108-year-old South Tacoma church dwindles away, will get its last hurrah

Staff writerMarch 9, 2014 

Hope Lutheran Church, an 108-year-old, once-thriving neighborhood congregation in South Tacoma, is having its final service Sunday.

Deloris Pease will say farewell to her church home for the past 60 years.

“I’m very sad about it, of course,” said Pease, 82. “You just don’t ever dream that the church you love is going to close.”

The reasons for the congregation’s demise form a familiar refrain to mainline Protestant denominations, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

The neighborhood surrounding the church became more diverse. Children who grew up in the congregation settled elsewhere. And the congregation couldn’t attract new members.

In its heyday in the 1960s and ’70s, the 300-seat church at 7209 S. Puget Sound Ave. was packed for two Sunday morning services, Pease said.

Attendance has dwindled to 10 to 15 people for one Sunday service, said Jean Gottgetreu, who has been part of the congregation since the late 1940s.

“I hate to see it close, but I think it’s best,” said Gottgetreu, 89. “It’s just a neighborhood church that was once very active.”

Hope will get a grand send-off at its final service at 10:30 a.m. Nearby United and Bethlehem Lutheran churches have canceled their services to meet with Hope.

First Congregational Church, which purchased the Hope building and moved there last spring after selling its historic church near Tacoma’s Wright Park, also will worship with the group.

Bishop Rick Jaech, of the Southwestern Washington Synod of the ELCA, will preach.

Despite closing, the people of Hope will leave a legacy.

Most of the money from the sale of the church to First Congregational for $650,000 will be used by the synod to develop new Lutheran churches and ministries, said the Rev. Randall Haas, 64, Hope’s pastor for the past three years.

“It gives them a legacy to look on,” he said.

Nearly all of those who attend Hope plan to start attending United Lutheran, 2 miles away on the other side of Interstate 5.

Pease, whose three children were baptized and confirmed at Hope, will join them.

“My week wouldn’t be good if I didn’t go to church on Sunday,” Pease said. “I’ll be OK at the other church. But it will take awhile before I feel the way I have about Hope.”

United was formed in 1997 from the consolidation of three declining Lutheran congregations in Tacoma’s South End. Hope voted not to participate in that consolidation.

Over the years, Hope has housed homeless people, provided luncheons for senior citizens, helped start Christ Lutheran Church in Lakewood and assisted other Lutheran congregations.

Haas praised Hope’s members — most in their 70s and 80s — for their love for other people. But, he noted, “We didn’t stay up with the times.”

Unlike some congregations, Hope never started singing contemporary music in addition to traditional hymns.

Churches need to look several years down the road “to stay abreast and be a factor in the community,” Haas said.

“An awful lot of churches have failed to do that,” said Haas, who plans to continue as a pastor at another Lutheran congregation in the synod or in Oregon.

Hope Lutheran was located at South 62nd and Warner streets before the current church was built in the late 1950s.

The congregation could have continued meeting in the building through its lease agreement with First Congregational. Several other congregations use the building.

But in January, Hope’s members voted unanimously to close, Haas said.

Gottgetreu said there was no point in continuing to meet when the group wasn’t large enough to help the neighborhood.

For years, the congregation has ended its services with a proclamation: “Hope starts here.”

“We kept up hope until it no longer got to be practical,” Gottgetreu said. “You have to face facts.”

Steve Maynard: 253-597-8647

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