ARLINGTON — “Just about any reason is a good reason to celebrate,” said Deena Jones, pastor of the Arlington United Church, on Saturday, Aug. 31. “But tonight, we get to celebrate the fact that people have been able to worship Christ on this site for the past 100 years.”
The weekend of Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 commemorated the longevity of the Arlington United Church building not only through a “sharing and singing program” that Saturday evening, but also through the church’s regular services on the morning of Sunday, Sept. 1, which featured appearances by the Aylesworth Family Singers and Rev. Daniel Foster, the United Methodist Church District Superintendent, the latter of whom passed on his bishop’s congratulations.
Jones thanked the pioneers who dedicated the Arlington church building at 338 N. Macleod Ave. on Sept. 1, 1913, as a congregational church, crediting them with having “dreams bigger than their pocketbooks,” and noted the countless sacrifices that church members have made in the decades since to maintain both the church and its building, whose histories were summed up during the Saturday dinner through a skit performed by Erich Lish and Sherry Edwards.
“We stepped out on faith and started the church with $40 in our building fund,” said Edwards, who played the role of church charter member Ida Handley. “At one point during the Depression, we had only 34 cents in our bank account.”
Handley passed away in 1944, but her granddaughter, Helen Starr, fell in love with the church from an early age.
“She was so enthusiastic about her organ lessons that she wanted to start a choir here,” said Edwards, who noted that Starr had also taught Sunday school at the church, and even worked for the U.S. Navy, before she ultimately passed away on April 30 of this year, just three months shy of her own 100th birthday. “She followed what God had laid on her heart.”
Lish added that the Arlington Community Food Bank began in the church, before it outgrew the building and moved to Haller Park, and then to the east side of the Arlington Airport.
“Youth Dynamics has also worked from this church to bring the message of Christ to area young people,” Lish said.
The evening’s two-person dinner theater was followed by the singing of hymns by the Arlington United Church Choir and the rest of the attendees, and included another humorous history lesson in its 100th anniversary song written by Ken and Angela Ripley.
“We did a silly spin on the Brady Bunch theme song, because the story of the Arlington United Church is really a romance story, about the marriage of two churches,” said Angela Ripley, referring to the First Congregational Church of Arlington on Macleod Avenue merging with the Methodist Episcopal Church that occupied the building on 117 E. Division St. until 1974. “There was an actual exodus, as the congregation from the one church walked down the street and up the hill to the other.”
Ripley’s four years of studies into the histories of the two churches began with a simple illustrated book showcasing the Arlington United Church’s stained-glass windows, but researching those windows’ origins led her to become the Indiana Jones of the church’s basement.
“There’s a ton of boxes full of documents down there,” Ripley said. “It’s like Narnia.”
From those texts and photos, Ripley assembled two tall display boards presenting illustrated histories of the two churches, complete with articles from The Arlington Times.
The Arlington United Church’s more modern history was highlighted by several speakers during the storytelling open-mic portion of the Aug. 31 festivities. Elizabeth Soper Bachman, a visiting pastor from Olympia, recalled her Camp Fire Girls council meetings taking place in the same room in which everyone was dining that evening, while Jeannie Lish lauded Ruth Munizza for the years she’s spent directing the Arlington United Church Choir.
“This was not my religion to begin with, but this congregation became my home,” said Karri Hansen, the Arlington United Church secretary who’s served as its pianist since 1986. “When my husband died last year, the whole congregation was just wonderful in its support. I am very proud now to call this my church, and my home.”
“I remember when Eddie Aylesworth was in high school, and he used to crawl all over the organ,” Kathy Weeks said of Ed Aylesworth, now one of the senior members of the Aylesworth Family Singers, drawing laughter from those in attendance.
“I even remember my own kids talking about how much trouble he got into,” said Yolanda Larsen, mother of U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, before she presented an American flag to the Arlington United Church that had been flown over the nation’s capitol on Aug. 20, which was the date of the first joint picnic between the two churches in 1925.
“There have always been children who have misbehaved in this church,” Jones chuckled, pointing out that many of those former children are now grown adults and parents with children of their own. “So if they tell you, ‘When I was a kid, I never did things like that,’ you can say, ‘Oh, yes you did.’ I pray that we’ll continue to have children crawling around in this church for years to come.”
The Arlington United Church building has been in continual use by the same congregation for longer than any other church building in Arlington.