For many, it’s a tradition to step away from the daily hustle and reflect of life by attending church on Sundays.
Harbor Life Church in Gig Harbor will celebrate 100 years of this tradition on Sunday (Sept. 16).
For long-standing members, it will be a time to remember some of the cherished moments that took place in the church.
“My fond memory was seeing my son (Marvin Bray) dedicated to the Lord by my brother 48 years ago,” said Esther Bray, who’s been attending the church since her brother, Paul Taylor, became the pastor in the early 1970s.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
“(The church) is just a big family,” she said.
The century-old church has become a cornerstone in Erin Jordan’s family’s history.
“My husband was going to this church while I was at school at (Washington State University),” she said. “We got married in this church about seven years ago. We have been coming here for nine years.”
She’s been helping organize Sunday’s celebration and digitally archiving historic photos for a church time line.
Jordan is due to deliver her first baby on Sept. 22, just a week after her church celebrates its anniversary.
“Really,” she said, “I am due any day now.”
Said Harbor Life’s lead pastor, Tyson Lash: “It’s great to celebrate new life while looking back at our history.”
Lash was a youth pastor in Centralia for 12 years before coming to Gig Harbor 11 years ago.
“This is a beautiful place to live and the church was ready for some change,” he said. “My predecessor, Harold Johnson, was here for 27 years.”
Johnson and Taylor, both retired, will attend the anniversary celebration.
An Assembly of God denomination, the congregation began in 1918 and moved to the church’s current location on 56th Street in the late 1980s.
Accounts of the early days of the church — which over the years has had other names — come from members whose parents were original members. The memories were dictated and recorded by members such as Dennis Dudley, the unofficial historian of the church and a member since the 1970s.
“From what we gathered, in 1918, the Bethel Lutheran Church didn’t have a pastor,” Dudley said. “This is before the (Tacoma Narrows Bridge) was in. Rev. Frank Gray, who was instrumental in starting what is now Life Center in Tacoma, started coming over here to teach services once in awhile.”
Gray started a series of “cottage meetings” on the peninsulas. As the meetings started to grow, the congregation began to meet in the original Wollochet School House, which the congregation rented until it burnt down.
“We didn’t burn it down,” Dudley said. “So we started looking around and found the local Methodist church.”
The Methodist church bought a new building and allowed the Assembly of God congregation to purchase its original space, now used by the Gig Harbor Grange.
The church bought land on Grandview in the 1950s and, in November 1959, moved and became the Harbor Heights Assembly of god. In the 1980s, state Route 16 was build and blocked the church’s easement. The church and the state wrestled for almost a decade until the state settled out of court with the church for $10,000, Dudley said.
After the settlement, the church bought 10 acres at its current location. At first, the church had a dirt parking lot, scant lighting and portable restrooms. It sold five acres and was able to bring the building up to date.
The church became Harbor Life Church once Lash took over as lead pastor.
He said it’s exciting to see the intimate history of the church and how it reflects the larger story being told about the country. In the 1930s and 1940s, many women from the community became pastors while men were overseas.
“We were one of the first in the region to have women pastors,” Lash said. “It was controversial at the time.”
One of the women, Agnes Anderson, was a pastor living on Fox Island. Every Sunday, she woke up early to board a boat that would dock near Artondale. Since there were no paved roads, she took a ride on a horse and cart before giving a sermon to a group of neighbors and friends.
“It’s exciting from our perspective about how God chooses men and women to lead,” Lash said.
PART OF HISTORY
Watching a church community wax and wane throughout the years is “awesome,” Bray said.
“All the friendships over the years, all the old members who passed away … we remember and think of them often,” she said. “It’s been a joy.”
Jordan, still in her 20s, said it’s been fun to join something with such deep roots.
“Just in the time I’ve been here a lot has changed,” she said. “But I have been looking at photos of people who were here a long time ago. ... Life was so different back then. But they would come together like we do here. It’s cool to be a part of this legacy.”
Lash is excited to be here for the anniversary of the church but he’s also thinking about where it will go in the next 100 years. Among his priorities for the next few years are ideas surrounding diversity in the congregation and how to welcome and grapple with the continued growth in the city.
“A lot of people are wary of the growth but we welcome it,” Lash said. “We want to look at how to expand and be a larger part of the community.”
Lash said that, beyond holding worship services on Sundays, the church does a lot of outreach locally and across the sea. It sponsors more than 20 missionaries serving in distant countries. The church has helped drill three wells in Ghana and hosts multiple local community services projects.
All the outreach is a way to continue a tradition in a modern world, he said.
“The context changes, people change but we want to stay true to our mission,” Lash said. “We want to hold on to those truths.”