A SKETCH OF THE HISTORY OF
UNIVERSITY CHRISTIAN CHURCH
March 17, 1965 by Robert A. Thomas
[1990 version has a paragraph about the Articles of Incorporation here.]
Thomas Alexander Meredith, 36 years old, from Kansas, served the church for a year in 1903, then moved to Aberdeen. He later preached in Kennewick, Richland, and other Washington communities. He was succeeded by R.L. Bassabarger in 1904. Bassabarger was a student at the University, giving only part-time to the church. Upon graduation in the spring of 1906 he left Seattle to become pastor of the Christian Church at Everett, and served other churches in the state until his death.
An old letter from Rev. Dunlap indicates that during period from 1901 through most of 1906 the congregation was several times without a minister and that a number of men served brief periods, for he wrote, “At intervals between pastors I served without pay to bridge over the trying periods that always come in church history.” Dunlap was a kind of traveling evangelist working out of Seattle, and the records of the North Idaho, Eastern Washington and Western Washington Christian Church organizations all indicate his activity throughout the area. He was first corresponding secretary of the Western Washington Christian Missionary Society, organized in 1906, and thus had regular contact with the American Christian Missionary Society, which had been sending evangelists to the territory since 1885. He was in a good position, then, to appeal to the American Society for help in providing a “worthwhile pastor for a real University Church.”
Help was forthcoming with the result that the Rev. Thomas J. Shuey was called from Illinois to become the church’s first full-time pastor.
Rev. Shuey was born in Putnam County, Indiana, and was a graduate of DePauw University at Greencastle, Indiana. He had been the minister of the memorial Christian Church at Rock Island, Illinois, and at the time of his call to Seattle was pastor of the Christian Church at Abingdon, Illinois. His decision to accept the invitation of the struggling little church in the Northwest was no doubt in large measure due to the influence of his brother, H.O. Shuey, Seattle banker and Christian Church Elder, whom he had visited previously and who had become actively involved in University Place Church.
The Rev. Shuey was a popular lecturer and preacher, in demand for Lyceum and Chautauqua work. He was at the height of his powers when he came to Seattle in December, 1906, at 51 years of age, already a well-known lecturer throughout Illinois, Missouri and Kansas.
In 1909 Thomas F. Kane, president of the University of Washington, wrote of one of Rev. Shuey’s addresses at the University assembly in very complimentary terms, adding, “Rev. Shuey is a speaker of great experience. He is also an unusually agreeable man to meet,” and urged that he continue his lecturing throughout the state.
The congregation numbered only forty members when Rev. Shuey became its pastor, but it very quickly began to prosper. The American Society’s financial assistance was needed for only three years, and in 1909 the entire indebtedness of $2,000 was liquidated. In that year (probably because of the influence of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition) the congregation published its first “Directory,” listing the names of 164 persons as members.
Sunday services included Bible School at 9:45 a.m.; Communion at 11:00 a.m.; Preaching at 11:30 a.m.; and 7:30 p.m.; Y.P.S.C.E. (Young Peoples’ Society of Christian Endeavor) at 6:15 p.m.; and Officers’ meeting first Sunday in each month, immediately following morning services. Mid-week services included weekly Thursday evening Prayer and Bible study at 8:00 o’clock, monthly meetings of the Men’s Club and the Women’s Missionary Society, and afternoon meetings of the Ladies’ Aid Society on the second and third Thursday of each month. The Official Board was composed of Elders: Rev. R.E. Dunlap, Dr. S.M. Martin, Dr. E.E. Pierce and Andrew Granger; Deacons: Charles F. Reeves, Prof. G.W. Leek, Don Dana, Harry Leach, J.W. Bradburn, A.A. Moody, W.C. Williams and R.F. Shuey; and Deaconesses:
Mrs. Albert Saylor, Mrs. F.M. Hooper, and Mrs. W.S. Bell. R.E. Dunlap was President of the Board; R.F. Shuey, Treasurer, W.C. Williams, Clerk, and H.B. Scheitlin, Church Clerk. At the time of Rev. Shuey’s untimely death in February, 1911, when he was 56 years old, the congregation numbered about 200. His wife and two daughters remained members of the church for many years and Mabel continued as an active member until ill health no longer permitted. (She died in June of 1990 at 104 years of age.)
