History of East Shore

By The Archives Ministry Team October 2015

The Beginning

East Shore began in 1948 when the Eddys, the Wensbergs and the Farners decided it was easier to establish a Unitarian Sunday School of their own than to pack up their young children on a Sunday morning and drive to University Church. What started as a very small group grew so much that they rented the Mercer Island South End School for Sunday classes.

The parents soon felt the need to have a program of their own while Sunday school was in progress and in January of 1949, the Mercer Island Fellowship was begun. In addition to the informal Sunday morning program, they met every other Sunday evening with the ministers of the Tacoma and University churches for a short service and a question and answer period for many newcomers.

The fledgling group soon needed more meeting space and leased the Chapel of Flowers, a funeral home located at the southeast corner of what is now Bellevue Square. Rent was $125 a month and the Unitarians arrived as the Lutherans were leaving. A back room provided space for coffee hour; the nursery was in the basement where the caskets were stored, and the Camp Fire house across the street was rented for the church school use for $3 per Sunday.

Meantime a former Baptist minister named Lon Ray Call had convinced the Unitarian staff in Boston that the post-war period was ripe for church expansion. One aspect of his proposal was active support in the formation of Unitarian groups that should grow enough to have a settled minister. On January 15, 1949, the Unitarian Association officially recognized the Fellowship of Mercer Island, and the Association and Lon Call were persuaded to send Lon out West to organize the eager new group. Lon and his wife, Lucy, arrived that summer after launching his ninth Unitarian Church.

On the third Sunday in January, 1950, the official organization of East Shore Unitarian Church was celebrated. The 99 charter members representing 54 families signed the register. They elected a Board of Trustees, developed a Statement of Purpose, and formed a Women’s Alliance. By the spring of that year, East Shore had called its first minister, Chadbourne Spring. He arrived with his wife, Janet, and three daughters, and preached his first sermon on Easter Sunday.

The congregation, which had continued to meet at the Chapel of Flowers, longed for a church home, and in the spring of 1953 voted to acquire property for a church. An initial drive raised $10,000 for that purpose. The site selected was a seven acre parcel of farm and orchard atop a hill “…way out in Factoria with almost nothing around it anywhere”, in the words of one member. The parcel was owned by Dr. Lester and Christie Henderson. They sold nearly five acres of wooded land to the church at appraised value. Years later, when the Hendersons moved, they offered the remaining two acres and the house to the church, but the congregation decided to buy only Holly House and a small side area.

A second fund drive raised $40,000 to begin construction. Jack Morse of the nationally- known firm of Bassetti & Morse drew up the plans and supervised the construction, with considerable interior work and landscaping done by members. Boeing employees looked at the roof design and immediately declared that it looked like a swept-wing jet. The total cost of $54,000 was partly covered by two $10,000 loans from the denomination.

Early member Bob Garthwaite recalls the upbeat mood of those early days: “The time was right. We, single-handedly it seemed, had won the war. We had converted from a war economy to one of peace. In fact, we had done many things, and just knew we could accomplish anything as long as we really wanted to.” This can-do spirit has continued to animate East Shore during periods of change, growth, and economic challenge.

The nearly-completed church was dedicated on October 20, 1955. There was not yet glass in the big front windows. Heat, water and electricity were also missing, and because the organ had not arrived, Albert Schweitzer played for the first service–on recordings!

Bob Garthwaite describes the insular Eastside’s reaction to the appearance of a Unitarian congregation in its midst: “The only member of the local clergy to attend Chad’s installation was Dr. Vall-Spinosa of St. Thomas Episcopal Church.” Chad was even kept out of the local ministerial society by the minister of the Congregational church. But when the new building was dedicated, the successor to that hostile minister was on the platform representing the Bellevue Ministerial Association,”… which by then had accepted Chad as a member.”

Supporting Social Justice & Expansion

From the beginning, East Shore members were determined to learn about and affect the world around them. Well-publicized debates and forums on such controversial subjects as the admission of “Red China” to the United Nations earned the new church the name, “The Little Red Church on the Hill”. However, patience and persuasive ways of East Shore’s very proper New England minister eroded such criticism, and in the early ’60s East Shore members spearheaded formation of an Eastside conference on Religion and Race. That group of Protestant, Catholic and Jewish congregations promoted civil rights during those turbulent days. There were some stormy discussions at East Shore before this congregation voted in February, 1964 to support open-housing legislation in the country, the cities of Seattle and other municipalities. A bomb threat and abusive phone calls did not deter the congregation from its stand.

