St. Paul's Episcopal celebrates centennial

One hundred years ago, the first worshippers at St. Paul's Episcopal Church on Queen Anne gathered for services at 15 Roy St. Tomorrow, the church is celebrating that centennial and its longtime reputation for diversity and inclusiveness.

St. Paul's, one of the largest churches in the diocese, began as a mission church in a log cabin in 1892. Some believe Chief Seattle built the original cabin, but others say it belonged to the Denny family, some of Seattle's first settlers.

Whatever its true origins, by 1903 the church had moved to its current location. Over the years it grew along with the community, becoming known as a friendly church where anyone could feel at home.

Today, St. Paul's still has a reputation for acceptance and has been at the forefront of major changes, from the desegregation of churches and the ordination of women as priests, to the most current struggle — the acceptance and ordination of gays and lesbians in the church.

Episcopalian churches, in general, are more progressive than many other churches, but that does not mean there isn't tension over such issues, said the Rev. Wray MacKay, St. Paul's associate priest.

There is some concern in the wider Episcopal Church over a gay priest's recent appointment as a bishop in New Hampshire.

"I don't think that has ever been an issue here. It's not even a struggle. We just are who we are," MacKay said. "God made us all and loves us all. God doesn't say, 'I made you straight and I love you, and I made you gay and I don't love you.' "

The last rector, the Rev. Morrie Hauge, was openly gay and living with a partner. "It wasn't a secret that I was gay and partnered in a long-term relationship. As a parish, they said it didn't make any difference to them," Hauge said.

"Of any of the issues that we had in terms of typical parish ups and downs and struggles, one of the things that was never a struggle was my relationship."

In 1958, St. Paul's also took a stand. While other churches danced around the issue of civil rights, the rector at St. Paul's said the church would meet the needs and problems of 20th century urban life and help all families and people, no matter their race or class.

Betsy Greenman, senior staff member to the Right Rev. Vincent Warner, Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Western Washington, says St. Paul's believes its mission is to respect the dignity of every human being.

"It celebrates diversity, that's one of its strong points," said the Rev. Charles Ridge, interim rector at the church since October. "It welcomes diversity, as in cultural, racial, and sexual preference."

"The fact that this parish has been doing it for 20 years is amazing," Ridge said. "Most churches that I know have never done any outreach like that so consistently."

The church is an important part of its Queen Anne neighborhood, thanks to the warmth of the parishioners, said Anna Buck, 86, who has attended St. Paul's for 25 years and volunteers several days a week in the church office.

"In other churches, you can walk in and out ... no acknowledgment whatsoever."

With a congregation of 250, "you have a chance to know everybody," she said.

"It's the thing that holds my life together," said Mark Taylor, 49. He and his family have been attending the church for almost six years. "We live on Queen Anne and it really feels good to be in a church in the community. There are a lot of people of St. Paul's that are long-term residents of Queen Anne, and that's satisfying."

"I don't think anything could replace loving your neighbor. It's got to be more than words," MacKay said.

The 100th anniversary celebration begins at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow, followed by a procession around the block. The congregation invites everyone to join in a free lunch in the parish hall in the basement of the church.

Regine Labossiere: 206-464-2216