Reimagining Church in the University District

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God of change and glory, God of time and space,
when we fear the future, give us your grace…
as the old ways disappear, let your love cast out all fear.
— Al Carmines, “Many Gifts, One Spirit” 1973

The community of University Temple United Methodist Church has chosen to follow an exciting dream. We will repurpose our historic church building in order to move into a more sustainable future. One that empowers us to connect with our neighbors in new and relevant ways.

This spring, our century-old church building on 43rd and 15th NE in Seattle’s University District will come down to make way for a new, re-imagined ministry and community space on the same property.

We are partnering with a development company to build a podium of three stories for the reimagined church with two student housing towers above. While construction is underway, the church has moved to temporary locations for office and storage at the University Bookstore and worship in the adjacent University Masonic Lodge.

“There will be space inside for an all-ages live performance venue, offices, library, chapel, service project area, and a parish hall. The new sanctuary will feature a large art piece consisting of textured clear and colored glass, lit by the natural light of the eastern sky. On the corner of 43rd and 15th NE, there will be a café to serve our neighbors on campus and beyond,” notes Larry Erickson, chairperson of our building committee.

“After decades of discernment, we made the difficult decision to say farewell to our beloved, beautiful sanctuary,” reveals Molly Hoffman, University Temple member.

In our deliberation, we discovered that our present building requires expensive upgrades to its electrical, heating, and plumbing systems, a sound leakless roof, and major seismic and accessibility upgrades. Spending so much time and energy on maintaining a building was distracting us from serving people and designing relevant ministries.

In December 2018, church members voted to partner with a development company to build a new facility in our present space, one that will be affordable and, more importantly, invite community engagement.

The tenants formerly housed within the church building who provide services to the community have all successfully relocated. University Temple contributed financially toward tenant moving and resettlement expenses. ROOTS homeless youth shelter has moved to a new location on 19th in the District. Friday Feast meals are now served just one block south in the same alley, in the parking garage of the Chapel on the Ave. University Temple Children’s School has relocated to University Heights Community Center.

Kenzie Tichenor, Executive Director UTCS, said “It is amazing to be a part of a program that embodies the practices they preach and supports the community.”

People’s Harm Reduction Alliance (PHRA) is continuing their service at Christ Episcopal Church. Facing Homelessness has moved to the University Friends Meeting House. Emerald City Metropolitan Community Church worships on Sunday mornings at the Wesley Club in the adjacent Russell Building.

To facilitate our move, treasured items have been handled with care. The sanctuary pipe organ was disassembled and shipped to Tennessee where it will be refurbished, stored, shipped back, and eventually installed in the new sanctuary. The beloved stained-glass windows were removed by Earthwise to be available to others for repurposing. The favorite “Children’s Window” will be placed in the new building library. The chapel organ has been sold and is installed in a church in California, and the chapel stained-glass windows have been installed at the Epiphany Parish of Seattle in the Madrona neighborhood.

“Members at Epiphany Parish are thrilled to have these windows mounted in their sanctuary,” shares Hoffman.

Many of the childcare furnishings moved with the University Temple Children’s School to their new home at University Heights. The playground equipment has been placed with a startup day care in Maple Leaf. All wood, cast iron, light fixtures, etc. have been carefully removed for useful salvage. Every appliance, all metal pieces and fixtures have been removed and donated to various organizations, including Habitat for Humanity, Goodwill, Earthwise, Earth Friendly, Seattle Tool Library, as well as interested individuals.

In three to four years when the new building will be completed, it will be resurrected as a community hub. To help guide us in these transition efforts, Rev. Paul Ortiz has been appointed to be our new lead pastor. He comes to us with several years of experience in cultivating multiethnic, queer-inclusive, justice-centered spiritual communities in the urban setting. Together, we hope to welcome the diverse community of our growing neighborhood into our reimagined worship and gathering space. This is our dream of our future in the University District.

In the meantime, our growing community is keeping busy. Meetings and worship, enrichment hour (conversations on the intersection of social justice, faith, and action), special “UT Kids” videos, and fellowship time are all online. We are planning to bear witness to the demolition with a vigil, prayer, and ritual in mid-June. Throughout the summer, we will host interactive art booths designed to facilitate connections through creativity. Once in-person worship is allowed, we will gather at the University Masonic Lodge during the “wilderness” years of rebuilding. See utemple.org for more information.

We are moving forward in faith, seeking to become a community that centers on people over temple.

“We dream of living deeper into our commitments of antiracism and LGBTQIA+ inclusion. In our ministries, we continue to seek justice and share power with others in the way of Jesus. We look to discover new ways of embodying diverse images of God and reflecting the people of our surrounding community. We are a faith community that seeks to celebrate and to serve,” proclaims Ortiz.

While moving into the unknown can be scary, we are moving with excitement and hope. The journey has already begun to shape us into who we are called to be in this time and place. If this interests you, we hope that you will consider journeying with us. And, of course, when the new building is completed, we’d love for you to join us in our beautiful new space.

-Rev. Paul Ortiz, pastor at University Temple UMC

-Sharon Fisher, chair of Church Council at University Temple UMC

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