It took me back to my experience, a little less than two years ago, when the building that housed University Christian Church came down. We as a congregation witnessed the progression of that demolition, as we came to worship week after week. You can read my reflections from that time by searching for the post “Church History, Church Future.”
Like I did two years ago at the University Christian site, I went through the fence that had been placed around the U Temple site and picked up a piece of masonry from the demolition. This time I was alone and so I had to carry the heavy piece back to my car by myself. Now it will be part of my farm’s labyrinth, not far from the piece of masonry I took from the U Christian demolition two years ago.
In the publication, “Daily Journal of Commerce,” Real Estate editor Brian Miller wrote about this latest U District tear down in an article he titled “Will the last church to leave Seattle turn out the lights?” The title reveals his bias. In speaking of churches only in terms of the monetary and “development” potential of church property, he completely misses the point. University Temple has not left. They have instead made a conscientious decision about their future and how they will invest themselves in our University district. They are building a new facility on that site with space to worship and also with space for other ongoing work. Ever faithful to their sense of ministry, they are living out what it means to be a faithful congregation in the U District of Seattle in the 21st-century.
Part of my frustration with Miller’s article is all of the ways he missed the vitality and value of churches in the U District and any sense of the gifts of spiritual communities bring to the wider communities of which they are a part. In a classic 21st-century way, Miller reduced the value of spiritual communities to a “commodity” scale. Who will buy this land? What real estate developer will get rich on this piece of property?
UCUCC is mentioned in the article too, by the way, with this cavalier comment: “Just north of University Temple is University Congregational United Church of Christ, with almost an acre on the corner of 45th. One can only wonder at its current congregational size – and development potential.” Well, Brian, you don’t have to wonder. Just ask. We are a vibrant, thriving congregation. We are keeping the light on, along with other faith communities (including U Temple), in the U district, in Seattle, and beyond.
Plymouth Church, our downtown sibling, is also mentioned. “That half block is too valuable not to reach the market – someday, sooner or later, when a brokers knock at the door is finally answered.“ Knowing Plymouth’s commitment to justice and love, I humbly suggest that this writer revisit his sense of what is valuable.
In reflecting on the changes on 15th at the University Temple site, I prefer the story that our local public radio station, KUOW, did. The reporters at KUOW actually talked to folks from the church. Here’s what they heard: “While it’s sad to see the church they love torn down, longtime congregants are proud of what will come next.”
And may it be, for all of us, that “what comes next” is faithful.