All during this period Seattle was growing rapidly. In 1894 the public school enrollment was 5,314; by 1914 it was 34,925. The city’s first steel-beam skyscraper, the Alaska Building, 618 2nd Avenue, was completed in 1905. Automobiles were beginning to appear, though still far outnumbered by horse-drawn vehicles, and traffic was heavy enough to need policemen directors. In 1907, $11,000,000 was spent for public improvements in the city, including paving, improving the water and sewage systems, developing a parking system, and regrading Jackson Street. Ravenna, South Park, West Seattle and other districts were annexed.
The Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition was held on the University campus in 1909, bringing more than three million visitors to the grounds. After the fair twenty new buildings became the property of the University which had, until then, been housed in four buildings on a largely uncleared campus. The 350 students of 1895 had become more than 4000 by 1916. Still, the campus was a “veritable woodland and one had to hunt among the trees to find the buildings.”
The University District was beginning to grow. Latona Bridge, linking downtown Seattle with the Northeast additions, had been built in 1891 near the site of the present Freeway Bridge. Street cars had been ferried across Lake Union as early as 1894, when the line ended at the southwest corner of Brooklyn Avenue and East 38th Street.
By 1910, the center of business in the District was at 14th Avenue Northeast (University Way) and East 42nd Street. The University Baptist Church (erected 1904) stood where the Safeco Insurance Building (formerly General Insurance) is now located. Houses and vacant lots outnumbered the business buildings, but the University Congregational Church was at the corner of Brooklyn and 43rd, the University Methodist Temple at the corner of Brooklyn and 42nd, and the University Presbyterian Church and Christ Episcopal Church were at their present locations.
Following Rev. Shuey’s death, Rev. Dunlap served the church again as interim pastor and aided in the search for a new leader. His recollection was that “months were spent in correspondence with the American Board and preachers until finally” the Rev. Cleveland Kleihauer came from the Christian Church at David City, Nebraska, to become the congregation’s second full-time minister in October, 1912.
Rev. Kleihauer was a native of Johnson City, Nebraska, a graduate of Cotner College (a Christian Church institution at Lincoln, Nebraska), with an MA degree from the University of Nebraska. He was twenty-six years old when he began the second-longest period of service any minister has rendered the congregation, his twenty-one year pastorate covering the years of the church’s major development and growth. The “about 200” members of 1912 became “more than 2000” by 1933.
Shortly after Kleihauer’s arrival he began to urge the congregation to find another site and build a larger building. The southwest corner lot at Northeast 50th and 15th Northeast was purchased, and a brick building was begun in November, 1914, into which the congregation moved in 1915. That building was the first unit of the present structure and is still in regular use.
With its occupancy, interest increased, activities developed and membership boomed. The way persons living in the University District felt about their area appears in an advertisement in the Rose Show program of 1915:
The University District is a good, clean, wholesome district. Everyone is seeking a higher education. The University ranks high as a state university, being one of the wealthiest in the United States. The University business district leads every other Seattle suburb; almost every line of business is represented, with two thriving banks to back it up financially.
The city and the District continued to grow during the years of the First World War. Highway building speeded up. Lake Washington Boulevard was paved to make it easier for the citizens of Renton and Bothell to get to the war jobs available in Seattle. The Ship Canal, begun years before, was completed and turned over to the government, and an additional canal was dredged up to the University campus, making possible the docking of a training ship and the preparation of some 6,000 students for service in the navy.
As the population grew the brick church was soon full, and by the middle 1920s was overflowing. Another directory was printed in 1922 (apparently the first to be published after the 1909 Directory), listing 698 members and indicating a complete and carefully worked out lay organization with the leadership of an employed staff of surprising size. Beside the pastor, Frederick M. Kincaid was Director of Religious Education for Young People, Mrs. J.F. Craig was Director of Religious Education of Bible School and Executive Secretary. Mrs. Charles A.
