Written by Mary Stamp
Seattle's historic Beacon Avenue UCC, nearly dead and buried, is rising to life as a new congregation, thanks to a helping hand from a neighbor UCC church.
Ever since 1906, a Congregational (and then UCC) church on the corner of Beacon Ave. and South Graham St. in South Seattle has ministered to its community. "Over its 94 years, first as Sommerville Congregational, then as Olivet Congregational and then as Beacon Avenue UCC, this congregation tried many ways to reach out," says Beryl Sibley, a member for 43 years and director of a refugee program housed at the church. "At one point, it had 22 ministries to its community."
But that was then. Last year, Beacon Avenue was down to 12 aging members and a diminished financial base. Closing the doors seemed inevitable, even though it still housed seven outreach ministries.
Beacon's plight stirred the interest of Plymouth Congregational UCC, with its own history of fostering new congregations in Seattle. The pastor, the Rev. Tony Robinson, proposed that Plymouth find a way to sustain a UCC presence in the Beacon Ave. facilities.
Together, Beacon and Plymouth members decided to create a new UCC church, named Bethany for the town where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. During a March 19 service celebrating its life and history, Beacon closed and 25 of its members joined in covenant as charter members of the new multiracial, multicultural congregation. About 15 Plymouth members will worship at the church as associate members. The church will seek official recognition by Advent 2000, and hopes to have 300 members by then.
Except for plans to close the building for repairs two months this summer, its programs and tenants will continue. These include a food bank, a Headstart/ECEAP education center, the Refugee Resettlement Program, and two Samoan and one African-American congregations.
Plymouth is investing $45,000 and has committed to recruiting people from other Seattle-area churches to canvass the neighborhood and tell the UCC story. In addition, the Washington North Idaho Conference is giving $5,000, will seek $5,000 from other UCC congregations and is applying for new church start funds from the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries.
Mary Stamp is editor of the Washington North Idaho edition of United Church News.