Peter Drury moving on after 10 years on the Hill

It's been a rewarding tenure to say the least. For Peter Drury, co-pastor of Broadway's All Pilgrim's Christian Church, serving at an urban church has been a privilege more than a profession. But, as they say, all good things must come to an end. Following 10 years as a pastor on Capitol Hill, Drury gave his last sermon at Pilgrim's on Sunday, June 17.

Drury's tenure on Capitol Hill coincided with the merger of the First Christian Church and Pilgrim's Church, a move that led to a revitalization of what was renamed the All Pilgrim's Church. Like so many old city churches whose memberships have declined precipitously over the years, both were facing the possibility of closing. The merger probably assured both congregations' survival.

Drury was born at Overlake Hospital in Bellevue and grew up on Bainbridge Island.

"I had a rural, almost idyllic childhood. I knew every neighbor, and we always felt safe," he said.

Following high school, he graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in Judaic-Christian studies. But becoming a pastor was not at first a likely choice. He was drawn more to work in social services.

"Deep down, I always loved the church," he said. "It made sense in terms of ethics, character - ways of looking for meaning in the world. I was fascinated by how people of so many different faiths dealt with meaning. But it never appealed to me in an evangelical sense."

He was also deeply disturbed by how most established and fundamentalist churches reacted to the early stages of the AIDS crisis, as well as the way such churches dealt with homosexuality and the ordination of women.

But in 1989, just after he'd finished college, Drury had an opportunity to work at Multifaith Works, joining as the organization was getting started. The Capitol Hill-based interfaith group immersed itself in the AIDS crisis and worked toward an inclusive, faith-based response.

"I wasn't concerned with church politics or dogma when people were dying. But I knew that religious leaders could leverage an awful lot for social change. Working at a young age at Multifaith Works opened my eyes to those possibilities. So I stayed in," he said.

Yale Divinity School came next. A masters in social work soon followed. He worked for a family/child counseling center on the east coast and spent time in Chile working with children in poverty and AIDS sufferers.

By 1997, Drury, then 30, knew he wanted to return to the northwest and be part of a progressive church in the Seattle area. In the summer of '97, Drury became the pastor of the First Christian Church on Broadway.

"I was an unusual candidate - my predecessor was something like 60 - but the church was fading away and I think they wanted to try some new things," he said.

The church was in a state of serious decline. Sunday service might find 40 people gathered in a space built to hold 800. Drury's efforts at reinvigorating First Christian included updating the services - "It felt like they were stuck in time" - to bringing in a popular jazz service in the middle of the week. His efforts led to a revival for First Christian. A younger crowd attended, including many people who were homeless or nearly so. For some people, attending First Christian was their first step back to being part of society again.

"The church started to really cross economic and social barriers. We had a wonderfully diverse congregation, one which reflected Capitol Hill as well as the people who had been coming for many years," he said.

But when the Nisqually Earthquake in February 2001 substantially damaged the church, First Christian faced difficult choices. The church's 80-year-old building needed more than $1 million in repairs, money that was not at hand.

Again, an opportunity. Several blocks north on Broadway, the Pilgrim's Congregational Church, a similarly progressive church led by Pastor Mark Travis, also operated in an underused building. The decision was made to merge the two churches into the All Pilgrim's Christian Church and vacate the First Christian Church building. (Sadly, that building was torn down and is now a parking lot across from Seattle Central Community College.)

The merger proved rejuvenating for both. More than 200 people usually attend Sunday services.

"Combining the two really allowed both to survive and thrive," said Drury. "We've become a vigorous, dense, urban congregation. The church is willing to push the envelope as to what it means to be a church in modern times. I am very proud of what the church has been able to do."

His goal has to been help create a church of inclusiveness and acceptance. He does not proselytize or preach strict dogma. And while such notions may run contrary to certain far-right or fundamentalist versions of Christian orthodoxy, so be it. He thinks a more tolerant approach is a truer representation of Christ in any event.

"Jesus reached out, opposed slavery and elevated women. Turning these ideas into a faith of affluence, into a doctrine that's kicking people out, is missing the point," he said. "I think we're traditionalists at All Pilgrim's, representing Jesus' concern about injustice. While it may be easy for some to dismiss us as a liberal church, I say read the 'Bible.'"

Drury's departure comes down to a feeling that at age 40 it's time to move on to other things. In the last two years he's worked part-time, focusing mostly on education. Drury has led fewer Sunday services and hasn't been part of the church's day-to-day administration. Pilgrim's pastoral staff has been expanded as well - he feels he's leaving the church in quite capable hands. "Better to leave when they still like me than the other way around," he said.

Married, with two small daughters, Drury has been working as a development director for the Sightline Institute, a local think tank that focuses on environmental and sustainability issues. He's also completing his MBA at Seattle University. He sees himself in leadership roles in nonprofit organizations, in some respects closer to the role he imagined for himself when he first graduated from college.

Drury doesn't rule out becoming a pastor again at some point in the future. But he had no interest whatsoever in serving at some huge, suburban mega-church, some of the values of which run contrary to his own. As for values, he's looking forward to extending some of his pastoral values beyond a religious setting.

"I believe in solid principles of healing, hope, justice and stewardship. These values can be used in other areas, and probably need to be applied in areas outside a church," he said.

As his time as a pastor on Capitol Hill comes to a close he knows he'll miss a great deal of what drew him to religious service in the first place. He'll miss the people. He'll miss being part of their lives.

"I've had an incredible opportunity to share people's lives in dramatic moments," he said. "My role has been as a companion, counselor and friend during life-changing moments. I will miss being able to accompany people on such profound journeys."

Doug Schwartz is the editor of the Capitol Hill Times. He can be reached at or 461-1308.

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