Rohrbacker was Director of Church Activities for young Women, Mrs. Romeyn Jansen was Director of Music, Mrs. J.W. Thatcher, Soprano, Miss Katherine Robinson, Pianist, and Mr. W.M. Stedman, Janitor. The Official Board was composed of 8 Elders, 33 Deacons and 15 Deaconesses. The following committees were listed: Executive, Communion, Finance, House, Music, Decorating, Pulpit Supply, Publicity, Receiving, Social, Sick and Relief, and Ushers.
The Bible School was completely departmentalized. Three women’s organizations were active as well as four youth groups, including a Junior Church under the direction of Esther Edwards. The Department of Religious Education attempted to correlate all the educational activities of the congregation including the Bible School, Vacation Bible School (begun the summer of 1920 and entirely new in the University District), and week-day activities such as “Gymnasium classes for women and girls at certain seasons of the year,” “Social hygiene course for young people (contemplated for 1922),” “Classes in story telling and dramatics,” and “Classes in training for Christian living for children.”
A Statement on the first page of the Directory identifies the Church with
That religious people known as the Church of Christ or Christian Church, one of the largest religious bodies of America. This people are intensely evangelistic and missionary. We stand for the simple, essential Christianity of the New Testament. Therefore, our only Creed is the cardinal doctrine of the Deity of Christ, our only Discipline the bible, our only Name Christian, our only Government Democracy, and our only Plea the Gospel, our only aim, the Kingdom of god. Our loyalty to the Supreme Authority of Christ and the Apostles is our reason for performing Baptism by immersion and also accounts for our weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper. In things other than the simple fundamentals, we grant the widest latitude of opinion.
That statement is close to a synopsis of beliefs of the beliefs of the Christian Church issued by Isaac Errett (later editor of The Christian Standard) in 1863, and is typical of the position of Christian Churches in the latter part of the 19th century and early years of the 20th. At the time of its publication there were approximately 1,700,000 members of Christian churches in the United States. One might question the phrase “intensely…missionary” as descriptive of the denomination, but not the phrase “intensely evangelistic”! What is missing from the statement is the basic concern for Christian unity which lies behind the return to “simple New Testament Christianity,” though one might argue it is implied, particularly in view of the first sentences in the article that follows the Statement called “The Christian Church: ‘What Is It and Why Does It Exist?’” The article was almost surely the work of Kleihauer. In it he wrote:
The one thing which distinguishes them from other followers of the Lord is their plea for Christian Union by restoring the doctrines, ordinances, ideals, aims, and spirit of Christ and His Apostles. They seek to unite all Christians of whatsoever name or creed, not by compromising either their consciences or the truth of the Master; not on some new platform or statement made by them or others, but on the ground occupied by the New Testament Church… The object of their existence is not to add another to the many denominations that are now found. A divided church is contrary to the teaching of Christ and His Apostles.
There follows a description of “The Confession of Faith” in Christ as “Son of the living God” and the “only test of Christian fellowship,” a paragraph explaining the rejection of creeds because “they are not acceptable to all Christians,” and a description of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as the “Two ordinances of the whole Church.” There is a defense of immersion baptism and weekly Communion as scriptural, with the clear-cut statements that “Disciples practice this baptism and no other,” and that they bar none from “His table.”
In an illuminating exposition of the historic motto: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity,” the author describes the commonly held doctrines of the Christian Churches and “other evangelical peoples,” but writes: “However, no particular theory of the atonement, or inspiration, or other doctrines, is necessary in order to holy living, the unity of the Church or the final salvation of men. Hence, each man is permitted, according to the liberty which we enjoy in Christ, to hold whatsoever theory as his own private property.”
