Thursday, June 18, 2009
Rolling Hills church founder led 31 years of growth
Dale Ebel, founding pastor of Tualatin’s Rolling Hills Community Church, was returning to Oregon with his family in 1975 for graduate work at Portland’s Western Seminary when he sensed a call to start a church.
“We were driving on I-5, and right at Exit 290 – the Lake Oswego/Durham exit – it was like I heard God say to me, ‘You are going to start a church in this area,’¤” recalled Ebel, a native Oregonian and a West Linn resident since 1978.
After Ebel finished his Master of Divinity degree, four families, who were friends of the Ebels and had been commuting to church in Portland asked him to be their pastor.
When Ebel agreed, the families established Rolling Hills Community Church on Feb. 1, 1978, meeting in family homes.
Their first public service was Easter Sunday, 1978, when 120 people gathered in a bank building in Lake Oswego. Then they rented Lake Oswego’s Palisades Elementary School for six years, before moving in 1984 into their newly constructed Borland Road building on land found by Paul Sundstrom,a founding member.
“There were no other churches in the area, and we saw it was where we needed to be, and it started to grow,” Ebel said. “Now, there are so many other churches around there.”
Today, between 2,700 and 3,200 attend the two Sunday services.
Ebel, who stepped down last month from his role as senior pastor, recently reflected on why Rolling Hills grew so much.
“We are rooted in the reality that we are weak and God is strong. There’s something about that that resonates with people, that sense oftransparency, that we are all in process, and that brings authenticity,” Ebel said, adding that he also held fast to “teaching the word of God.”
Original member Cheryl Doerr believes the church’s multigenerational feel is appealing: “So many people are still here who have been here for 31 years. I think that stability is an attraction for young families.” Her son Aaron, is music pastor at Rolling Hills.
Though Ebel acknowledged you want to grow, for Him, “it’s never been about the numbers. I’ve always said, it’s about the people.”
Church member Deana Ruppel of Oregon City credited Ebel with what she called huge people skills. “He has a way of making people feel important,” she said.
And Paulette Jones, Ebel’s administrative assistant from 2005 until he stepped down, noted, “He’s been instrumental in marriages and raising kids. He has poured his life into people.”
In his three decades of service, Ebel has also made strong ties outside the church.
Jerry Nihill, principal at Tualatin’s Bridgeport Primary School, where Rolling Hills members help with various programs, said, “Rolling Hills has been a fantastic community partner with Bridgeport, making it a better place to be.”
Yet, in the midst of his devotion to ministry, Ebel has remained dedicated to his family.
Bill Towne, the church’s interim senior pastor since June 1, who has been on staff in various roles since 1983, said of Ebel, “He was an entrepreneur in starting this church, but he was not sacrificing his family to do so.”
RECEPTIONS JUNE 27-28:
Receptions honoring Dale Ebel’s 31 years of ministry at Rolling Hills Community Church will be held after church services scheduled for 4 p.m. June 27 and 9 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. June 28at the church, 3550 SW Borland Road, Tualatin
WHAT IS NEXT FOR DALE: Dale recently established the non-profit Dale Ebel Ministries. He plans on continuiing to mentor pastors, disciple others and teach as well as write a book. Reach him at www.daleebel.com