History

History

Our Building

Seattle First Baptist Church was founded in December, 1869, by 11 members who first met in the home of Abigail Hanford.  New members were baptized in Elliott Bay.

The church soon built a wooden building on Fourth Avenue, between Cherry and James.  A larger building was dedicated in 1899.  However, the regrading of Fourth Avenue after the great fire of 1889 forced another move and construction was begun on the present location at the corner of Harvard and Seneca in 1910.

The first service in the current church Sanctuary took place in September, 1912.

SFBC has been the mother of several Seattle churches:  Scandinavian Baptist (1883), Japanese Baptist (1891), and Chinese Baptist (1892).  The church has long been a partner in ecumenical and interfaith organizations and was one of the founding organizations of the Church Council of Greater Seattle and the Faith Action Network.

In our history of exploring what it means to follow the way of Jesus Christ, we have been led to stand with Native Americans, Chinese immigrants, Japanese-Americans sent away to internment camps, African-Americans fighting for civil rights, and lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgendered folks fighting for human rights.  That history remains alive among us as we continue to write new stories of faith, justice, and peace.

A Historic Peace Church

Seattle First Baptist has a long history of thought, preaching and action focused on making peace in our world. Here are a few examples of the people who have made SFBC a “peace church.”

Dr. Elmer Fridell served as pastor from 1929-1937. After service in the army in World War I, he became a pacifist, determined to preach peace and justice forever. Often branded as a Communist by outside groups (and even by some in our own Baptist denomination), SFBC stood by him and his leadership in efforts to achieve world peace.

Pastor Harold Jensen served SFBC from 1938-1954. Jensen identified as a pacifist during World War II, but did not recommend it to others because he said it was “too uncomfortable these days.” With Jensen’s guidance, members of SFBC reached out to our Japanese-American neighbors, who were removed from Seattle and moved to internment camps. His courageous stand was not popular, and some in the church wanted to send him away. The matter was settled when one of the deacons stood up and said quietly, “This is a Baptist church. If Harold believes it, then he can preach it.”

Alice Franklin Bryant, a woman whose concern for peace began in a Japanese prison camp, actually challenged popular Senator Henry M. Jackson for his seat, campaigning with the slogan, “Military strength will not win world peace.” Although she lost, she continued her work, saying, “Wild horses couldn’t stop me working for peace.” Charles Z. Smith, president of the congregation at the time, said,”Mrs. Bryant is our dormant conscience speaking out for justice and peace.”

The Honorable Charles Z. Smith lived a full life centered on peacemaking. He served as a justice on the Washington State Supreme Court and former associate dean of the University of Washington Law School, and received the 2005 Dahlberg Peace Award–an award given to an outstanding American Baptist who has shown a deep commitment to peace and justice. Smith’s story of his journey from soldier to peacemaker moved the crowd to tears when he received the award in Denver. He told of the profound influence that Alice Franklin Bryant and the peacemaking tradition of Seattle First Baptist Church had on him, including the transforming experience of taking his grandchild to Hiroshima to see the memorials to the atomic bomb’s destruction and the memorials to peace. He was involved in the Civil Rights Movement, and also assisted Vietnamese lawyers who fled to the United States. He and his wife Eleanor were awarded the 2013 Janet G. Newell Award for Community Service from Companis.

 

Heritage Hymns

The music we sing together helps define who we are, what we value, and how we reflect that in our time together.  

In 2014 the SFBC Music Commission identified a set of Heritage Hymns.  Most of these hymns are well-known favorites for many in the congregation.  They were selected because they reflect our church’s theology, have singable melodies, and represent different themes, meters, cultures and styles.  These hymns will be used on a regular basis in church services going forward.  We present some of them here in the hope that they help people get to know us better.

A special thank you to Brian Lew, who put together historical notes on these hymns.

Bring Us Home

Words by Rodney Romney
Music by Peter Strauch

Bring us home on love’s renewing tide to the place of our belonging.
Bring us home to your redeeming side; bring your scattered people home.

If Seattle First Baptist had a theme song, it would be Bring Us Home.  Written by Rev. Rodney Romney, senior pastor of Seattle First Baptist from 1980 to 2000, the hymn has been a favorite of the congregation ever since.  We often sing it on Homecoming Sunday, and individuals in the church have strong personal connections to the hymn.  Many have chosen it to be sung at special events, from weddings to memorial services.

According to his wife Beverly, Rod “believed deeply in the dignity and worth of all people.” This meant affirming and including “the various pathways by which people seek God.”  He was also a gifted wordsmith and brilliant lyricist. Bring Us Home is part of his legacy to this church. After hearing one of German Pastor Peter Strauch’s most popular hymns, Herr, wir bitten komm und segne uns (Lord, we pray, come and bless us), he commented in Seasons of the Soul that it had seemed to match the words which were “buzzing” in his head. But it was after the death of a church member caused by AIDS, the disease which ravaged American society at that time and the coming together of his distanced family, he was inspired to write down the words to Bring Us Home. The hymn was first sung at the memorial service for that young man and at several others afterwards as it spoke to families that, after breaking up because of misunderstanding, were able to reunite again. As it resonated with all who heard it, Rev. Romney then began to use the hymn at the SFBC’s Homecoming Sunday—the first Sunday after Labor Day. Because it stands for not only the reconvergence of God’s people at church but also for bringing back God’s “scattered people home,” its meaning has proven its relevance for all times.

