HISTORY OF WESTMINSTER
How did Westminster Presbyterian Church get started? Who decided that there was to be a church in South Salem and that it would be built on Boulder Knoll?
In the fall of 1953, M. De Witt Safford, Field Secretary of the United Presbyterian Church of North America came to Salem to announce to the Presbyterians at First Presbyterian Church that the denomination was looking for an opportunity to found a new congregation in Salem. A committee of people from First Presbyterian Church, Salem, was formed under the chairmanship of Arthur Myers to begin planning. A 5.2 acre plot of ground in Salem was selected as the site of the new church and duly purchased in 1955.
The United Presbyterians sent the Rev. J. Dwight Russell from Weiser, Idaho to be the organizing pastor of the new congregation. He was to canvass the area from Rural Street south to the city limits and from the Willamette River to 12th Street. The interested people thus contacted, along with about 50 families from First Presbyterian, formed the nucleus of the new church. An initial loan of $85,000 from the United Presbyterians as well as a modified church building plan, got the new building started in April 1956. While the church was being built, the little congregation met at a 4:30 p.m. vesper service, held on the lawn of the manse (since torn down) with an electronic organ housed in the back of a truck! Mary Johnson and Sara Howells shared the organist duties and Wallace (Wally) Johnson (Mary’s husband) led the singing. The building was completed and first used for worship on Thanksgiving Day, 1956. The charter roll was held open until February 10, 1957 at which time the congregation was formally organized with 215 members. Because Westminster became self-supporting the day of its organizing, $8,000 of the original debt was forgiven. It was the first church in the country to become self-sufficient at its inception as far as anyone knew.
A variety of additions and improvements to the church property have been made through the years with the current sanctuary added and completed in 1986, and the Boulder Hall and Kitchen competed in 2010.