Gethsemane Lutheran Church in downtown Seattle has opened a new building that includes a sanctuary, 50 units of affordable housing and a community-service center.

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The Rev. Chris Boerger’s words brought knowing laughter from the congregation at Gethsemane Lutheran Church on Sunday when he described the work it took to turn a 1950s-era sanctuary into a versatile new building that’s not quite like any other church in the region.

It’s a church, yes — but it also includes 50 units of affordable housing, and a basement community-service center that serves hundreds of needy people with a variety of programs, from Sunday soup and movies to a day shelter for homeless women and children.

“This has been a building program, and it has been hard work, and it has not always been easy,” said Boerger, bishop of the Northwest Washington Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, as he helped dedicate the $20 million project.

Gethsemane, at the corner of Stewart Street and Ninth Avenue in downtown Seattle, is the oldest Lutheran church in the city. Fifteen years ago, a church committee began exploring the idea of turning some of the downtown property into affordable housing.

The land had grown increasingly more valuable over the years. But when the 2001 dot-com bust hit, a developer who was interested in the land backed out, said Jean Anderson, a congregation member who headed two of the three church committees that worked on the project.

The idea was renewed when the value of downtown properties recovered. “It kept going from one unthinkable idea to the next,” Anderson said. “A few dedicated people just hung in there. There was a lot of prayer, and faith.”

The church’s brick chapel, which seats about 150, is little changed. But it’s now part of a larger building that includes a jewel-like sanctuary at Stewart and Ninth, fronted with long, thin, colored panels of art glass and fused glass.

“When the sun hits it, it does amazing things in here,” said architect Jim Olson, of Olson Kundig Architects. He described the building as “one of the most meaningful projects I’ve ever worked on.”

Above the church’s entry and office spaces are five floors of affordable housing, built in partnership with Compass Housing Alliance. The top is capped with a rooftop garden, meant to be an oasis in the urban location.

The basement is home to Mary’s Place, a day shelter for homeless women and children, and to the soup and movies program, which feeds and entertains up to 120 homeless people every Sunday afternoon.

“This place is an extraordinary gift to the downtown community,” said Gethsemane’s pastor, the Rev. Joanne Engquist, who moved from Cambridge, Mass., to be pastor of this church in May 2011. At the time, the building site was just a hole in the ground.

On Sunday, Engquist talked about how she hoped the church would be more than just a shelter and a place of worship — it would also be open to the community, and people would seek it out for fun, games and laughter.

“This is a magnificent project,” she said.

Katherine Long: 206-464-2219 or On Twitter @katherinelong.