The concluding section of this article is called “For Others” and identifies University Christian Church with the cooperative missionary program of the denomination. This was only three years after the organization of the United Christian Missionary Society, but there is no hint in the Directory of the controversy and difficulty affecting that organization. The editor (Kleihauer?) is proud of the congregation’s record as “one of the leading 100 churches of our Brotherhood in its contributions for Others.” He describes the various types of missionary work both at home and abroad, the benevolent program supporting “orphanages, old peoples’ homes and Christian hospitals,” and then writes, “Among other kinds of work supported are Church extension, ministerial relief, state missions, Christian unity, temperance, local missions and Community Chest…. This Church cooperates with the Seattle Federation of Churches, especially in the matter of Civic betterment.”
There follows a directory of Christian Churches in Seattle (First, University, Ballard, queen Anne, Greenwood, Central, West Seattle, and Findlay Street) with the names and telephone numbers of their pastors, to which is added a list of the officers of the Western Washington Missionary Society.
Dr. Kleihauer’s relationship in community and denominational life constantly expanded. He was awarded a Doctor of Divinity degree by Cotner College in 1921. He became known throughout the Seattle area for his portrayal of the title role in “The Wayfarer,” a dramatic production staged in University Stadium during the 1920s. He was made chairman of a famous commission to Asia appointed by the United Christian Missionary Society in 1926, which conducted a five-month survey of missionary work in the Philippines, Japan, and China. That commission was the result of charges made against the UCMS by conservative members of the denomination. The commission’s report supported the missionaries in their work, and insisted they were following the basic principles of the Christian Church. The report did not satisfy the reactionaries, and the following year the first North American Christian Convention was called, marking the beginning of the division of the denomination into “Independents” and “Cooperatives.” University Christian Church was intimately connected with these dramatic events through its pastor and members who regularly attended conventions.
It became clear in the early 1920s that the congregation required additional space for its expanding membership and program. Planning for a new building was begun in 1923, with the actual groundbreaking on March 1, 1926, when Dr. Kleihauer was in Asia. The first spadeful of earth was turned by Mabel Shuey, widow of Rev. Shuey, while the wife of Dr. Kleihauer led the congregation in prayer.
At that time the church had 1250 members. It owned a frontage of 220 feet on 15th Avenue Northeast extending south from the corner of Northeast 50th, 100 feet deep. The first unit on the corner, valued at $125,000, was built into the new structure, which cost nearly $300,000, making a “complete church plant of a value of $425,000.” The architect for the Tudor Gothic building was Clare Moffitt. The Building Committee was composed of E.W. Campbell, Chairman, P.H. Zimmerman, C.L. Murray, H.B. Scheitlin, George M. Jacobs, E.S. Booker, J.M. Marrow, George P. James, L.W. Byers, B.A. Garber, and Cleveland Kleihauer.
The building was formally opened on Sunday, June 3, 1928, and Dedication Services were held the following week. Articles in “The Christian Challenge,” a weekly church paper, and newspaper stories called attention to the beautiful narthex, the 1500 seat auditorium “that will create an atmosphere of reverence and inspire a spirit of worship,” and the fact that the “complete church plant has educational equipment and accommodations for a church school of 2,500 capacity.” At the time the Church School was averaging nearly 1000 and “hitting as high as 1450 on special occasions.”
Stained glass windows in the sanctuary were designed by Anthony G. Rez, who was regarded as the foremost artist in his field in the Northwest, in consultation with Dr. Kleihauer and Mr. Moffitt. The organ was installed by the Casavant Company of Quebec, Canada, and dedicated on Sunday, May 5, 1929. It is a four-manual instrument with 49 stops composed of 3,751 pipes, designed for both church and concert use, and at the time of its dedication was one of the largest organs on the Pacific Coast.
When the building was completed and dedicated, the church debt stood at $273,987, a very large amount even considering the boom times in which the project was undertaken. When the terrible effects of the worldwide economic depression reached the Northwest, the problem of the church’s financial solvency seemed even more difficult, and a long struggle with debt began.
The International Convention of Disciples of Christ was held in August, 1929, at the Civic Auditorium in Seattle. Some of the smaller meetings were held in the University Christian Church and visitors from all over the country rejoiced in the beauty of the new facilities and the quality of life in their “greatest church in the West.”