East Shore people also supported a child through Save the Children, took part in Vietnam War protests, and boycotted lettuce and grapes. In the late 1970s, the church sponsored a Southeast Asian family.

In 1961, East Shore helped found Northlake Unitarian Fellowship in Kirkland, and for three years (1965-1967) provided financial support for its minister, Ralph Mero, who served East Shore part-time.

Meanwhile, the baby boom had required construction of the first wing of the church school in 1960, with the other two wings following in 1963 — at a total cost of $191,000. At last the children could gather in one location — although only by holding two sessions on Sundays. The buildings were financed through debentures purchased by members. (The largest of the these three buildings was torn down in 1990 to make room for the present Administration building.)

In 1966, the congregation again dared to incur a large debt to remodel the church building by pushing out the north and south walls to provide more office and storage space, enlarge the North Room and kitchen, and create the Bookshop balcony. The $48,000 was again financed by debentures. Remodeling plans were drawn by Bellevue architect Glen Brewer, an East Shore member, and construction was completed in March, 1967. Glenn’s use of cedar siding in the sanctuary turned the room into an acoustically fine concert hall. Gallery space was also provided by the remodeling, and the new Gallery committee opened its first exhibit on March 5, 1967.

Mr. Spring’s 16-year ministry ended with his resignation in 1966, and Dr. Call again took on ministerial leadership during an interim year until Charles Reinhardt, minister of the Unitarian Fellowship of Morristown, New Jersey was called in 1967.

Music, Arts and Community Involvement

From East Shore’s beginning, music had been a vital part of worship services and community outreach. The congregation hired a University of Washington professor of music, Gerald Kechley, in 1958, and his development of a wonderful choir has blessed East Shore for 37 years.

With the encouragement of Mr. Reinhardt, the arts flourished at East Shore during the late ’60s and early ’70s. Poetry, dance, drama, and a variety of musical expression frequently enhanced Sunday services, and each season featured a concert series with such well-known musicians as the Philadelphia String Quartet and the Soni Ventorum. A literary quarterly (the Abyss, later the Ark) was published for several years. In addition the Gallery Committee’s monthly shows presented both new and established artists in one of only two galleries on the Eastside at that time.

Community involvement continued too, through committees concerned with problems in education, local politics, and racial discrimination. An interracial day camp was organized and carried out in the summer of 1968, providing care for inner-city children whose mothers were enrolled in a work-training program. Some East Shore children also participated in this black/white experience.

The Boeing downturn affected many members of the congregation during the early ’70s, but East Shore paid its bills, delayed maintenance, and only once was late in paying debenture interest to its members. It helped that some church members donated their interest payments to the church, and a few donated their debentures. In March, 1975, the church paid off its mortgage to the denomination for its building loan. The last of three debentures issues was retired in 1983.

In the spring of 1975, Charles Reinhardt left East Shore for the Unitarian Church in Atlanta. The Reverend Vester Vanstrom was interim minister during the ensuing year until the congregation called the Reverend Stanley Stefancic from Birmingham, Alabama.

Under his ministry the church school was organized and the congregation was encouraged to hire an assistant minister, Arvid Straube, who had just completed his internship at the Vancouver, B.C. Unitarian Church. Arvid was responsible for religious education. Under Mr. Stefancic the congregation got liberal doses of philosophy and poetry as well as inspiration for political involvement. The new minister also pitched in to help repaint the church, both inside and out, along with an energetic crew of members.

In 1980 Mr. Stefancic resigned to take the pulpit of the Unitarian Church of San Francisco, and newly graduated seminarian Mr. Straube became interim minister, juggling church and church school for a year.

Finding Our Mission

In September, 1981, Dr. Leon Hopper left his position as Director for Ministerial Education of the Unitarian Universalist Association in Boston to become East Shore’s fourth senior minister. Each minister had brought a different style and different strengths to the growing congregation, and Dr. Hopper began pulling all the strands together by encouraging the members to determine East Shore’s mission, its goals, and the steps to reach those goals.

East Shore was now one of the largest churches in the Pacific Northwest District of U.U.A., needing both its ministers and many committee volunteers to keep the church working. When Arvid accepted a call to be minister of the Unitarian church in Eno River, North Carolina, a search for another professional minister began immediately. The search culminated in a call to the Reverend Barbara Wells, who came to East Shore in 1985. Barbara helped refocus the church-school program and oversaw its growth from 50 to over 200 children. She was active in all parts of church life, providing adult classes, children’s workshop, and pulpit inspiration. She was also active in the community through the Greater Seattle Council of Churches.

