The Wallingford Presbyterian Church (42nd and Ashworth) celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, and will be holding a Centennial Homecoming next Sunday, February 10th. Joe Roberts sent along this history of the church, written by Laura McMillan:
Wallingford Presbyterian Church will celebrate its 100th birthday in 2013. This small church in the north Seattle neighborhood has a colorful history, inextricably linked with the neighborhood and the lives of thousands of people during the past 100 years.
In the early 1900s, the new Wallingford neighborhood was quickly, changing from marshes and forests to homes and businesses. Craftsman style bungalows were being built and bought by young couples looking for friendly, clean, tree lined neighborhoods in which to raise their families. Electric trolleys crisscrossed the neighborhood. Family breadwinners could easily commute into the city or to Ballard to work in the shipyards or the sawmills and Gas Works plant on Lake Union, or to help build the new Ship Canal or the Freemont bridge, both of which were finished in 1916. The Latona school was first opened in 1896 and the Interlake School (now Wallingford Center) opened in 1904 with Lincoln High following shortly after. The neighborhood was booming and by 1925, the Seattle Times estimated that 50,000 people lived in Wallingford and the majority of them were children.
Central Presbyterian Church (aka WPC)
As the Wallingford neighborhood grew, churches began setting up places of worship. The church that we know today as Wallingford Presbyterian Church grew out of the merger of two congregations that had been planted by Seattle First Presbyterian Church, a well-established church in downtown Seattle. Lake Union Church and Wallingford Branch Presbyterian Church had both existed for several years in rented spaces and realized that due to their close proximity, it would make sense to join forces and to find a permanent home. On September 18, 1913, the new church was formed and named Central Presbyterian Church of Seattle. At that time, there were 132 members on the rolls. Four days after incorporation, the Rev. Robert Asa Smith was called as the first minister.
For the first two years, the congregation met in a portable building that the Lake Union Church had been using and which had been moved to the newly obtained property at 42nd and Ashworth. Rev. Smith oversaw the building of the permanent building which was built with $8,000 and volunteer help. The building was dedicated on May 30, 1915.
The building style chosen for WPC was very popular for new churches built in the USA from the late 1800s to WWI. It is called the Akron style, after the first church to use it in Akron, OH. This style has a main worship auditorium, connected to a rotunda with two levels of classrooms opening onto it. The auditorium and the rotunda are separated by large folding doors. The Akron style became common as the idea of separate Sunday School classes for different age groups gained popularity (following the leading of the public school system). This design and the craftsman style charm remain intact in the WPC building today.
From 1917 to 1934, the church was known as the Whitman Memorial Federated Church, when the congregation merged with the First Congregational Church of Edgewater. The “federation” was dissolved by the Seattle Presbytery in 1934, and Central Presbyterian once again became an independent church.
In 1989, the church changed its name to Wallingford Presbyterian Church to better reflect the neighborhood in which it sits. The remainder of this article will refer to it as WPC.
WPC was a vibrant congregation during the forty years spanning 1930-1970. The membership grew from 200 to 400, with the same number of children enrolled in the Sunday School. The Women’s Association was very active and there was a large contingent of teenagers as well. There were as many as 40 Sunday School teachers at one time! The sports teams of this period were legendary and reportedly many a young man came and stayed at WPC due to the sports programs (one had to attend Sunday School three out of four weeks to be eligible to play!). There were multiple choirs for both adults and youth.
Rev. Bob Walter was the pastor of the church for 23 years during this time, from 1944-1967. Long after this, he wrote: “These may have been the golden years for Central. If so, it was largely due to our Youth Director and the dozens of devoted church members who grew spiritually themselves in the process of devoting their skills and untiring efforts in the many phases of youth ministry.”
The following are some short quotes from people who were associated with the church during these decades:
“Most of us in Christian Endeavor (C.E.) had grown up in the church… we had parties on Friday and Saturday nights in the church basement with all sorts of games, pantomimes, goodies to eat, and just plain fun, all planned by our C.E. social committee. Sometimes we were invited into a church home to roll up the rugs and dance. This was not really smiled upon by the powers-that-be in the church and we knew we would be prayed for at the next weekly prayer meeting.” Nicolin Gray
“We had 300 kids! That’s hard to believe. But we had them in cupboards, closets, tucked into the choir loft, up in the tower, down in the sanctuary (one in the back and one in the front). We had classes everywhere!” Afton King
“I treasure the memories of attending Central… From Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, and Christian Endeavor, we were challenged to learn and grow and serve. Singing in the choir was so much fun. I’ll always remember Easter Sundays. We would gather together, go the Aqua Theatre at Green lake for sunrise services… followed by breakfast at the church…” Peggy Shaffer Fountain
During the 1950s and 1960s, attending summer camp at Camp Gilead in Carnation, WA was the highlight of the church year for many people. Up to 80 junior high kids and 70 high school kids attended the week long camps each summer and the adults of the church cooked, taught, counseled, nursed, led music and had just as good a time as the kids, if all the old stories are accurate.
