First Congregational Church in Tacoma held its first worship service in its Gothic-style, sandstone-and-brick sanctuary near Wright Park 104 years ago.
The congregation will hold its last service in the building Sunday.
The church’s sale to Mars Hill Church for $1.9 million is expected to close by the end of this month.
The building holds a lifetime of memories for Joan Davies Rapp and her husband, Gerry.
She was baptized there. The couple married there and attended the church with their two sons.
“It’s going to be a pretty nostalgic service — pretty emotional, I think,” said Gerry Rapp, 73, moderator of the church council. “It’s not going to be particularly easy.”
But members agree they needed to sell the church and relocate. Attendance on Sunday mornings has shrunk over the years and now averages about 25.
The congregation couldn’t afford escalating maintenance projects, including a new roof.
Parishioners will gather in the sanctuary at 11 a.m. Sunday for a short service. The Rapps will sing a duet, called “Hymn of Promise.” After the service, the group will move around the church, remember special spaces in the building with readings, and say goodbye to their spiritual home.
“There is going to be a tearful farewell,” said Phillip Blackledge, trustees chairman for First Congregational. “But it’s not going to be a devastation to the members.”
That’s because a new chapter in the congregation’s life will start after Sunday. First Congregational will continue its weekly worship at 11 a.m. Dec. 2 in leased space in the Knights of Pythias building at 924 Broadway. The church is in talks with three Tacoma congregations to buy one of their churches, Blackledge said. In one case, First Congregational would be a co-owner.
First Congregational was organized in 1874. Its pastor is the Rev. Bill Greaver; the church is affiliated with the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches.
Joan Rapp said she is disappointed about leaving but is relieved the building won’t be torn down.
“That’s been my church all my life,” said Rapp, 72. “We knew we could not afford to repair all the things that had to be done.”
Blackledge, 51, who has been part of the church since 1963, said he’s relieved to be out from under the burden of the building’s deferred maintenance and monthly operating costs.
“The memories will always be in my heart,” Blackledge said. “I’m excited about a new location and a new start.”
With its sanctuary and three-story education building, the historic church at Division Avenue and South J Street has 36,996 square feet.
Mars Hill is raising $1.5 million to begin renovating the church in January after the sale closes this month, said spokesman Justin Dean. It hopes to start having services in the church in fall 2013, he said.
Mars Hill Tacoma will be the 15th and latest site for the Seattle-based megachurch. It has 14 sites in four states and draws an average of 13,000 people per weekend across the locations, making it one of the fastest-growing churches in the United States.