Pioneer Pride: Part 21-Kissers I

We called them Kissers, but Oregon City Followers of Christ Church, or Followers as they referred to themselves, was their official name.

There is exactly two congregations like them in the United States, one in Oregon City, the other in Oklahoma, I think. I don’t know for sure because I am researching this all from memory. Believe me, the Kissers imprinted concrete memories and I have photographic recall when it comes to this type of Oregon City things.

I suspect many other people growing up in Oregon City will remember the Kissers. How could you not? There was nothing like them anywhere in the country. There still isn’t anyone like them. They’re still around.

Those girls. Those cars. The dunks by white guys. The tackle football games. Those girls. That church. And they were all blood brothers and sisters in the church and that is no figure of speech.

They were called Kissers because of rumored mysterious kissing ritual. No one really knew what it was but we often imagined it. Later, I discovered the ritual involved adult men kissing each other on the mouth when they greeted each other in private. Maybe it’s true.

A man named Walter White immigrated with his family to Oregon City from Caldwell, Idaho in the early 1960s and established the OC Followers’ congregation, which at the time was located in a rural area of Highway 213 near present-day Clackamas Community College. It’s still there, now surrounded by strip malls and fast food franchises.

White was the leader of the church and also claimed status as a prophet. He predicted the end of the world was coming in 1969. It did, but not in the way White foretold. It was much worse: Richard Nixon became President and the horror that he unleashed back then is still unfolding today. The modern unmaking of my country began with his hate and paranoia.

Interestingly enough, Richard Nixon and his criminal henchmen on the White House staff were soon to play a very important but largely unknown role in the history of the Kissers. Key staff members were Christian Scientists, faith healers, and the Followers were faith healers, too. They didn’t believe in doctors but they did believe in dentists, orthodontists and optometrists. So the story goes, White had bad teeth and was practically blind, so there you are.

My dad knew Walter White. He would only shop in Walter White’s WB grocery store in Oregon City because it had all of three aisles and everyone working there, including White, knew my dad and greeted him warmly because he taught many of their kids and the kids loved him.

They greeted me warmly, too, when Dad would take me to the WB, introduce me as his son, and buy me groceries when I first moved out on my own at age 20 and didn’t really have a job yet that covered all the bills.

Or did I meet White? I just called Dad for confirmation on this and he couldn’t confirm that it was the Walter White who owned and operated the WB. In my mind, it was him. The man I met in the meat market apron had that prophet look.

At the time, Dad and I didn’t know Walter White was a self-proclaimed prophet, much less one who got it wrong on the date for the Rapture. Think if that: Oregon City had a prophet who botched it! After White died in 2003, the congregation never found a replacement. They are still searching for a new prophet. The WB is still open.

Who would want to follow a prophet who got it wrong? Where do you go from there? It’s not like following a bad rock and roll band on stage. The stakes were much greater.

The faith healing aspect of the Followers garnered them national notoriety 15 or so years ago when the Clackamas County justice authorities finally cracked down on members of the church who withheld medical treatment from their children and allowed them to die from easily treatable maladies. It was in all the papers and all over TV news. Kissers went to prison and several are still incarcerated.

Yes, the children unnecessarily dying was a fascinating, tragic story, covered by conventional reporting, but it’s hardly the Story of the Kissers.

I know what that Story is. I was right there. She was right there.

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