Changing with the needs of the community can keep you alive for 125 years. That’s what the leadership of 11th Ave’s Central Lutheran Church believes as the congregation prepares to celebrate the esteemed anniversary November 1st.
“The building continues to change,” Pastor Cindy Salo said of the aged brick chapel and administration buildings along 11th. “But the building hasn’t changed as much as we have. The church has had to become something different to survive in 2015.”
2015 has been an important year for big milestones for Central Seattle houses of worship. 19th and Madison’s Mt. Zion also marked 125 years of community.
Since its establishment in 1890, Central Lutheran, today sitting on the east side of Cal Anderson Park, has managed to continue its service to the neighborhood and its worshippers with openness and a dedication to equality and fairness for all people.
The church was first founded at 7th Ave and Union in a remodeled tin shop as a dedicated English-speaking Lutheran church, contrasting the various Lutheran institutions that catered to immigrants and their languages. The Capitol Hill location’s land was purchased in 1901 for $2,300, according to the Central Lutheran archives.
From there, Central Lutheran has continued while both its building and the neighborhood around it has continually shifted through booms and busts.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Pastor Jon Nelson engaged the church in many social causes, from supporting Indigenous causes to publicly welcoming all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender peoples to starting a biweekly lunch program, which still serves 250 people every Tuesday and Thursday.
Salo, pastor for the past five years, said she has continued the efforts to strive towards social justice in more contemporary ways.
“Social justice is a little different these days,” she said. “We have phone banks, coordinate marches and we in the pride parade every years. I don’t think you’d get called here if you didn’t have a heart for social justice.”
Jamie Pedersen, a Washington State Senator for the 43rd District, said he began attending Central Lutheran a little over 20 years ago when he moved back to Seattle.
The church’s then-exceptional welcoming attitude of the LGBTQ community initially drew him to its practice. Since then, he has dedicated his time to work within Central Lutheran and the neighborhood around it. He teaches Sunday school there, served as the president for the church council and has held the position of treasurer there since 2004.
“Until 1998 or 1999, we were the only reconciling Lutheran church in the area,” Pedersen said about the church’s progressive embrace of the LGBTQ community. “We use fully inclusive language. We don’t use ‘he’ or ‘she’ pronouns for God.”
Of course, Salo isn’t blind to the development around the small church, nor the prospective value of the building. She said she had a realtor approach her with an offer for $5 million for the land, but she insisted that Central Lutheran’s place remained on Capitol Hill.
“I know we’re sitting on some pretty fun land,” she said. “But we want to serve Capitol Hill. We want to be here.”
The street will still change — with or without development at the home of Central Lutheran. Even neighborly nonprofit Hugo House is part of the wave with a new development destined to transform its home corner nearby.
That dedication to the neighborhood has left a lasting impression on many attendees of the church, including Pedersen.
“The ways in which Central has been progressive has affected us personally,” Pedersen said, referring to him and his family. “Eric and I were married there in 2004, years before we could have had a legally recognized marriage. But we were able to have a religious wedding.”
Pedersen’s relationship with the church has only deepened over the years.
“All of our kids have been baptized there,” he said. “Their godparents are all attendees as well. It’s been a great institution for our community.”
This sort of inclusion has regularly brought attendees in from as far away as North Bend and Anacortes. But how does the church plan to keep them coming?
For the future, Salo believes that continuing to deepen community involvement, especially younger generations, will continue the church’s impressive longevity.
“Our Sunday school is vital and flowing,” she said.
But above all, she said the church’s continued adaption to the community’s needs will ensure its survival
Some things, however, don’t change.
“The thing that will never change is our tagline: Love is Central,” Salo said. “Central shows up. If people need something; Central shows up. We’re tiny, but we’re powerful and we care.”
Central Lutheran will celebrated its 125th anniversary with a special service at 11 AM Sunday, November 1st featuring some of their oldest attendees and highlighting the church’s legacy in the community. A reception with cake and snacks will follow. Salo also said that Mayor Ed Murray will be in attendance.
Central Lutheran is at 1710 11th Ave. You can learn more at loveiscentral.org.
UPDATE 11/1/2015: Happy 125 years!
Joined Central Lutheran Church this morning to celebrate an incredible 125 yrs serving the Capitol Hill community. pic.twitter.com/3HeXxRngig
— Ed Murray (@MayorEdMurray) November 2, 2015