Dr. Kleihauer was chairman of the local Committee on Arrangements, and many of the members of the church assisted the officers of the convention in making it a great event for Northwest Disciples. Dr. Kleihauer resigned in the summer of 1933 to accept the call of a newly organized Beverly Christian Church in Los Angeles, California. A year later that church merged with the Hollywood Christian Church, and Dr. Kleihauer served the merged congregations until his death at 74 years of age, September 16, 1960. His ministry there was a distinguished one and his service to the denomination over the years was recognized in his election as president of the International Convention of Christian Churches in 1954.
Dr. J. Warren Hastings came from the Christian Church at Savannah, Georgia, to begin a nine-year ministry with University Christian Church on March 1, 1934. Hastings was 36 years old, a graduate of Lynchburg College, with a Bachelor of Divinity Degree from Yale Divinity School and a Ph.D. degree from Edinburgh University in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1929. The depression was at its worst, and the church was worried about its debt, which stood then at $248,000, and a declining attendance. Dr. Hastings brought a vibrant faith and hope, a strong determination to succeed, and a great capacity for hard work. The Annual Report in 1937 showed a total membership of 1965, though 577 of these were listed as inactive. The Women’s Council, composed of 8 groups, reported a membership of 228, with an average attendance of 135, and a budget of $2,800. Carl Pitzer had come as Choir Director near the close of Dr. Kleihauer’s ministry and reported in this year a choir membership of 94, with average attendance of 76, and that the choir had “furnished organists without cost to the church since September, 1936.”
Mr. Pitzer also directed a Junior Choir of 47 members, assisted by Melvin Watson. The Church School attendance figures indicated a low of 150 on one of the summer Sundays and a high of 1002 on Easter.
An active young People’s Department for university-age persons listed an average attendance of 105 Sunday mornings and 85 in the evenings. The report of this group showed a broad social program, some social action projects, fundraising events and an “open house at Dr. Hastings’ every Monday night.”
The budget adopted for 1937 totaled $20,000, to which should be added expected Church School offerings of $2,500 and special missionary offerings of $2,000. Included in the above was a total of $9,804 for the Building fund and “Reduction of Notes and Interest.” The staff had been cut to the bone; besides the pastor, it included a secretary, caretaker, and choir director (though it should be added that Mrs. Hastings devoted nearly full-time to the ministry of the church, particularly in its educational and youth programs.
A church paper called The University Christian was issued intermittently during the period of Hastings’ leadership. Its columns tell the story of constant efforts to reduce the indebtedness, hard work in the area of evangelism, a growing choir program with many special concerts of high order, and a vigorous preaching program dealing often with community problems.
In the introduction to the annual report booklet of 1940, Dr. Hastings noted the unrest occasioned by the European and Asian wars and the “Uncertainties of the future.” He commended the church for its work, writing, “I have never seen any church try harder than did University Christian in 1940.” Active membership was reported as 2,266. Income was about the same as three years before, except that the Church School increased its offerings more than $1,000 and the Women’s council nearly tripled its income to $7,380. Expenditures for debt retirement and interest were about the same as in 1936. The staff included, in addition to Dr. Hastings; Carl Pitzer, Director of Music; Mrs. R.G. Coates, Organist; Mrs. Eunice Carpenter, Secretary; Margaret Nitzsche, Pastor’s Secretary and Kelsie Devin, Custodian.
One of the great events in the church’s life occurred September 6, 1940, when Winifred Watson Smith, sister of Mrs. Hastings, and newly-appointed Living Link Missionary of University Christian Church, was ordained. She had been a student worker at the Christian Church in Columbia, Missouri at the time she married Joseph Smith. Together they prepared for work in the China mission, and the day following the Ordination Service sailed from Smith Cove on the liner Heian Maru.
Mr. and Mrs. Smith were later captured and interned by the Japanese, and only released when the Americans were victorious in the Far Eastern War. Mr. Smith is presently Executive Secretary of the Far Eastern Division of the United Christian Missionary Society.
