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Search The Fig Tree's stories of people who make a difference:

‘Open Door’ name depicts its ministry over the years

By Mary Stamp

One Deer Park church gained its name, “Open Door,” from its early years of leaving its door facing the railroad tracks unlocked, so people out of luck coming through town on a train could come inside for shelter.

It opened its doors to serve as an infirmary during the 1918 flu epidemic and in the 1950s to house the city’s library.

For years, Meals on Wheels cooked meals in the church’s kitchen for daily delivery. 
The church’s doors are also open to conduct weddings and funerals for people not involved in any church.

Its covenant affirms its openness:  “We affirm that the doors of our church and our hearts are open to all of life’s travelers who desire a sense of belonging and an atmosphere of support for continued spiritual deepening and growth.  We accept and appreciate each individual as a child of God and will maintain the conditions to allow us to experience, enjoy and share the love of God in harmony.  We commit ourselves to our values and will express them with resources and action.”
Open Door Congregational United Church of Christ now also opens its door to provide educational and cultural events.

Dan Berg
Dan Berg

“We are like a cathedral, a place where the town can gather in a hospitable setting to learn and to appreciate music,” said the Rev. Dan Berg, who grew up in Deer Park and returned in 1996.  “After feeding and clothing people, part of a church’s role is to enhance people’s quality of life.”
Dan’s wife, Doris is the church’s organist.  She plays an organ the church obtained about 10 years ago.  The church offers an annual organ recital “as an act of thanksgiving for the instrument and as a gift to the community,” he said.

His career teaching theology and the history of theology at colleges and at a seminary adds depth and insights to adult Bible study and theology classes he teaches at the church.

“One long-time Deer Park man once observed that if you can’t be a good Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran or Catholic, you can go to Open Door Congregational,” Dan said. “I took that as a compliment.  We’re an option for people who want a broader understanding of Christianity.”

Outside the doors, Dan has served nine years on the City Planning Commission.  Recently, when people were fearful a proposal for Habitat for Humanity to build 34 units of duplexes on 17 acres would create a ghetto, he spoke in favor of it because it would provide needed housing.
Susan Peterson, who often worships at Open Door, is director of The Green House, Deer Park’s community emergency center, thrift store and food bank.
 
Last year, the church raised $13,000 to purchase a walk-in freezer so the center can provide more perishable foods.

Dan and some local bicycle riders meet outside the doors for a Monday evening bike ride as an entry point to reach out to people not involved in a church. 

They ride around the perimeter of town, or to someone’s house outside the city for watermelon or root beer floats.

Dan on motorcycle
Dan Berg on his motorcycle

Outside the doors, he is often on a motorcycle, his transportation to hospital calls in Spokane, pastoral calls and regional church meetings.  An accident and broken bones in 2006 did not deter him from using this mode of transportation.

When Dan returned to his hometown of Deer Park to care for his mother in 1996 after a career as a professor and administrator at Nazarene colleges, he began supply preaching at the Open Door church.  Soon they asked him to be interim pastor, and then invited him to stay as their pastor 13 years ago.

Dan grew up in the Methodist church and later switched with his family to the newly forming Church of the Nazarene.  His was a strict family that became “disillusioned with modernism” in the Methodist Church at the time.

While he was in high school, the Church of the Nazarene gave him leadership opportunities, including preaching his first sermon when he was 15.

In 1962, Dan went to Northwest Nazarene College in Nampa, Idaho.  After graduating with a major in religion in 1966, he studied at Nazarene Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., graduating in 1969.
 
Next, he studied for four years at Glasgow University in Scotland, earning a doctoral degree in theology in 1978.

He taught seven years at Northwest Nazarene and nine years at Seattle Pacific University, served three years as dean at Northwest Nazarene, taught a year and a half at Western Evangelical Seminary in Portland, served as pastor of Overland Park Church of the Nazarene near Kansas City, and then taught a year at Nazarene Theological College in Busingen, Switzerland.

Attending worship on his first Sunday at Open Door were 18 gray-haired people, the pianist and her two children, but when the  church advertised four Sunday evening Advent events, 75 came to the first one.

Dan remembered the church as the one professionals and teachers attended. Although he said his family was poor and regarded them with suspicion, they encouraged him to go to college.  He was one of four boys who had attended the Methodist church and later went to seminary.
Today Dan is only one of several in the Open Door church who hold doctoral degrees—in law, veterinary medicine, biology, physics, theology and human resource management. 

In his childhood, there were five churches in Deer Park—Catholic, Methodist, Congregational, Lutheran and Church of God.  Now there are about 28 in the Clayton, Elk and Deer Park area.  Some churches come and go, he said.

The Catholic Church is the largest with 300 to 400 people attending on a Sunday and the second largest is the Church of Christ, followed by Tri County Christian Assembly of God and the Southern Baptist.  The Open Door has about 100 attending.

Dan said the church includes people from “across the spectrum of achievement in life—some who have done well and some who have not done well.  It doesn’t make a difference,” he said. 
The church has also ranged from a long-time member, now deceased, who remembered coming to church in a sleigh or horse-drawn wagon to those new in the community who work in Spokane and people from Spokane commuting to church. 

Deer Park’s population was about 1,300 when Dan left.  It now has a population of 3,000. 
It has become a bedroom community for people working in Spokane, since the lumber mill closed and its farming economy declined.

While many older members have died, Dan sees “prospects for new people to come.  Some have returned to church after leaving another church.  Some renew themselves spiritually and stay or go back to their church,” he said.  “We are seeking simply to be a church.

Dan Berg in community
Dan Berg set up communion table at demolition site
in community

“We serve in humility in the name of Christ.  Beyond that, it’s the Spirit’s work.  If we create credibility by our services, it’s hard for people to say Christianity is lies,” he said.

He enjoys watching the congregation grow and bond,” he said, “and to see them taking over organizing things for the church and community.

Dan offers adult classes for church and community members, aware that many Sunday school curricula for children offer “black-and-white, good-guys-bad-guys and overcoming-evil-by-brute-force theology,” he said.

He seeks to help adults unlearn such concepts and become aware that people still kill people like Jesus and that people who put Jesus on a pedestal to escape personal responsibility may find his teachings hard to follow.

Being part of the United Church of Christ, which has a history of taking controversial stands to promote justice—such as challenging racism and being open and affirming—he has to educate members to deal with neighbors who hear news about those stands and question the church.
To help people think, Dan encourages them to explore the humanity of Jesus, biblical and ecclesiastical history, the variety of literature in the Bible and a critical appreciation of its truth.

“It’s fun to draw people into the Bible through different translations,” he said, noting that he is fascinated by how people are in different dimensions spiritually. 

“Some are childlike in some aspects of faith and mature in other aspects.  I affirm people for who they are,” he said.

While rural churches are often stepping stones, training young pastors just out of seminary before they move on to advance their careers, Open Door’s pastor has had his career.
“I’m just here to serve this church,” he said.

For information, call 276-5107 or email opendoorucc@peoplepc.com.