Our History

Our History

Read below to learn about our rich history.

History of the Columbia Congregational (UCC) Church

Columbia Congregational Church (United Church of Christ) was organized as a Methodist Episcopal Church in November, 1892. Difficulty experienced with the Methodist denomination and later with the Presbyterian Church in securing a building loan caused the new denomination to turn to the Congregational Church where a loan was granted. The property and entire membership was transferred to the Congregational Church on March 5, 1896. It was the only church in the district at the time.

The first church building was erected in 1896. A rear wing was added in 1899 and the basement was completed and the entrance changed in 1902-03. New pews, a furnace and organ were bought and installed in 1906.

In the early twenties the membership increased with the advent of a new pastor, the Rev. George V. McClure, a former district attorney and a dynamic speaker. It became necessary to build a larger building to take care of the growing membership. A new church building was built on the same site and was dedicated in July 1923.

The congregation’s dream of having a pipe organ became a reality when Balcom and Vaughn offered a grand old organ originally used in one of Seattle’s fine theaters, completely rebuilt and installed for $3,200.00. The organ was dedicated June 29, 1923.

A renovation of the sanctuary and the addition of a wing for Christian education, pastor’s study, small chapel, and business offices was completed in 1961. The Rev. Al Lusk was pastor at that time.
Early in 1980 money was raised and the remainder of the mortgage held by the United Church of Christ was paid in full leaving the Columbia Congregational Church debt free. A mortgage burning ceremony was held October 12 1980, with Rev. James Halfaker, conference minister, and three former pastors. Rev. Al Lusk, Rev. L. Merlin Norris and Rev. Bernard Herrick participating, as well as pastor Rev. Kenneth Leonard.

It was two days before Thanksgiving in 1983 that a fire broke out in the church, heavily damaging the roof of the sanctuary, destroying the second floor of the educational wing, damaging the pastor’s study and administrative offices on the first floor. Fortunately, the building was well insured and a crew was soon at work restoring and rebuilding the parts damaged. Interim Pastor Jim Meyer was instrumental in assisting the congregation through this trying time. The rededication of the building was held Sunday, June 10, 1984.

Under the guidance of Pastor Milton Dudley in the fall of 1985, Columbia Congregational Church developed a social ministry with Ron Krom sharing the leadership. The Union Gospel Mission offered a satellite feeding program to provide food and some cooking equipment. Financial aid was secured from other churches and business firms. Hot meals were offered five days a week to low income pensioned folk living in the vicinity. Used clothing and winter coats were also distributed to needy folks who came for hot meals. Youth activities, counseling and other phases of social work were included in the program, and in few instances housing was obtained for homeless families. The program was active for five years, discontinuing in 1990.

Throughout our 100-year history Columbia Congregational UCC has served the community in many ways, including the sponsorship of Girl Scouts, Campfire Groups, Explorer Boy Scouts, and Asian immigrants.

We have also included an accounting by noted historian Buzz Anderson of the original Columbia Congregational Church Beginnings.

Columbia Congregational Beginnings

The following account of the Columbia Congregational Church Beginnings was extracted from the Winter 2005 edition of the Rainier Valley Heritage News and was written by noted historian Buzz Anderson.

The Rainier Valley Historical Society recently received all of the records of the first church formed in Rainier Valley. The date was 1891 and the Rev. U.G. Murphy was helping to organize a church congregation from among the early pioneers of Columbia City.

Those first settlers had come out to Columbia on April 4, 1891, the opening day for the sale of home and business lots that had been advertised in downtown Seattle. Transportation was provided by the Rainier Avenue Electric Railway, built the previous year to bring these prospective buyers from downtown. This was the first development in Rainier Valley and free land for churches was included in the town;s original plat. The location chosen for this first church was on the northeast corner of 39th Avenue and Ferdinand Street, one block east of Rainier Avenue on land that is now part of “Historic” Columbia City. As the new home were being built, businesses were opening up, the town government was being formed, and these early pioneers were also planning for their first church with the help of Rev. Murphy. It was to be a Methodist-Protestant church and by November of 1891 the construction of the church had begun. They discovered that outside financial help would be needed to cover the expenses of the building and they also found, unfortunately, that the Methodist Conference had no money. The Church then opened negotiations with the Presbyterians for a possible takeover. Without success, the church then opened communications with the Congregational Superintendant of Home Missions, Rev. Bailey. This resulted in the transfer of the property and the entire membership – some twenty charter members – to the Congregational denomination. On April 21, 1896, the church was formally recognized by the ecclesiastical council of which Rev. W. Temple, pastor of the Plymouth Congregational Church, was moderator.

