COOS BAY — For more than a century, the First Presbyterian Church of Coos Bay fed the hungry, housed the vulnerable and supported countless service projects locally and abroad.
Though the congregation officially dissolved at the end of 2012, the members have found a way to keep giving.
On Monday, 14 former congregants gathered at Southwestern Oregon Community College to give the SWOCC Foundation a check for $100,000.
The gift, the largest ever to the foundation, will endow four or five $1,000 scholarships a year.
The congregation has directed the foundation to give the scholarships to nontraditional students — those who aren’t arriving right out of high school. They asked that the foundation prefer students who have served their community.
After the check-passing ceremony, former congregant Linda Grosso said the focus on service was fitting for a gift from her congregation.
“All the current members have been staunch supporters of public service, either in their job or in their passion,” she said.
Presbyterians held their first services in the Coos Bay area in the 1880s. Outdoor services on the banks of the Coos River gave way to services at the Methodist Church.
By the 1920s, Coos Bay’s Presbyterians had their own church. By 1945, the congregation had outgrown it. The end of World War II allowed the congregation to build a new church.
By 1955, the church had 400 families and 800 Sunday school students, and focused much attention on programs for young people.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the church came out against bombing Cambodia and in favor of building Bay Area Hospital.
The murder of a hitchhiker on U.S. Highway 101 inspired the church to start the Seagull Youth Hostel, where young travelers could sleep safely, take a shower and enjoy a meal.
Membership declined in the 1980s, and the church supported the T.H.E. House, the Ecumenical Food Cupboard and the Maslow Project locally, and the Heifer Project, which promotes economic self-reliance for people in developing countries.
The church continued its focus on young people, educating them about drugs, pregnancy and AIDS.
But the congregation kept getting older and smaller.
In 2008, they decided to sell their large church building at 438 Elrod Ave. to the City of Coos Bay, which wanted the space for its new fire station.
The congregation donated the church’s furnishings where they would do the most good. The hardwood floor is part of the new fire station. The rose window depicting the Tree of Life is destined for a church in Ashland. A church in Oakland got the hymnals.
The congregation continued to meet in space owned by Emmanuel Episcopal Church.
“We had about a million dollars,” said Grosso, referring to what the city paid for the old building. “With the interest on that, you can run a church for a long time.”
“But why bother?” she said.
With its membership dwindling, the congregation recognized it would be better off dissolving and putting its resources to better use.
So the final service was held the last Sunday in December.
The congregation decided to give $100,000 to the SWOCC foundation, and returned the rest of its assets to the church’s regional governing body, the Presbytery of the Cascades, which will use it to build other churches.
Bill Davis, the church’s pastor for the past four years, said he could imagine that some day, the presbytery would plant a new church in Coos Bay.
But for now, the church’s members have dispersed to other Presbyterian churches in the area.
Materials related to the church’s history have been deposited with the Coos County Historical and Maritime Museum.
Reporter Gail Elber can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 234, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @gailtheworld