1889 – What a year to start a church!
On February 23, 1889 a small Bible study of immigrants organized the congregation that would become First Covenant Church. On March 18, a constitution was accepted and on March 30, the charter was signed with 24 members signing. The name they took was “Swedish Christian Mission Church.” The first meeting place was the home of two bachelors, August Lundgren and Theodore Johnson, a log cabin located at Seventh and Marion. Later, a Congregationalist church on Second Avenue, between Spring and Seneca Streets, would serve as a temporary home.
Very soon after organizing the congregation, plans were made to build a church. However, on June 6, these hopes were discouraged when most of Seattle burned to the ground! Rudyard Kipling, who visited Seattle shortly thereafter, described the devastation as a “horrible black smudge, as though a Hand had come down and rubbed the place smooth. I know now what wiped out means.” Not only was the meeting place destroyed, but even the members’ homes were lost. Despite the destruction, the city bounced backed to life, and the young congregation conducted their business in tents, just like the rest of the city.
In late August, Covenant Church founder Paul Peter Waldenström was on a preaching tour and came to Seattle to see the devastation and meet the Swedes who live in the city. As no building was left standing that was large enough to hold a prayer meeting here, many of the Swedes traveled by steamship to Tacoma to hear Waldenström preach in a large auditorium called Germany Hall.
In one year’s time, the city nearly doubled, growing from 25,000 to 43,000. In these numbers were included thousands of new Swedish immigrants, which boosted the congregation between 75-100 regular attendees by the end of 1889.
The congregation was organized and directed by lay leadership for the first year; no regular pastor was employed until the fall of 1890, when itinerant preacher Axel “Sunshine” Anderson accepted the call as pastor. Until then pulpit supply and financial assistance was offered by the Swedish mission church in Tacoma. The Seattle Congregationalists also made overtures to the fledgling congregation … to the tune of $2,700, an enormous sum at the time! This was part of a denominational strategy to woo all the Swedish Mission Friends into a Swedish wing of the Congregationalist Church. However, by spring of 1890, the North Pacific Conference was organized and the Swedish Mission Church moved more firmly into the Covenant fold. The first church building was dedicated in May of 1891, at Ninth and Stewart. A church was born!
By Mark Safstrom
To download a more detailed history of First Covenant between 1889 and the present, click here.