The Sanctuary Movement

After months of study and deliberation, the East Shore congregation voted in May, 1984 to participate in the Sanctuary Movement. This Movement began in 1981 at a church in Arizona which provided help to refugees from El Salvador and Guatemala who feared persecution for their political beliefs if returned by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to their countries of origin. East Shore became one of about 300 churches across the US offering “sanctuary” on church property to such persons. It was an act of civil disobedience undertaken because of the conviction that the INS, in violation of the Refugee Act of 1980, was forcing the return of refugees from Central American countries whose governments were allied with the U. S. in anti-Communist fervor, but tyrannical toward political opposition in their own countries. An apartment was prepared in the lower level of Holly House to accommodate the family of four which arrived in July, 1984. After their departure a year or so later, a second family of six lived in the apartment until August, 1988. Both families were from Guatemala. They were supported totally by donations from members of the congregation during their stays. The presence of the families and the controversial nature of the defiance of the Federal Government which this Movement represented were sources of considerable stress within the congregation. In 1990, in settlement of a lawsuit initiated in 1985 by a number of denominations and joined in by the UUA, the Federal Government acknowledged it had failed to administer the law properly with respect to such refugees and agreed to stop deporting undocumented immigrants from El Salvador and Guatemala.

In 1990, Bill Graves, a member of East Shore, plus a representative from the University, Northlake, and Edmonds Unitarian Churches, met together to plan a new congregation in Woodinville. East Shore was the covenanting congregation. The Reverend Barbara Wells was appointed the organizing minister of the new church while continuing to serve East Shore as Associate Minister from September, 1990 to August, 1991. East Shore paid her salary for that period and contributed $5,000 from its operating budget to the new church. Another $5,000 was contributed by 20 families of East Shore. About fifteen families transferred to the Woodinville Church from the four existing congregations in the area of which about seven were from East Shore. The Woodinville Church began as a congregation in February, 1991.

Expanding the Campus

Dr. Hopper continued his leadership at East Shore, served on the Eastside Human Services Council, and in 1991 was elected president of U.U. Ministers Association. With his encouragement, East Shore also became a teaching church, supporting David Manker and Lynn Unger as interns. A sister relationship with a Unitarian church in Transylvania was begun with Leon’s encouragement.

During Dr. Hopper’s tenure, East Shore undertook an ambitious Capital Campaign and Building Program — an outgrowth of the goals and objectives process. Phase 1, completed in December, 1990, included a new religious education building and an administration building. Capital Fund ll campaign assured initial funding for Phase ll of the Building Program, which included renovation and remodeling of the sanctuary building, including a beautifully equipped and enlarged kitchen and handicapped accessible restrooms. Capital Fund ll. campaign is in the second of three years. The next step of the building program is expected to include additional religious education and multi-purpose space.

A Change in Leadership

In 1991 the Reverend David Pilger was called, with religious education as his primary responsibility. His fine sermons were an added contribution. Also in 1991, Dr. Hopper announced his resignation and retirement, and the following spring, Reverend Pilger did the same. 1991-92 was an exceptionally busy and emotional year as we said good-bye to three ministers. In the fall of 1992 the congregation faced the devastating news of David Pilger’s suicide.

Dr. Robert Kaufmann was hired as interim minister for one year (later extended to two years) and began his ministry with us in the fall of 1992. Bob Kaufmann said his job was to look at East Shore with “fresh eyes”, and he brought many changes including the form and content of Sunday services. His innovations helped the congregation and search committee learn more about the character and direction of the congregation. His leadership also prompted a pleasing growth in membership.

In March of 1994 the Search Committee presented its ministerial candidate, after reading through some 20 packets submitted by interested ministers. Four had been selected to pre-candidate in the area during weekends of interviews and sermons. Rev. Dr. Peter Luton, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Yarmouth, Maine, was the committee’s unanimous choice, and at the end of candidating week, he received a nearly unanimous vote to call him as East Shore’s fifth senior minister.

