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Our History

In February 2015, St. Johns Community Church, a 4 year old church plant, was suddenly without a place to worship. University Park UMC, a church with over a century of ministry in North Portland, offered space, both on their property and in their hearts.

Before we knew it, the Spirit had led us to embark on an adventure of discovering what it would be like to do church together. And we just kept "churching" together until we decided we wanted to figure out what it might look like to become one church community. Now, after an extended season of conversation and prayerful work, we have become Portsmouth Union Church. As Portsmouth Union Church, we are one church affiliated with two denominations, the United Methodist Church and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

We also continue to be a Reconciling, Open, and Affirming congregation. As a church, this means that we are dedicated to the inclusion of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities in our policy and practices and actively advocate for the same in our parent denominations the Disciples of Christ and the United Methodist Church. 

University Park United Methodist Church was an official member of the Reconciling Ministries Network beginning in 1992. St. Johns Community Church was an Open and Affirming Church since its inception in 2011. As Portsmouth Union Church we continue to be a member of both networks. We are also listed on gaychurch.org, where you can find information about affirming congregations throughout the country and across the Christian tradition.

Our Vision

We are a church committed to doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God.

We are a church with open hearts, open minds, and open doors.

We seek to be active in supporting each other and our local community.


Pastoral Leadership

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Julia Nielsen

she/her/hers

A native Ohioan, devoted fan of British crime procedurals, and hedgehog enthusiast, Rev. Julia 'Jules' Nielsen serves the people of North Portland in a variety of ways. As one of the pastors of Portsmouth Union Church, she is an ordained United Methodist deacon helping our inclusive urban United Methodist and Disciples of Christ congregation lean into the Spirit's calling to love our neighbors by creating radically inclusive community, building affordable housing on our property, and providing space for disciples of Jesus to worship, practice, and live. 

Jules also serves as the Leaven Community as the Faith Community Housing Developer by assisting congregations pursue the mission of ending the Portland housing crisis, and as a professional coach through the international Coaches Training Institute.

She finds hope in the passage from Romans 8 that 'nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ.' No one has the power to take the love of God away from us, including ourselves. Nothing and no one. We are always enough, always worthy of love, and always capable of change. 

Her favorite 'Now Testament' passages always come from the realm of the modern poets, including Warsan Shire, who reminds us that our attention to and compassion for our neighbors live deeply in knowing their stories. Warsan's poem, 'Home' holds this reminder best: 'no one leaves home unless/ home is the mouth of a shark/you only run for the border/when you see the whole city running as well.'

In the midst of this, Jules believes deeply in God’s power to embrace, equip, and employ all of God’s children for the work of the Kingdom in whatever context they find themselves, and that every person can transform their corner of the world alongside God using their natural gifts of curiosity, compassion, and risk-taking creativity.

 
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Andy Goebel

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A native Michigander, podcast junkie, and die-hard fan of the Detroit Lions, Pastor Andy serves the people of North Portland through Portsmouth Union Church, an inclusive urban United Methodist and Disciples of Christ congregation leaning into the Spirit's calling to love their neighbors by creating radically inclusive community, building affordable housing on our property, and providing space for disciples of Jesus to worship, practice, and live. Prior to that work, Andy was the church-planting pastor of St. Johns Community Church, a congregation whose generosity was instrumental in helping to start Christ Church: Portland. He, along with his wife Amy, and their boys Oskar and Milo, are all about neighborhood life in their beloved North Portland.

Originally trained in Secondary Education at Western Washington University, Andy was called to seminary at North Park Theological Seminary in 2004 and received his MDiv in 2007.  He continues to work in both education and ministry as a substitute teacher in Vancouver and pastor at PUC. He is passionate about his family, social justice, the truly inclusive and ever expanding Good News that is the Jesus story, cycling, music, bourbon, craft beer, binge-worthy television, and college basketball (particularly the Michigan State Spartans).

His favorite “Now Testament” quote comes from Richard Rohr, who writes, “You have never been separate from God, except in your mind.”  In Andy’s words: “That quote pretty much sums up the message I want to share with the world about God.  You’re in, you’re good, you’re never out, and you are never not loved by the creator and sustainer of the universe.”

His favorite scripture passage is Romans Romans 8:38-39: I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers  or height or depth, or any other thing that is created.” In his words: “NOTHING can separate us.  Nothing has, nothing will, nothing is going to separate us.  THAT is good news!”


Congregational Leadership

Portsmouth Union Church is led by a congregational leadership team. This team is elected by the congregation.

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Erica Cochran

Leadership Team Chair   -   she/her/hers

Erica has lived in Portland for just over two years and is originally from central California, with stints in Ohio and New York City. She loves crosswords and framed the first NYT Sunday Crossword she ever completed by herself (it took a dismal three weeks).

