The ladies of New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Seattle's Central District remind us of the values that endure.
by Tyrone Beason
photographed by Erika Schultz
Edith Woods has attended services at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Seattle’s Central District since she moved to the city in 1962 — and her sister, Vida Lidge, has been going even longer than that, since the congregation was founded nearly 60 years ago.
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Woods is 74 now and Lidge is 92. They are church ladies, tried and true, pillars of stability, portals to history and wearers of fantastic headgear.
Woods has assembled quite a church-hat collection, “about 20 or 30” by her count.
Her big sister, Vida, buys them for her from vendors at Baptist Church conventions around the country.
Not that Woods is vain. She insists she doesn’t need anything fancy, “just one that fits my head.”
But the hats and the churchgoers who wear them represent something more to the rest of us.
Woods, who now lives on Beacon Hill, has seen crime go up in the Central District and watched it go down. She’s seen blacks flock to the neighborhood, back when it was Seattle’s de facto African-American enclave, and watched their exodus when the cost of living there grew too high.
The church’s congregation is morphing, too.
“New people are coming in, but a lot are dying out,” Woods says.
But at least now, when Woods walks through those honey-colored church doors, she can gaze out on racially mixed 21st Avenue and see a “Barack Obama for President” sign tacked to a house across the way.
The more things change, amen, the more things change — except when they don’t, except when we wander past church on a Sunday afternoon and glimpse grand ladies in bright dresses and big-brimmed hats and thank goodness that some things in this city on the move, in these historic times, stay the same.
Continuity may be one of our lesser appreciated civic virtues, but Woods and Lidge remind us of its place.
They are the last surviving siblings among five sisters. “She’s the oldest, and I’m the baby,” says Woods.
She has raised eight of her own children in Seattle, all of whom live within their mother’s venerable field of vision on Beacon Hill.
“I can point a finger, and they could all see it and be right here,” she says with a giggle and pride.
Summoned by family, our Sunday best and a long view of time, community finds a way to endure.