East Shore experienced relative quiet as Rev. Peter Luton began his first full year as Senior Minister and the completion of phase II of the building program in April. Peter called it his “shake-down year.” The Board, Peter, and staff members began a visioning process to answer the questions of “Who are we? And what do we hope to accomplish?” The church began a Ministerial Student Sponsorship by sponsoring Ken Jones, an East Shore member studying at Starr King.

A Vision for the Future

East Shore articulated its vision for the future in 1996. Life Long Learning, Caring Community, Worshiping Community, Outwardly Focused Community, and Brick, Mortar and Nature became areas of focus. The prospect of outgrowing the buildings and parking also became a priority. The Music Futures Task Force began the job of finding a new Music Director in the wake of Gerald Kechley’s retirement after 39 years. The Rev. Lucy Hitchcock, Extension Minister, was instrumental in the formation of a Short Range Planning Task Force to alleviate crowding on Sunday mornings and a Long Range Planning Task Force to identify future property and facility needs. The Lay Ministry Program began training members as lay pastoral providers.

In 1997 balcony renovation and re-arrangement of the Administration Building lobby helped with crowding. The Long Range Plan identified building priorities as: 1) fix the sanctuary roof, 2) tear down the “temporary” buildings and build adequate religious education facilities, 3) expand the Sanctuary, and 4) build a chapel. The congregation elected Robert Kechley, Gerald’s son, as the new Music Director. The RE program introduced the Our Whole Lives (OWL) sex education curriculum and the first ever Summer Camp. East Shore celebrated the beginning of Rainier Valley UU Church in South Seattle and voted for continuing support. Three trained Lay Ministers began to aid Peter in serving pastoral needs. Long-time secretaries Alice Poinier and Sharon Hagen retired and were replaced by Tricia Oates.

In 1998 East Shore continued to grow and be challenged by space issues. There was growing anticipation of a capital campaign to solve the space issues. The 1997 Long Range Plan’s first priority of fixing the sanctuary roof was accomplished by replacing the roof through a mini-capital campaign in the summer. The Build Task Force first met in May 1998. With the help of UUA capital campaign consultant Jerry King, the Build Task Force recommended one capital campaign in conjunction with the fall 1999 operating campaign with construction to start in late spring 2000. In January 1999 the architects Robert Wagner and Mark von Walter were chosen. Peter continued to deepen his relationship with the church by leading worship and celebration, working with the Board in areas of institutional need, providing pastoral care with the assistance of seven lay pastoral ministers, teaching adult classes and, finally, providing leadership to staff. Religious Education continued with space issues challenging RE leaders.  Membership remained strong with 512 members. Finances were solid with a slight surplus at year end.

Peter likened 1999 to the image of a spring being coiled for action, a situation often fraught with excitement and dread. East Shore moved steadily forward toward construction of new facilities. The Capital Campaign began in 1999 with the selection of a committee (New Build Committee) and the ongoing help of Jerry King. Intern Minister Peg Moran joined the staff on a part-time basis. Almost 50 different Adult Programs classes were offered.  Archives was organized and policy guidelines developed. Membership was certified at 549 at the end of January 2000. Social Justice continued with 14 committees and numerous one-time opportunities. The market value of the Endowment portfolio continued to rise with an ending value of $170,000; the Auction, ’Tis the Season, the Gallery and the Book Shop all continued with their support.

Growing and Changing

2000 was the year that East Shore became a “large church.” The year 2000 was largely devoted to raising money ($1.9 million) for the building campaign (Crossing the Threshold) and refining the architectural designs. The building goals included a new two-story RE Building, enlargement of the Sanctuary Building foyer and entry court, and renovation of the existing RE Building. After two capital campaigns, $1.9 million was pledged reaching the original goal. Loans were negotiated including a loan guarantee from the UUA. RAFN was selected as the general contractor. Demolition of the old RE Buildings and excavation was projected for the summer of 2001, with completion of construction by November. Church programs experienced their second year of management by a Program Council which put individual groups into related groups under the umbrella of the Council. RE experienced a 23% growth in attendance (to 256) led by the largest ever teaching staff. The Youth Group planned and hosted the District Youth Conference. Peter and Membership Director Carmen McDowell’s vision of Covenant Circles was implemented with plans for offering a time for listening and meaningful sharing in a small-group setting. East Shore became a Welcoming Congregation for Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual and Transgender people in March of 2001. Changes occurred in a number of staff positions including Bookkeeper, Membership Director, Office Manager, and Youth Coordinator. The Auction in its fourth year was the most successful ever, raising $23,500. Paul McLain, local UU ministry student, was welcomed. Membership was certified at 553.