By November, 1941, the Finance Committee was prepared to launch a new program to liquidate the debt, standing then at $203,000. Appropriately enough, the campaign was called “Mountain Moving.” In spite of Dr. Hastings’ decision to accept the call of the National City Christian Church in Washington, D.C., in July, 1942, the debt retirement program was wonderfully successful; by January 1, 1943, it had been reduced to $58,762.
Hastings’ work in Washington was necessarily much the same kind of ministry: leading a congregation struggling with a monumental debt, seeing it retired, and then, unbelievably, inaugurating a campaign that resulted in the building of a new and adequate education plant to complete the original dream of the denomination for a “Cathedral Church” in the nation’s capital city. Lynchburg College conferred the Doctor of Divinity degree on him in 1950. Dr. Hastings died suddenly at his home in Washington on April 11, 1960.
In February, 1943, Dr. Perry Epler Gresham came from the University Christian Church at Fort Worth, Texas, and from a teaching post at Texas Christian University to become the eighth minister of University Christian Church. Dr. Gresham was a native of Covina, California.
He was a graduate of Texas Christian University and earned his B.D. degree in the graduate seminary of that institution. He studied in the graduate schools of the University of Chicago and Columbia University, receiving the Ph.D. degree in Philosophy from the latter school in 1936.
The Fort Worth church had been his only pastorate prior to his coming to Seattle at 36 years of age to begin a work that lasted only until June, 1947.
Before the first year of his service was completed, the church had rebuilt its staff, including J. Frederick Miller as Associate Minister, W.F. O’Connor as Financial Secretary, Eunice Carpenter as Church Secretary (a veteran now of 14 years’ service), Anna Ruth Miller as Minister’s Secretary, Carl Pitzer as Choirmaster, Joseph Greener as Organist, and C.N. Rhoads as Engineer. By the time the Annual Report for 1943 was issued, 200 members had been added to the congregation, $50,000 contributed to its program and work, and the indebtedness was reduced to $48,384. The format of the worship service was changed, attempting, the pastor wrote, to make it more beautiful and “artistically integrated,” and another Men’s Club was organized.
The following year, 1944, a “Church Beautiful” campaign was begun. Under the guidance of Clare Moffitt, a sizable program of improvement and repairs on the building was brought to a successful conclusion. By February, 1946, on the occasion of the observance of Gresham’s third anniversary in Seattle, Dr. W.F. Turner, Secretary of the Christian churches of Washington and Northern Idaho and an elder of University Christian Church, could write that 715 members had been added to the church, new programs for young people and youth had been inaugurated, the debt reduced to $12,165, the local budget increased to $53,000 with $5,000 in the bank for repairs and redecoration, the staff enlarged, and a high level of attendance at both Church School and worship services achieved. He congratulated Dr. Gresham on his high place in the “city, state, and northwest as a brilliant speaker with constant calls from Canada to California.”
The church was sharing in the tremendous increase in population that came to the Seattle area during the war years; more than 200,000 new citizens. It was likewise reflecting the rise in interest in church affairs generally over the whole country. Attendance nationally was high and budgets everywhere were booming. It was a time of paying off mortgages, planning new buildings, increasing missionary and benevolence support.
University Christian Church had 291 of its members in the armed services during World War II, scattered across the world. The church made very effort to keep in touch with them and integrate them back into the life of the church when they returned.
Dr. Gresham resigned in March, 1947, leaving in May to become the successor of Dr. Edgar Dewitt Jones as pastor of the Central Woodward Christian in Detroit, Michigan.
A newspaper article reported that 943 persons had been received into the church during his pastorate, the Church School doubled in attendance, the budget for Christian service tripled, the debt substantially reduced and the building largely redecorated. Following his Detroit ministry Dr. Gresham became president of Bethany College in 1954 and served that institution until 1984, when he was named President Emeritus. The denomination honored him with election as president of the International Convention in 1961.