Church work, then as now, was far from popular in the Rainier Valley; it goes without saying that difficulties in the church abounded. The file for the work of building the inclusive of Othello Street, there being no other church or Sabbath school in the district. Records show that after the first two years the congregation voted to raise the pastor’s salary to $85.00 for the next year.

In 1899, a wing was added to the building and during 1902-03, the basement was completed and the entranced changed. In 1906, a furnace was installed, an organ purchased, and pews installed in the sanctuary. By 1909, the growth of the church membership reached 150.

In 1913, records show that membership had dropped to 15 or 20 active people when Rev. Wirth agreed to accept the challenge of increasing the church membership. He succeeded in reviving the church, and the membership growth continued for about ten years, causing serious space problems. This led to the decision in 1922 to build a larger church on the same location, and in 1923, the new church was dedicated.

With an ambitious church program for all ages, the church flourished. In 1926, a membership list of 335 persons was compiled. It is fair to judge the success of a church by its number of members. Therefore, the 1920’s should be regarded as the “golden years” of Columbia Congregational Church.

The church did not escape the depression and the wartime problems of the 30’s and 40’s. Following World War II, The church again began gaining momentum, and thoughts turned to building for the future.

In 1961, the church, still on the same location, was remodeled. A new wing was added, and the sanctuary was renovated. Dedication of this new building took place in September of 1961.

The shortest term for a minister was their first pastor, the Rev. B. F. Rattray, who served for six months, April to October, `896. Rev. E. Weage served the longest term, eleven years, from June 1902 to April 1913. The church, up to 1891, had a total of twenty-two pastors.

In 1993, the church, suffering from a declining membership, attendance, and lacking the funds to maintain their building, merged with the Lakewood Church of the Brethren located at 30th Avenue South and South Ferdinand Street and sold the old church to another congregation.

All of the records of the Columbia Congregational Church were offered to the Rainier Valley Historical Society to be added to our archives. It mounted to about 30 boxes of printed material, photos, monthly visitors, weekly bulletins, scrap-books and much more. What a treasure. Included was the first church Bible, measuring 10 x 13 x 3 inches thick with the printed date of 1897. On the first page is written “This Bible purchased by the First Congregational Church of Columbia City, Washington, August 1900, Frank E. Whitman (Pastor).

Beverly Denton, a longtime member of the Columbia Church and current (former) treasurer of the merged church, offered to join with me in sorting out and cataloging all of the records of the Columbia Congregational United Church of Christ as it is named. Both churches, although joined, have retained their membership in their respective conferences. I want to thank Beverly for the many hours she has put in with still a long way to go.

The article continues with some nostalgic memories of a somewhat personal nature and are not included here.

Here is a link to the website of the Rainier Valley Historical Society.

History of the Lakewood Community Church

In the late 1940’s the little church, a branch of the First Presbyterian Church, needed a larger building, so it decided to purchase a nearby piece of land. Funds were raised and the land purchased. As a financial help would be needed to erect a building, and upon learning that the First Presbyterian Church had decided not to sponsor its branch churches in the future, an appeal was made to the Seattle Council of Churches. The Church of the Brethren, having one church in Seattle, responded as it was desirous of a second location. Thus, after several meetings with representatives from the Council of Churches and the Church of the Brethren Board, an agreement was made with the Lakewood members whereby they would give their property to the Brethren Church and the brotherhood board would then help in financing the erection of the building and the reconstruction of the little church into parsonage. This aroused in the neighborhood, and willing workers gathered to help in the building of a larger church.

The first pastor selected was the Reverend Victor Bendson, who, with his family, was welcomed by everyone. Thus, many came to be in God’s house, enjoying the fellowship, helping to complete the building, and landscaping the grounds around the church.

The Lakewood Ladies Aid, a group of ladies active for many years in the little church, sponsored an organization of younger women called the Lakewood Christian Guild. Both organizations kept busy with bazaars, dinners, and various types of sales, all toward helping furnish the church.

The new church was dedicated on Sunday, May 6, 1951 with special services. A niche in the brick wall near the main enterence was filled with current newspapers, various records of the building, and a list of the charter members, and then sealed with a metal plate and dated.

Reverend Bendsen accepted a new pastorate in Ohio in 1958 at which time he and his family left Lakewood. The Reverend James Brumbaugh and his family came to Lakewood. Since those first days our church has been a vital body to the community.

Those faithful one who started God’s work in the little church are now rewarded for their steadfastness in keeping the Light of Faith burning brightly. There is a visible light now – a lighted cross on the outside brick wall – ever burning brightly, telling all the “here is a place where everyone is welcome to enter and find peace, comfort and fellowship.”

The lighted cross is an emblem of the precious cross of Jesus Christ, our Savior, who died and rose again that all who believe will have everlasting life. God bless the lighted cross of Lakewood, and may it inspire us to always keep it burning,