Following are two recordings from a CD, Seasons of the Soul, that was made as a tribute to Rod on his retirement from ministry.  One is the congregation singing Bring Us Home, with piano accompaniment by Dick Woodruff.  The other features Rod explaining in his own words the origins of the hymn.

All Are Welcome

Words and Music by Marty Haugen 
Copyright © 1994 GIA Publications.  All rights reserved.

Our Mission Statement includes the line: “As a church we will know no circles of exclusion.”  All Are Welcome proudly proclaims that message in song.

Marty Haugen, born in 1950 in Minnesota and raised in the Lutheran Church, holds a B.A. degree in psychology from Luther College and an M.A. degree in pastoral studies from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. During the past three decades, he has presented workshops and concerts throughout the world, made some 40 recordings, and has written over 400 compositions of liturgical music not only for his own church, the United Church of Christ, but also for Roman Catholic, Lutheran and other Protestant congregations. Haugen, together with David Haas and Jan Michael Joncas, had a great influence on contemporary liturgical music, especially after the time of liturgical change following the Second Vatican Council held 1962-65. The words and music of All Are Welcome, written in 1994, have become one of most well-known songs. On the lighter side, he also wrote I Wanna Be a Dinosaur, a collection of songs about dinosaurs created for children of all ages.

The following video was recorded during worship at the Seattle First Baptist Church Annual Meeting on Sunday, January 25, 2015.

Abide With Me

Words by Henry F. Lyte
Music by William H. Monk

Our Mission Statement begins with the words: “We are a people of God…”  While Seattle First Baptist is a place that welcomes questioning in matters of faith and where it is OK to have doubts, our church is rooted in the centuries-old Christian tradition.  Some of our favorite hymns, including Abide With Me, are products of that tradition.  This hymn’s message of God’s presence abiding with us even through our harshest ordeals remains precious to many in the congregation.

Although born in Scotland in 1793, Henry Francis Lyte attended the Portora Royal School in Northern Ireland, one of the schools founded by Royal Charter in 1608 “for the education of youth in learning and religion.” (Portora alumni later included writers Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett.) After studying at Trinity College in Dublin, Lyte took Anglican holy orders in 1815. During the next 32 years, he served as curate in several towns in England while raising his family; one of his sons was Farnham Maxwell-Lyte, later a pioneer in photographic processing. An accomplished flutist, Lyte also spoke Latin, Greek and French, and, at his last post in Brixham, built one of the largest libraries in west England. While there, he also supplemented his earnings taking in “wayward sons of the nobility”, one of whom, Lord Salisbury, was to become prime minister three times under Queen Victoria. However, ill with tuberculosis, Lyte began to spend more time in southern Europe. He wrote the words and a tune to Abide with me soon after conducting his last service in England and before returning to Nice, where he passed away in 1847. Although Lyte’s tune was considered by his biographer “a dull tune,” the hymn was paired in 1861 with another tune, Eventide, and was immediately acclaimed. William Henry Monk, writing the music at that time, was still in mourning due to the death of his own three-year-old daughter. More recently, the hymn was sung at the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony and is still sung at annual national services in several countries of the Commonwealth, and played at the end of Republic Day celebrations in New Delhi. It also has inspired modern musicians and even been used in films such as The Full Monty (1997) and TV series, like Doc Martin and The Roosevelts.

The following recording is of an arrangement of Abide With Me, performed in 2008 at Seattle First Baptist by The Sanctuary Choir under the direction of Vicky Thomas.  Lyle Bjork is the soloist.

Tu has Venido a la Orilla (You Have Come Down to the Lakeshore)

Words and Music by Cesareo Gabarain
Translation by Madeleine Forell Marshall
Harmonization by Skinner Chavez-Melo

Seattle is a multi-cultural city, and at Seattle First Baptist we celebrate the fact that we are part of a multi-cultural society.  This hymn, which we sing in both Spanish and English, is an expression of multiculturalism.  

Born in 1936, Cesário Gabaráin became a priest in 1959, serving parishes near his birthplace in the Basque county and in Madrid, and as Chaplain Prelate to Pope John Paul II. However, he was more renowned as a prolific and award winning composer, writing some 500 hymns before succumbing to cancer at age 55 in 1991. With the Second Vatican Council of 1962-65, he was allowed a freedom of music style, which reflected his “modern and youthful tone”; according to one writer, Gabaráin felt “that the ministry of music is one of the noblest and most effect ministries in the life of the church.” Written in 1979, Tú has venido a la orilla or You Have Come Down to the Lakeshore is his best known hymn, having been translated into 80 languages and also used in two films. Written in the first person, the text, while based on Jesus’ call to Peter and Andrew to follow him, is also directed at the singer with the same intent. Besides his fame as composer, Gabaráin was renowned for his athleticism and ministering to those participating in the Tour de France and to soccer players in Madrid.

The following video was recorded during a worship service at Seattle First Baptist in 2014.

Complete List of Heritage Hymns

  • Abide with Me
  • Bring Us Home
  • God of Grace and God of Glory 
  • This is My Song (Finlandia) 
  • All are Welcome
  • Bring Many Names
  • Love Divine All Loves Excelling
  • Tu has venido a la orilla (You Have Come Down to the Lakeshore) 
  • Amazing Grace
  • For the Beauty of the Earth 
  • Precious Lord, Take My Hand
  • Beautiful Savior
  • God of Grace and God of Glory
  • Holy, Holy, Holy
  • How Great Thou Art
  • Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee
  • The King of Love My Shepherd Is​ 
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