Letters to the Editor

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TACOMA: Church buildings should change to fit needs

Letter by Vincent S. Hart, University Place on May 16, 2012 at 3:32 pm with 3 Comments »
May 16, 2012 4:41 pm

Re: “Another old Tacoma church might fall” (TNT, 5-15)

This calls for a reminder that the church is the people, not the building. Tacoma’s grand old church buildings were constructed at a time when they were needed for growing congregations.

For instance, the much bemoaned former First Methodist building at 5th and Martin Luther King Jr. Way was the third building for the congregation. Two others had been outgrown and demolished in turn.

Now, the culture has changed so that big old buildings are not a good home, but rather a dreadful burden. Even their structures do not fit modern needs for access, electronic communication, etc.  First Congregational, beautiful as it may be, has outlived its usefulness. The many stairs alone are a daunting challenge.

Those who want the old buildings preserved need to step forward with the money to preserve and retrofit for new purposes, and let the congregation move on. That has happened with the old First Methodist building in Seattle, now a concert venue, with the congregation in a great new facility in a better part of downtown.

First Methodist in Tacoma is coming alive in new ways because of its move into a building fully accessible and wired for contemporary ministry.

Leave a comment Comments → 3
  1. alindasue says:

    A church is the people and not the building, but the issue here is the building and not the congregation. A century ago, Tacoma was the major transportation hub of the region. As a result, there was a great deal of building of grand buildings by renowned architects. Those buildings are a large part of what made Tacoma what it is today and are still a drawing point for tourists.

    Every time one of those old buildings are torn down, part of our uniqueness as a city is lost too.

    I understand the congregation’s need to sell the building. It just makes me sad that it’s likely the building will be torn down to make way for “progress” or the ever-expanding Multicare monster complex. It’s unfortunate that the building was never registered as a historic site.

    There’s a similar church building in Pullman, where my daughter attends school, that is now used as a theater and concert venue like the one you mention in Seattle. If I had the money, I’d be tempted to buy the church and convert it myself – I don’t have the money. I hope there’s someone (besides Multicare) that does have the money.

  2. APimpNamedSlickback says:

    The issue – at least with First United Methodist – wasn’t just the changing needs of the congregation. In that case, it was that the building was literally falling apart. Beautiful as it was, it was a century-old building that was quickly becoming unsafe to inhabit. The congregation had dwindled to less than a hundred families and even when the issue came to a vote, several generations-long members left over the decision. There was no way that the congregation could keep the building, and so the decision was to follow the mission of the church by allowing the land to be useful to the community in the expansion of a neighboring hospital. It just so happened that doing the right thing meant that the congregation would paid very handsomely and it has since been very successful in its new location.

    As to the issue of First Congregational, when First United Methodist left its old building, First Congregational served as its temporary home for over a year until the new building was ready for the church. First Congregational was generous in accommodating First United Methodist, but those guests noticed very quickly that their hosts would be in exactly the same position as them in just a few years. First Congregational is also a beatiful building, but at the time was in worse structural shape than First United Methodist.

    First Congregational’s time in their current building has long since passed. The smart move on their part would be to sell the building so the land will serve a better purpose, and move the congregation to a newer, safer, better-equipped building. I’m certain that doing so will result in renewed vitality for the congregation, just as it did for First United Methodist.

    Just because a building is pretty and was a great tourist draw 100 years ago, that doesn’t mean it will be now. Keeping a run-down building just for the sake of history is foolish. No one is travelling to Tacoma in 2012 to see its historic churches. Had either of those buildings been on a historical register, their shrinking congregations would be financially beholden to keeping a condemnable structure for the aesthetic benefit of people who aren’t even members. That would have eventually caused those churches to die out completely, and then Tacoma would be left with two buildings that look better-suited to Detroit, two fewer churches providing vital community services, and a growing hospital that couldn’t expand on two sides.

  3. tacomascene says:

    Three good posts. And what appears to me to have been well depicted is this:

    If you don’t have the doe, don’t expect to sell your brilliance to those who, also, don’t have the doe. In other words, put your money where your mouth is or shut your face and boogie on….


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