olalla Bible Church in 1958 for $2,000.

The cost to keep services going in the aging church is now estimated at around $130,000, with some evaluators telling church leaders it may be best to start fresh on the property altogether.

That latter advice has not sat well with Olalla community members, especially those attending services. “It’s become a family for me here,” said Robert Walls, a worship leader in the congregation. “The building has really grown on me, although it can be a little lopsided now. I’m really hoping they can repair it.”

Church attendance climbing to nearly 100 in the late 1950s had prompted the young church’s need for the building, but present days fluctuate between 30-50 guests. Most show their age in their graying hair, but a few young families and kids also make the trip.

Yet the church and its regulars caution those on the outside looking in to not judge the health of the church by its exterior but by the warm welcome of a rural community of faith and unwavering sermons and songs of proclamation on the building’s inside.

“It really shows when they sing back,” Walls said. “Sometimes, I’ll just stop playing and listen to them. It just warms my heart.”

Fundraising efforts are underway to help raise money to save the building. Online and in-person gifts are being accepted, and a June 29 fundraising concert will also be held at the church. Admission is free, but donations are encouraged.