Bethany Church celebrates 125 years in QA

Queen Anne’s Bethany Presbyterian Church (1818 Queen Anne Ave. N.) is celebrating its 125th anniversary of its first service on Sunday, Nov. 10. 

The church began in 1888 at its first location at Harrison and Oak streets — now the site of the International Fountain in Seattle Center. It stayed there for 19 years before moving to First Avenue North and Roy Street in 1907. It moved to its current location in Queen Anne before the church was built in 1930.

“We are essentially celebrating God’s 125 years of faithfulness and provision,” said office administrative assistant Sylvia Lidell. Lidell began attending the church in 1985 and started working there four years later. 

Lidell has been in charge of preparing the 125th-anniversary celebrations. The church went all out for its 100th anniversary, she said, with a formal dinner, celebration committee and commemorative plates.  

This year’s celebrations are much more informal. At the 9 and 10:45 a.m. Sunday services, three different people will speak in lieu of the pastor’s sermon. The people will share “how God has worked through Bethany in their lives,” Lidell said. 

Children from the church will also read Scriptures. 

After the 10:45 a.m. service, the church will have its monthly soup and bread lunch, with a cake to celebrate. There will be a slideshow with pictures from throughout the years. 

In the “ramp room,” adjacent to the sanctuary, Lidell will display photos and information she’s dug up for the anniversary. One of the things she’ll display is a list of all of the church’s more than 500 active (and some inactive) members. 

A growing congregation

The church has grown — both in population and in physical size — since it began. During the mid ‘90s, a renovation added a new library, fellowship hall, kitchen and lobby. The previous fellowship hall, in turn, became more classrooms for the church’s growing youth population. 

During the week, Little Friends Preschool rents the classrooms.

In 2011, the church was seismically retrofitted. The rooms in the tower now have 6 extra inches of cement holding them up. 

“It cost a lot of money, but now it won’t fall down on us,” Lidell said. “[The tower] was one thing that was just going to crumble.” 

In 1964, the church hired Pastor Richard Denham, who had a young family with kids. 

“He was open to a lot of different people,” Lidell said. “We just kind of grew in those years.”

Denham brought new life and youths to the church. He was the first pastor to introduce praise songs into worship. Now the services combine praise songs and hymns, which keeps both generations happy, Liddel said. 

Facilities administrator Mike Christensen has been a member of Bethany for the last 41 years. Christensen was drawn to the Biblically based theology and young, energetic congregation. Christensen oversees large projects like the seismic remodel and works on the smaller, day-to-day projects. 

During those 41 years, the church has “grown in all of the ways a church grows if it’s healthy,” he said. 

Christensen taught for the Lake Washington School District in Kirkland, Wash., for many years. When he retired, he took the facilities job at Bethany because it was a second home to him.

“When a person goes home — if they live in a nice, healthy home — it’s nice to go home,” he said. “I have the same feeling here.”

Pastors have come and gone during Christensen’s time at the church. The interim periods, when the church is waiting to select a new pastor, reveal a lot about the quality of the church, he said. 

“All of the other leadership that exists in your session or just people that are talented kind of rises to the top,” he said. “It’s not like people just fold up their tent and sit around waiting.”

As members have grown, so have the church’s programs. The church owns the first three homes along Howe Street to house its offices and programs. There are programs for children and young adults, as well as home groups for adults. 

Each year, the youth group goes on a mission. The group alternates between foreign, U.S-. and even Seattle-based missions. One-quarter of the church’s budget goes to outreach. 

Every Wednesday, the church has a dinner for homeless and low-income people, as well as church and community members. These dinners have helped diversify the church, Lidell said. And diversity is something the church is focusing on: Bethany has been working on “racial reconciliation” and has teamed up with a South Seattle church. 

Looking to the future

Christensen is excited for the anniversary. It’s nice to look back and reminisce or see “pictures of you when you weren’t so old,” he said. 

Bethany isn’t a church that lives in the past, though: “It lives in the present and is looking to the future,” he said.

“There’s a real healthy emphasis about being concerned about doing things that are healthy and useful to other people,” Christensen said. “I think that just makes your future bright.”

Bethany is at a crossroads now, Lidell said. The church’s new pastor, Doug Kelly, is encouraging the members to look at the church’s “DNA” and gifts to figure out where it’s going in the future. 

“We’re kind of just trying to relax and enjoy and look at ourselves,” Lidell said, “and see where we’re going to go from here.” 

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