IN AN INCREASINGLY discordant world, we scan for hopeful signs and clues — some are lodged in the past. One symbol of reunion and healing might be found on a rural hillside an hour’s drive north of Seattle.
The tiny town of Silvana, founded in the 1880s by Scandinavian farmers, was blessed and cursed by the fertile flood plain of the Stillaguamish River. To accommodate the river’s oft-overflowing banks, the town’s houses and sidewalks were raised several feet above ground level.
Little surprise, then, that the vigorous young congregation of Zion Lutheran, led by itinerant pastor Christian Jorgensen, decided to build its church and adjacent graveyard on a hill above the river. The land had been donated by farmer S.A. Erickson in 1884, and on Dec. 3, 1888, the parishioners drew up formal plans for their parish.
As documented by Zion Lutheran’s historian Irene Vognild, the church’s 1890 construction proved no small task. Existing roads were “muddy, crooked trails along the riverbanks.” Without rail or paved highways to provide access, all finished lumber had to be towed east on scows from a sawmill in equally tiny Utsalady on Camano Island.
The materials were to be offloaded onto carts and drawn by oxen to the building site. But that year’s early winter, Vognild recounts, was one of the most severe in the region’s history. Church members credited divine intervention when the Stillaguamish froze solid, ensuring much easier transport by sled across the snowy river and up the hill.
Having spent just $750 on materials, the closely knit farm community donated all labor, plus extra timber and shingles. The new church was erected in mere weeks, with grounds cleared for a nearby graveyard. Zion Lutheran Church’s first services were held that Christmas.
It wasn’t long before a divide over religious practices split the young congregation. Should this new church observe the rites and traditions of the State Church of Norway or adopt revised forms of worship?
The unhappy result, Vognild notes: “a break with friends and neighbors [who had] worshipped and worked together for years.” A minority faction left and built its own church in town, Salem Lutheran.
After nearly 70 years of division, the two churches set aside their differences and reunited in 1963, adopting a name reflecting the harmony: Peace Lutheran.
Today, the church comprises two structures — a practical 1978 building in downtown Silvana and the original Little White Church on the Hill, which was listed on the Washington State Heritage Register as a historic site in 1972.
The hillside church is open for summer services and for special occasions, including weddings and funerals.