Erica has attended PUC for about a year. In her words:
"I value this community’s commitment to being in community with its own people and with the community at large.  I value our commitment to asking thoughtful questions, to patiently and expectedly awaiting and receiving answers, and to doing this together regardless of mess or struggle. 
I am grateful to be a part of this community that is faithfully pointing toward the Ultimate Reconciler out of gratitude and love."


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Stephen Hicks

Member at Large   -   they/them/theirs

Stephen came to this church community in 1995 after several years of solitary spiritual life. In their words:
"I was seeking community experience in my journey toward God.  I found this active group of people, individuals on similar journey. It's been like that for the most part since, just a group of pilgrims seeking meaning and purpose.  With the addition of St. John's, and new attendees, we are a strong vital movement that I don't believe can be stopped, a for Jesus Movement. Together we can do so much. O:-) "


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Judy Griffen

Staff-Parish Liaison   -   she/her/hers

Judy has been a member of University Park Methodist, now Portsmouth Union Church, since the age of six. She says: "Thanking God for my thriving church family! Many changes but God is still with us!

Judy's passions include: family, life-long learning, music, color, books, justice, the environment, travel, photography, and feng shui.


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Chris Stubblefield

Finance Team Liaison   -   she/her/hers

Chris is married to Tom and mother to Karen and Andrew.  Her volunteer experience has been in schools, community and professional organizations, as well as churches. She has recently retired from a career as an office manager and executive assistant.  It is a blessing to have found her home at Portsmouth Union Church where we experience and share God’s grace.


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Stephanie VanRheen

Secretary   -   she/her/hers

When not adventuring in the forest or city with her three little ones, Stephanie can likely be found serving the community in some capacity. Since graduating from Portland State University with a Masters in Urban Planning in 2010, she, along with and her husband, Aaron, have been putting down roots in North Portland. In 2011 they helped plant what was then St. Johns Covenant Church and Stephanie has been part of the leadership team of the church since the inception. As the Board Chairperson for AllOne Community Services, a network of faith communities in North Portland, Stephanie is passionate about making connections that strengthen the well-being of the neighborhood, particularly between churches, businesses, schools, housing, and health and wellness resources.


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Brenda VanRheen

Treasurer   -   she/her/hers

Brenda has lived in St. Johns for about 12 years and was attracted to PUC's theme of "Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly". Now retired a few years from a job in the finance industry, she lives with her sister and recetly opened an AirBNB in her basement (so fare successful). In her spare time she enjoys puzzling, reading and chaufferring grandchildren as well as hanging out with them. Coffee with ladies on Tuesday is a must and helping with projects around the church brings me joy.

She is thoroughly enjoying the ability to slow down. In her words: "I have time to think about sermons, converse with others about life or what we have heard or read and spend more time meditating on this journey with God. I am always amazed at new insights that come from hymns, conversation, sermons, service. The scripture I still am drawn to is 'What does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.' Micah 6:8


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Joe Purkey

Facilities Team Liaison   -   he/him/his

Joe has lived in the North Portland neighborhood of St Johns with his wife, Laura, since 2002 and grew up in the Willamette Valley. He enjoys spending good weather days watching his kids play baseball or working in the yard. His vocation is architecture, which he broadly interprets as referring to human interaction with the built environment. He is passionate about equity and serving others, partly because of the pain he feels seeing people being marginalized. He appreciates the partial quote, "It takes a village," because he believes it applies to so many aspects of life in a community.


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Justin Fox

Member at Large  -   he/him/his

Justin is a firm believer in finding the middle ground and ways to make things work. Not everyone has the right answers but if we can work together and put our minds together we can, he believes, reconcile differences. On a personal level he is a firm believer in friendship and very loyal to those around round him. He is passionate about board games and his Portland Timbers -- and about his wife and how very proud he is of her. A favorite "Now Gospel" quote of his is "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."


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Megan Cutler

Communications Team Liaison  -   she/her/hers

Megan is a graphic designer who lives in the Piedmont neighborhood of North Portland with her husband, Scott, and their corgi puppy, Charlie. After moving to Portland in 2016, she found her way to PUC by way of their commitment to inclusion and stayed after experiencing their focus on community. She is passionate about the power of therapy to change lives (her own included) and finding opportunities to do life together. When she isn’t working on home improvement projects, she enjoys playing board games and reading/watching science fiction.

A favorite quote of hers is by Maya Angelou: “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” In her words: "We aren’t brought into this world with an instruction manual and often have to spend time unlearning untrue things about ourselves and others. I love the reminder that it’s alright to grow, forgive ourselves, and move forward in this world knowing that we have the opportunity to do better."