A Central Tacoma church just off Sixth Avenue that has roots reaching back 126 years will close, but its ministry will live on.
Epworth LeSourd United Methodist Church was founded in 1889 and moved into its current Gothic-Style building at 710 S. Anderson St. in 1926. It will go up for sale after ownership transfers to the United Methodist Pacific Northwest Conference on June 30.
A group of 35 led by the Rev. Nathan Hollifield gathered for a “Liturgy of Sending” last weekend. This final Sunday service was a mixture of joy and sadness.
“The impact of Epworth LeSourd is 126 years of ministry and literally thousands of lives touched in some way by their connection to this church community,” Hollifield said. “The decision to close was not made out of a sense of failure, but one of faith.”
The last members of the congregation will disburse the church’s remaining funds to four faith ministries. Proceeds from a bazaar this weekend will supplement those funds.
Dave Parker, who is 91 years old and attended the church since he was 6, found it hard at first to let go.
“I feel like I have lost a major part of my life,” he said.
What led to the church’s closure are the same circumstances that have caused several other historic churches to fold in Tacoma — steady drops in membership combined with the high cost of maintaining old buildings.
“We knew the financial facts, and we knew the membership numbers,” said Hollifield, who came to the church a year ago. “Do we go another five years trying to keep the lights on, or do we ask ourselves, ‘What is God asking us to do?’ ”
Hollifield also is pastor at Grace United Methodist Church on Tacoma’s East Side, which is set to close in December. He will continue his ministry at Fircrest United Methodist Church.
He said he believes the Epworth LeSourd building will receive new life and serve the community in ways the congregation was unable to.
The closure follows the sale of other local churches including First United Methodist Church, which was demolished in 2007 to make way for a nearby hospital expansion, and First Congregational Church, which was sold to Mars Hill Church in 2012.
Just a few blocks from Epworth LeSourd, the Sixth Avenue Baptist Church was sold in 2009 after its congregation dwindled to 35. The new owner leased out a portion to City Central Church Congregation and the rest to retail businesses.
Chris Moore, executive director of Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, sees this trend increasing.
“We see it more and more,” he said. “Sadly, many church congregations find the capital expenses too great a burden to bear.”
Designed by architect George Wesley Bullard, Epworth LeSourd is a gabled-roof building that takes up an entire neighborhood block. It features shouldered pilasters, wire-struck brick walls, an offset pinnacled steeple and Gothic-arched stained-glass windows made by the renowned Povey Brothers Art Glass Works of Portland.
Colored light pours through the windows, illuminating a sanctuary with two balconies, a low stage and rows of wooden pews with room to seat 450. The walls are covered with limestone wall paper and trimmed in oak.
On the north exterior wall of the building, a large mural of Kiki McBride overlooks the parking lot. The girl died of sudden cardiac arrest in 2005 while trying out for the Foss High School basketball team. A basketball court outside the church is known by locals as “Kiki’s Court,” church member Holly Zerfass said.
Epworth LeSourd history reaches back to 1889 when the Epworth League for First United Methodists built a wooden house of worship at 1104-06 S. Pine St.
In 1902, the congregation moved to a wood building designed by Proctor and Farrell Architects at its present location.
By 1925, the congregation had outgrown the building. The current structure was completed in 1926 at a cost of $90,000.
Not all of the current members wanted to sell.
Parker, a veteran of World War II, said the discussion to close the church was hard on him both emotionally and physically. But after the decision was made, he came to peace with it.
“I feel free to move on, unbound by the church. Here I am at 91 starting my new life of service,” he said with a chuckle.
Parker’s grandniece, Katherine Parker, is a United Methodist missionary in Nepal.
The money being disbursed totals around $34,000 and will go to her, as well as a local ministry, a global ministry and for seminary expenses for a young church member who plans to become a pastor.
“We believe that God is calling us to let go and plant new seeds,” Hollifield said.