Supporting the mission work of the church was always a very important part of church life, and from the early days, missionaries to foreign lands were supported financially and known personally by church members. WPC sponsored and sent out several missionaries who had grown up at WPC. In 1969 and for many years to come, close to one-third of the church budget was designated for mission work (at home and abroad) and this was a great pride to many church members.
In September 1963, WPC celebrated its 50th Anniversary with a special dinner at the church and special recognition given to five charter members who were still living.
WPC in the 1970s and 1980s
In 1971, Seattle experienced the national recession. Leading up to and during this time, the Wallingford neighborhood fell into disrepair and neglect. WPC began to see its numbers dwindle and the pastor at the time undertook some research to discover what was happening in the neighborhood. He reported to the Session that many of the schools in the area were filled with kids being bussed in from around the city and that the neighborhood was losing a disproportionate share of families with school age kids. He also reported that there were 19 churches in the immediate area. By 1975, membership at WPC stood at 131 on the active rolls.
In 1981, membership was 104. For the first time, the church no longer employed a Sunday School Superintendent. Two of the large schools in the area had closed and the number of children in the neighborhood had dropped dramatically during the past few decades. By 1985, the church could count about 30 active members.
However, by now, the Wallingford neighborhood was beginning to be revitalized. Young people were buying the old homes and renovating them. The neighborhood was seen as very convenient to all parts of the city and the charm of the area attracted many.
The remaining members of WPC, many of whom had been there since their youth in the 1930s and 40s, knew that they needed a new strategy to keep the church open and alive. As Mary Thomson wrote in her book: “It was therefore, time for a younger pastor whose life was in many ways more like that of the new residents in the community. Again God has given this church a new community in which to reach out to young families – and a time for developing new leadership, as the older folk, while remaining as active as possible, began giving place to a new generation….”
The Session sought and found a dynamic young minister named Don Mills to pastor the church. Don and his young family arrived in August 1986. With the support of his elderly congregation, Don began breathing new life into the church, attracting new members and bringing a new vitality through music and neighborhood outreach. Under Pastor Mill’s guidance, the first church newsletter was started and the first women were elected to the session. WPC was becoming a modern church. And as part of the church’s 75th anniversary, the name was officially changed to Wallingford Presbyterian.
WPC 1990s to 2013
The past two decades have been years of relative stability and new life for WPC, with two long pastorates (Don Mills and co-pastors Ken and Deb Sunoo, and more recently Ken as solo pastor) and a steady influx of new members, even as the normal membership transitions occur. During this time the church has supported the education of several budding ministers from our congregation as they pursued ordination in the Presbyterian church, built up a vibrant Christian education program for kids and youth and continued to reach out to our community through local mission projects. In 2004, the Ravenna Boulevard Presbyterian Church merged with WPC, bringing 20 new members into the congregation, along with their retiring pastor, Donna Frey DeCou. During the last decade WPC has also hosted two Korean congregations, the current one being the Korean Glory Presbyterian church that meets on Sunday afternoons.
A hundred years and many Sunday morning services, weddings, potlucks, mission projects, Christmas pageants and Easter egg hunts later, Wallingford Presbyterian Church is still a neighborhood fixture on the corner of 42nd and Ashworth. Today many of its parishioners travel from outside of the neighborhood to attend, but there are some families from the neighborhood who still appreciate the ease of walking to church. The old building has had a number of renovations in the past decade to shore it up for the next 100 years. WPC is pleased to open its doors to community groups who are looking for a place to meet and welcomes everyone to worship on Sunday mornings. Christian education for all ages continues to be a very important focus of our congregation and we continue to strive to be the hands and feet of Christ to our neighborhood.
While there is no one alive today that can remember the start of this congregation, we are all linked to the past by the “cloud of witnesses” who have come before us and who have faithfully served and passed the batons to the next generations. We are pleased to usher WPC into its second century and anticipate with excitement what those 100 years may hold for this church.
 In 2000, long time member Mary Thomson wrote a large book to document the history of WPC to date. Many of the anecdotes and data contained in this article are taken from Mary’s book and we are extremely grateful for her labor of love in creating the history book.