Dr. John Paul Pack, a native of West Virginia, graduate of Bethany College and of Yale Divinity School, was called to become minister on September 1, 1947. He was 42 years old; had served churches at Kennett, Missouri; Beacon Falls, Ontario; Tucson, Arizona; Huntington, Indiana; and Chatanooga, Tennessee prior to coming to Seattle. His 14-year pastorate was the third longest in the church’s history, marked by great advances in giving (both for local work and mission causes), reorganization of the administrative structure of the congregation’s life, enlargement of staff and program, a vigorous evangelism, and the completion of the church’s building.
A program published for a “Mid-Century Jubilee” celebrated in December, 1950, listed the following staff besides Dr. Pack: Dorothy Mitchell, Director of Christian Education; Edgar G. Gottschamer, Business Manager; Carl Pitzer, Minister of Music; Joseph H. Greener, organist; Mrs. Marvin Goss, Secretary to the Minister; Mrs. M. Ethel Day, Office Secretary; and Elbert A. Wiggs, Custodian. Winifred Watson Smith and Keith Salmonson were listed as Living Link Missionaries.
By this time a change in administration procedures had been accomplished, after the adoption of a new constitution by the congregation, providing for a Board of Administration composed of representatives of various boards and groups in the church, heads of newly constituted functional departments, and several members at large of the congregation. An annual retreat for church leaders had been instituted; a Student House purchased in cooperation with the Baptists and the Christian Churches of Washington; a parsonage acquired; approximately $9,000 spent renovating the church building; and 655 persons added to the membership. The announcement was made that beginning January 21, 1951, the second half of the morning worship service would be broadcast over radio station KJR.
In 1952, the church embarked on an ambitious missions project called “The Five Year Abundant Life Program” to raise $50,000 to “serve the people of India at the grass roots, working in the fields of literacy and literature, health, and agriculture.”
In 1954 the Rev. Joseph Ray White became Minister of Education, Albert Hausske was Executive Secretary; Carl Pitzer, Minister of Music; Joseph H. Greener, Organist; Mrs. Harry Hagen, Secretary; Mrs. M. Ethel Day, Office Secretary; Mrs. Dale R. Dungan, Minister of Education’s Secretary; Mrs. Raymond Watne, Bookkeeper; Mrs. James B. Doubloon, Official Hostess; John Ross, Director of the Baptist-Disciples Fellowship Center; Miss Lucy Ann Haas, Associate Director of the Center; Malcolm McBryde, George Pollo, and Fred Broeker, Custodians.
That year saw the beginning of plans to completely renovate the sanctuary of the church, a project completed the following May at a cost of nearly $40,000. The work included painting of walls and woodwork, improved lighting, new carpeting, new broadcasting booth, new arrangement of the choir section of the balcony, new ceiling tile, and redecoration of the narthex. Harry Hudson was chairman of the building committee, with Clare Moffitt advisory architect. Charles Monson was chairman of the Board of Administration at the time.
The sanctuary work was but the beginning of an exciting program of building extension which finally culminated in the erection of a new Chapel and Youth Activities addition costing approximately $350,000. Ground was broken for the new building January 19, 1959, after a successful financial campaign. Paul Raver was chairman of the Board of Administration and Walter H. Crim chairman of the special building committee. The building was designed by the firm of Naramore, Bain, Brady, and Johnson, with Clare Moffitt as a consulting architect, and was dedicated with special services on Sunday, May, 15, 1960, the debt standing at $150,000.
The chapel, seating 156, was designed to be used for small worship services, weddings, memorial services, and personal devotions. Its pipe organ, designed by Balcom and Vaughn, was unique in the northwest, and its stained glass wall, executed by James Fitzgerald, extraordinarily impressive.
The staff was enlarged again and a new program was added when the Rev. Eugene Kidder was called as Associate Minister of Youth and Counseling. In July, 1960, University Christian Church became one of the few churches in the nation to offer its members and the community the services of a professionally-trained pastoral counselor. Mr. Kidder joined a ministerial staff composed of Dr. Pack, the Rev. Fred Opperman, and the Rev. Arthur Thorpe, both of whom had been on the staff since 1957.
