Through more than 100 years of shared ministry, The United Churches of Olympia, comprised of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the United Church of Christ, has been a model of what can happen when two distinctive traditions enrich each other in a ministry. Dedicated to a “life of faith in Jesus Christ and devotion to His ideals”, The United Churches has sought to strengthen its commitment to the faith, which we proclaim and serve.
The nine people who gathered 150 years ago in the cooperage shop at Fifth and Columbia streets were products of the pioneering spirit of independence that was pushing the American frontier into the Pacific Northwest. These people had left the security of society in the East to travel by prairie schooner to establish new homes.
Pastor George Whitworth and his family left Indiana in the spring of 1853, leading a wagon train to Oregon Territory. They spent their first winter in Portland before moving to Olympia. In July of 1854, the Whitworths established the first Presbyterian Church north of the Columbia River and west of the Rocky Mountains in what was Washington Territory. Today, we are the oldest Presbyterian congregation in the Synod of Alaska-Northwest—Alaska, Washington and Northern Idaho.
The First Congregational Church (now known as the United Church of Christ) was organized April 26, 1873, and became the fifth denomination to be represented in Olympia. There were 15 original members. An abandoned Catholic school was purchased and used by the new congregation. The Rev. E. R. Loomis came with his family and remained until the fall of 1907. In January 1910 the Rev. Robert H. Edmonds began his pastorate and remained with the church until the federation of the Congregational and Presbyterian Churches.
The Congregational Church outgrew the quarters, and in 1914 a committee was authorized to consider the purchase of a new property for building purposes. About that time the possibility of a united church for Olympia was suggested with the hope that a number of denominations would share in the vision. However, serious conversations resulted only between the Presbyterians and the Congregationalists. On May 11, 1915 the invitation by the Presbyterians was accepted by the Congregationalists, and the union was consummated December 6, 1916.
The church grew in numbers. With money from the sale of their property, the Congregational Church in 1923 purchased a garage across from the church and remodeled it to be used as a Sunday school. Still the church grew, but nothing was really done about the building, although several times it was discussed.
In 1937, the two churches were officially incorporated. The Community House was sold and the old church was remodeled. The Lemon family gave the church a building site at 11th and Washington in 1939. Soon after that, the Congregational Church bought adjoining property to the west giving the church almost a full block. Plans were completed for a building in 1941, but were set aside when World War II broke out. Following a devastating earthquake in 1949, building a new facility became a necessity and the way was cleared. The present building was begun in 1951 with dedication of the sanctuary in 1955. In 1979 the present chapel was added and extensive remodeling done throughout the building. In 1987 the sanctuary was remodeled and the organ rebuilt and expanded. In the early 1990’s purchase of the Capitol Way parking lot was accomplished, and the church became debt free.
Following traditional mainline protestant patterns, membership has fluctuated. But through thick and thin, the decision of the Federation to stay together has continued to make The United Churches of Olympia unique and inclusive. We are proud to be members of one of the oldest united congregations in the United States.