First AME Zion Church in Portland, OR is the oldest Black church north of San Francisco. In 1862, just 3 years after Oregon became a state, the church was organized as People’s Church in the home of Mrs. Mary Carr located on “A” Street. The street name was later changed to Ankeny. As the church membership grew, property was purchased on 3rd Street between “B” and “C” Streets (Later changed to Burnside and Couch Streets). Rev. J.O. Lodge was the first minister appointed to pastor the church. The corner stone was laid there in 1869. The name of the church was later renamed First AME Zion Church. The membership fondly refers to it as “First Church”.
Since many Blacks found work and also lived in downtown Portland near the Portland Hotel, First AME Zion Church was relocated near 13th and Main Street in downtown Portland in 1883. As the demographics of downtown Portland changed, Blacks began to move into the North Portland area and First AME Zion Church moved again in 1916 to North Williams Avenue and N. Tillamook Street where it remained for many years.
The AME Zion Church has been outspoken and in the forefront in the fight for equal rights. The AME Zion Church was involved in abolishing slavery and was very prominent in the Underground Railroad and the Civil Rights movement. In 1961, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. met with several pastors in the Black Community. One of those pastors was Rev. T.X. Graham. He was the pastor of First AME Zion Church, Portland, OR at that time. First AME Zion Church has always been involved in the community and community affairs.
As the congregation continued to grow, under the leadership of the pastor Rev. L.J. Thompson, First AME Zion Church purchased a church building originally occupied by the Danish Norwegian Methodist Church relocated at 4304 N. Vancouver Avenue, (the corner of N. Vancouver Avenue and Skidmore Street) in the late 1960's. Rev. L.J. Thompson, the congregation and other community members marched from the North Williams Avenue location to its present location.
In 1995 Bishop Clarence Carr assigned Rev. Robert Nelson Probasco as the pastor of First AME Zion Church. Under Rev. Probasco’s leadership, First Church became known as the church of the “whosoever” committed to “occupy until He comes”. First Church earned a reputation for welcoming and sharing Christ with a very diverse population, often hosting international visitors. Continued education was a priority and members of all ages were encouraged to complete college and pursue advanced degrees. First Church was known in the greater community for opening its doors to a variety of community organizations, including Connected, PFLAG, National Council of Negro Women, Girls’ Lead and a Christian-oriented day care. Pastor Robert Probasco was a servant of First AME Zion church for nearly two decades. He died on March 12, 2014.