Community church celebrates centennial

Seattle First Church of the Nazarene credits its longevity to diversity of congregation

From a small group of friends to a congregation of almost 300 parishioners, Seattle First Church has grown immensely over the last 100 years, yet its mission has stayed the same: "to provide a space where our community can come together," explained associate pastor Tim Smith.

Its unique congregation proves just that. Unlike most churches that have one congregation, Seattle First Church has four. This means they hold four separate services, each delivered in a different language: Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese and English. Members not only speak different languages, but commute from as far away as Sammamish Ridge to as nearby as the University District. This makes Seattle First Church as diverse as the community it is located in.

The Seattle First Church of the Nazarene will celebrate 100 years of service in a two-day commemoration Saturday, Oct. 13, and Sunday, Oct. 14.

"Part of our 100-year celebration is to look at what it means to be a church in Wallingford in 2007," Woodward said. "What does our neighborhood need?"

Their first idea was to put in a community coffee shop run entirely off donations. The Mosaic Coffee House, which opened last March, has been a great success.

"People will come and talk over a cup of coffee that would never come to church. We are getting involved in our community. We know their names, and we are a part of their lives," Woodward said.

Another way they are looking into connecting with the community is by starting a preschool and offering day-care services to families in the area. The church has even considered starting a catering business and holding regular food drives for the less fortunate.

"The celebration isn't about what we've done," Woodward said. "It's about thanking God that we have been a part of his community."


The church was originally organized in 1907 at the home of Dr. H. D. Brown, superintendent of the Northwest District of the Church of the Nazarene, at a time when Seattle was becoming the fastest-growing city on the West Coast.

The Yukon gold rush was already well under way, and Seattle had enough funds to annex West Seattle, Ballard and several Southeast Seattle neighborhoods. Almost immediately, the city doubled in size, and now-historic sites such as the Pike Place Market, the Moore Theater and Children's Orthopedic Hospital were founded later that year.

Mark Woodward, senior pastor at Seattle First Church, said, "We didn't even realize until now that 1907 was the year the city exploded."

A year later, the church moved to its first official location and spent the next 20 years reaching out to the people of the community.

In an area now covered by the Aurora Bridge and home to the Fremont Troll, frequent fires and roadway construction forced the church to relocate in 1928. From then on, the church moved around, sharing spaces and worshiping from a basement until it purchased its present location at 4401 Second Ave. N.E. in 1948.

Faithful to the mission

Organizers of the centennial event expect anywhere from 300 to 500 people. Activities will include a banquet Saturday night and a Sunday worship service led by Dr. Ron Benefiel, president of the Nazarene Theological Seminary.

Benefiel pastored the denomination's founding church in Los Angeles during its centennial celebration in 1995. There, he helped the church adjust to changes in the city and re-vision a ministry fit to serve the new community.

"Seattle First Church is going through a similar process to effectively respond to the changes that have taken place over the past few years," Benefiel said. "One of the challenges is how to be faithful to the original mission of the church while finding new expressions that are appropriate to the changing context."

Longtime members Mabel Pingelly, who joined in 1955, and Joanna Cockle, who joined in 1966, remember what it was like during those early years.

"The church was more worship than entertainment, but it's changing its tone to interest the neighborhood," said Pingelly, a retired teacher. "It's different than it was, but it's serving its purpose, and I'm glad of that."

Cockle, who first came as a University of Washington student, got married in the church, raised her family there and now works as its secretary. She has watched it grow over the years into a community church. "There's an aliveness coming back. We're in it for the next 100!" she said.

The celebration will begin at 5 p.m. Saturday, with worship services continuing at 10 a.m. Sunday. All are welcome to attend.

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