At the time of his resignation in April, 1961, to accept the pastorate of the Wilshire Boulevard Christian Church in Los Angeles, California, Dr. Pack had received 3,030 persons into membership in University Christian Church. During his fourteen years in Seattle he had been honored with doctor’s degrees from Bethany College and the Pacific School of Religion.
He had been elected president of the International Convention of Christian Churches in 1959, and had the joy of presenting the sanctuary choir of the church to sing for that convention in Denver, Colorado. He had seen the character of the University District undergo significant changes. The Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Lutherans, and Unitarians had all built new buildings, while both the Episcopal and Methodist Churches underwent extensive remodeling and erected additions. New Apartments had begun to appear in the District and many old houses were being sub-divided into apartments. The northeast area of the city had built up rapidly, with many of the members of the congregation moving farther out. University Christian had helped the denomination establish seven new congregations, many of whose members were former members of University Christian Church.
Robert A. Thomas, a native of Missouri, was called from a twelve-year ministry with the First Christian Church of St. Joseph, Missouri to become pastor of the church on September 1, 1961. Dr. Thomas was 42 years old, a graduate of Drury College, Springfield, Missouri, and of the Divinity School of the University of Chicago. Culver-Stockton College conferred the Doctor of Divinity Degree on him in 1959. Soon after he came, the church made a careful survey of nearby properties in order to determine the possibility of securing space for parking. Finally, a decision was made to purchase 200 feet of property across from the church buildings on 15th Avenue Northeast. The income from houses on the land helped carry the payments until preparing the lots for parking was feasible.
Total active membership of the church had declined from the high marks of the early 1950s, with 1599 members listed in the 1964 Year Book of The Christian Churches. However, in accord with new denominational practice, policies with regard to membership had been considerably tightened, and this accounted for some of the difference. The high level of giving during the erection of the new building had not been maintained, but the total income of the congregation for the year ending June 30, 1964, was $172,400, with $32,700 of that allocated to World Outreach and $33,000 to Debt Retirement. The cost of the new addition had been entirely paid, and the only debt remaining was on the new property for future parking. Attendance at Church School and worship services had leveled off and there were indications of increasing size in the congregations and classes.
At the retirement of Mr. Opperman and the resignation about the same time of Mr. Thorpe, the staff needs of the church were studied by the Personnel Committee with the result that Mr. Walter Hansen was employed as Business Administrator and Miss Mary Elizabeth Mason was called as Associate Minister of Education. Miss Mason was a graduate of the University of Kentucky and Hartford Theological Seminary and came to Seattle from heading the Children’s Division of the Educational Department of the United Christian Missionary Society. Other staff included John Ross, Campus minister; James Paul, Director of Music; Doris Helen Smith, Organist and part-time Secretary; Lola Dungan, Office Receptionist; Marguerite Brown, Ministers’ Secretary; Marie Aue, Church Hostess; Lettie Watne, Bookkeeper; and Ken Owens, Engineer.
Carl Pitzer’s retirement as Minister of Music after thirty-five years of service was marked by a great banquet in December, 1964, with appropriate recognition of the importance of his work, and expressions of personal and congregational gratitude.
(This is the wrap-up of Dr. Thomas’s history. It was deleted in the 1990 history) In recent years the church has been seeking understanding of itself and its message, deepening of its life and clarification of its direction for the future. An emphasis on adult education has resulted in regular lecture series and a plan of “elective courses” in the winter quarter of the Church School.
A youth program of remarkable quality has attracted the participation of large number of high schoolers. The educational program for children has been greatly strengthened by Mary Elizabeth Mason’s expert knowledge and hard work. Hundreds of members are directly involved in program planning and execution through the functional departments and committees of the church.
There is an “ecumenical Spirit” in the Church rather than a sectarian one, making possible service to the life of the present and the future. There is a wealth of leadership ability, a willingness to explore new ways of making a witness in the world, a concern for significant relationship to the university community, and a deepening sense of common faith and purpose.
University Christian Church is uniquely situated in terms of its history, physical facilities, and the theological freedom to receive God’s gifts of unity and joy, and to make its witness relevant and strong.