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Saturday, February 9, 1991 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Capitol Hill Methodists To Move From Their 85-Year-Old Building

Ministers are fond of saying a church is much more than a building. Its main ingredient is people, united in a common faith, who happen to gather in a particular place to worship.

Members of Capitol Hill United Methodist Church will test the wisdom of that maxim tomorrow when they bid goodbye to their 85-year-old church building and find sanctuary in nearby Central Lutheran Church.

``Our church building is falling down around us,'' says the Rev. Greg Zimmer, whose sermons frequently are punctuated by the drip-drip-drip of raindrops in metal buckets placed around the sanctuary. ``It's been estimated that it would cost up to $1.5 million to fix the church. And we don't have that kind of money.''

With a membership of 89 and about 30 members in the pews most Sunday mornings, it was decided to seek shelter elsewhere.

At 10 a.m. tomorrow, the congregation will gather in the Capitol Hill church for what Zimmer calls ``a ritual of closure.''

``We'll drink coffee, reminisce and talk about the things the church has given us that we want to take on our journey,'' Zimmer said.

At 11:15 a.m., the congregation will begin processing from the church at 128 16th Ave. E. to Central Lutheran, eight blocks away at 1710 11th Ave. Barring rain, it should be a colorful spectacle.

Heading the procession, in clerical garb, will be the Rev. Paul Bartling, assistant to the bishop of the Washington Synod of the Lutheran Church in America; the Rev. Bruce Parker, Seattle district superintendent of the United Methodist Church; and Zimmer. A lay representative of Central Lutheran Church will accompany them.

Members of the Capitol Hill congregation will follow behind, carrying banners, crosses and candlesticks.

At Central Lutheran, the travelers will receive a warm welcome. They'll be greeted with a hymn and, at the conclusion of the service, members of both congregations will join in singing ``Lift High the Cross.''

The two congregations will be separate. Central Lutheran will continue with its regular morning worship hours and all of its programs. But the Methodists will be allowed to have their regular Sunday worship services at 6:30 p.m. in the sanctuary.

Zimmer, who retired several years ago as an assistant pastor of Bellevue First United Methodist Church and began serving Capitol Hill United Methodist on a part-time basis last July, said his congregation - which includes a mix of races, professions and sexual orientations - is excited about the move.

``We haven't thought about building a new church,'' said Zimmer. ``It may well be that the building we need is not one that's like a traditional church.

``We don't see this as a dying church but rather as the embryo for a new church. I hope the Methodist conference will send a new, energetic pastor to lead the congregation in the future.''

Zimmer, who has circulatory problems caused by diabetes and wears a cast on one leg, no longer can stand up to the rigors of a full-time pastorate.

After retirement from the Bellevue church, Zimmer served part-time in a Rainier Beach church before going to Capitol Hill, where a sign outside announces: ``Serving a diversity of people.''

``It really is diverse,'' says Zimmer. ``A lot of pastors can't handle homosexuality. But I have found these to be warm and caring people. They really believe in diversity. There is complete acceptance of everyone. Those who might feel alienated in a traditional congregation find a home with us.''

Even though the congregation is small, says Zimmer, members have never settled for less than the best.

The church's big pipe organ is a powerful and melodic instrument, except for the times it balks and makes funny sounds and the organist has to switch to a nearby piano. Last Sunday, a seven-member choir did a creditable job on Mozart's ``Ave Verum.''

At the Capitol Hill church's first service in its new home tomorrow night, there will be such a full schedule of speakers that Zimmer says ``about all I'll have time to do is say, `Amen.' ''

But he will perform one ritual that fits with the church's rebirth - the baptism of a 2-week-old boy. At present, that infant and the child's 2-year-old brother are the only children in the church.

Methodists long have joked that they are noted for two things - passing the collection plate at the slightest excuse and putting on sumptuous potluck dinners.

Capitol Hill's church will have its first potluck dinner just two days after getting settled - a Shrove Tuesday pancake potluck, complete with a variety of jams contributed by members.

The church they're leaving behind, with its stained-glass windows and walls of rough-hewn granite, has a rich history that began even before it was built in 1906.

The church's cornerstone notes that it was organized in 1865 as the First Methodist Protestant Church.

Its pastor was the Rev. Daniel Bagley, who, with Arthur Denny, is credited with bringing the territorial university to Seattle. Bagley had established the Methodist Protestant Church after a falling out with the pastor of the Seattle's Methodist Episcopal Church.

At the outset, Bagley's entire congregation consisted of 11 worshipers. The church's first building, located at Second Avenue and Madison Street, became known as the Little Brown Church to distinguish it from the nearby Little White Church, occupied by members of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

A second Methodist Protestant church, built on the same site in 1883, burned in 1889 - the year of the Great Seattle Fire. Bagley had left the pulpit four years earlier. A third Methodist Protestant church, at Third Avenue and Pine Street, faced declining membership for 10 years.

The Methodist Board of Missions decided to build a new church, at the present Capitol Hill site. The Rev. A. Norman Ward was the pastor when it was opened in an area of fine homes. Its members included some of Seattle's wealthiest families.

But that was long ago.

The church conference hopes to sell the historic building and property, across the street from Group Health Hospital. But first, steps must be taken to remove it from the register of Historic Landmarks, to permit the purchaser to tear it down or make renovations.

In recent years, there have been several alleged sightings of the ghosts of Pastor Bagley and his wife at the church and parsonage, although the Bagleys died before the church was completed. The ghosts presumably would be included in the purchase price.

``It's been a good church, but times change,'' said Zimmer. ``My wife and I were over in our old Bellevue church not long ago, when I introduced the new Methodist hymnal. I looked out at all those white, middle-class faces, and I realized just what a terrific difference there is in churches.''

Published Correction Date: 02/16/91 - The Capitol Hill Methodist Church, 128 16Th Ave. E., Is Being Offered For Sale With Its Historic-Landmark Designation In Place. This Article Indicated A Change In The Designation Would Be Sought Before The Sale.

Copyright (c) 1991 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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