For the past 15 years, Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has called University Baptist Church her spiritual home. Here, in the three-story brick building...
For the past 15 years, Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has called University Baptist Church her spiritual home.
Here, in the three-story brick building in the University District, Gaertner-Johnston got married and brought her newly adopted daughter to her first Christmas service.
So she is sad that the congregation has decided to sell the 82-year-old building. But it makes sense, said Gaertner-Johnston, a writing consultant in Seattle. “We’ve been struggling to keep up with the building for a long time,” she said.
The church is known for its role in the 1980s sanctuary movement, providing shelter for undocumented Central American refugees, and for welcoming gays and lesbians to its pulpit and pews.
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But like some other urban churches here that have closed or merged in recent years, University Baptist Church found itself struggling to maintain an aging building constructed for a far larger membership.
“We don’t have the money to support our building any more,” said Martha Bean, the moderator — or lay leader — of the congregation. Last month, the congregation decided unanimously to sell its building and property at 4554 12th Ave. N.E.
“We’re grieving but we’re also excited,” Bean said. “It’s the right thing to do. There’s so much we can do with our energy if we’re not unplugging toilets. Seriously.”
The congregation is interviewing real-estate agents and is open to various options, such as selling and leaving the property altogether, or selling it to someone who would lease it back to them.
Exactly where they’ll end up, they don’t know.
“We’ve come to be as comfortable as a group can be with that mystery and ambiguity,” Bean said.
The building itself is not a historic landmark, Bean said, and the property is zoned for commercial use and has a building-height limit of 85 feet.
The church is part of a group of University District congregations exploring the possibility of combining some functions and administrative work in one facility. But University Baptist Church has not made a firm commitment to that idea, and this sale is not a part of that vision, Bean said.
The congregation, which formed in 1901, had a peak membership of about 700 in the 1950s. Current membership is about 115.
In the 1980s, it was the state’s first church to declare itself a sanctuary, eventually providing shelter and support for 70 Central American refugees. In the 1990s, the congregation faced turmoil when its longtime pastor, the Rev. Donovan Cook, resigned after allegations that he had had sexual relations with two members of his congregation.
In 2000, it narrowly avoided expulsion from its regional organization — the American Baptist Churches of the Northwest — because of its support for gays and lesbians. Its current pastor — the Rev. Timothy Phillips — is gay.
Phillips said Thursday of the decision to sell: “I’m proud of our congregation for making a difficult decision about what matters.”