2001 was simply the year under construction. The campus now consists of a new Education Building, a remodeled and enlarged Sanctuary Building, a remodeled Administration Building, a remodeled Multipurpose Building (former RE Building), and a repainted Holly House. Major tenants on campus were Bet Alef Jewish Congregation and the Northwest School of Music. The Board focused on a comprehensive review of their bylaws and policies and developed a new comprehensive compensation policy for staff.  Peter guided the congregation through the difficult times after 9/11. The RE Program survived the year with temporary quarters in the parking lot. Over 90 committees, groups, extended families and Covenant Circles kept the friendship doors open for new and existing members.

Revised bylaws were approved by the congregation. The Personnel Committee reworked the Personnel Manual. Peter was on sabbatical for part of the year and the Rev. Arline Sutherland assisted in his absence. DRE Cathy Cartwright resigned after 11 years of service in anticipation of a move to Portland. The first full year of use of the new Education Center and the expanded Sanctuary Building resulted in a schedule of sixty events a week. The Archive Committee, led by Ron Hammond, began the process of sorting many boxes of church records. The Grounds Committee was reconstituted by Barbara Shelton.

In 2003 the Board moved toward a governance model (“policy governance”) better suited to a large and growing church. The Board unanimously recommended a yes vote for the hiring of a second minister. A task force looked at updating the Vision of the Church through surveys, forums and conversations. Congregation size grew slightly to 638 members. The proposed budget of $685,000 ended with a surplus. The proposed budget for 2004-05 was $755,700. The Aesthetics Committee was especially active with purchasing, which included Sanctuary chairs, Spring Hall kitchen equipment, and furniture for the library, gallery and entry court. The Endowment Fund grew to $270,168 as of March 31, 2004. Peter celebrated his tenth year as Senior Minister.

The congregation affirmed that East Shore should move forward with the planning for an Associate Minister. The Rev. Joan Montagnes was called to fill the position. Her main areas of focus were to be Social Justice, Pastoral Care, Children/Youth and Adult Religious Education. The Board moved along with plans for policy-based governance. DRE Michelle Conklin brought renewed energy in how children and families are served. A new Sunday morning program, YES-U, was started for 8th grade through high school youth. Debra Haroldson became Membership Director. The church partnered with University Unitarian Housing Group to make Holly House available for a homeless family affected by mental illness.

In 2005 the Board continued with transitioning to policy-based governance. Our Vision / Our Future Conversations resulted in the revision of the Mission and Vision Statements, as well as the Core Values. “We are a Caring Religious Community.” In Rev. Joan Montagnes’s first year at East Shore, the following were established: People In Community Service Initiative (PICSI) Fund to “support the inherent worth and dignity of individuals and strengthen their communities”; the Second Sunday Program during which the morning offering goes to a social justice cause outside the church walls; and the Good-For List became part of the Pastoral Care Ministry to offer meals, transportation, household/yard chores, etc. to members in need.

As a “large church,” East Shore continued transitioning to governance befitting its size in the way of structures and procedures. The Board amongst itself, with the Senior Staff, and the congregation, engaged in many constructive conversations about how the church wanted to govern itself as an autonomous and free religious community. It authored new and/or revised policies, bylaws, mission and vision statements, ends statements, and core values. The Khasi Hills of India partner church relationship began at East Shore during the summer of 2007.

The church held a celebration of Peter Luton’s 25th anniversary of his ordination as a UU minister; in acknowledgment and appreciation, the congregation raised generous funding to bring a ministerial intern to East Shore in the coming year. Lay and ordained pastoral ministers cared for over 80 individuals, families, members and friends – an increase of approximate 37% over last year. Membership was certified at 687.

2008-09 was a difficult year financially, and one with significant staff turnover. Budgetary compromises called for difficult decisions. In the fall, the Committee on Ministry launched an innovative “listening campaign” (Giving Voice to Meaning) by asking members where they find meaning in their lives. The major outcome of this project indicated that what brings meaning to people’s lives is to know that their lives matter and that what they do makes a difference. Ministerial intern Scott Rudolph was a welcome addition.

The economic recession presented many challenges and prompted an aggressive East Shore re-pledge campaign. The budget crisis caused cuts in both staffing and ministries. East Shore planned and hosted the first Annual Pacific Northwest District Assembly. Associate Minister Joan Montagnes took a short sabbatical in the spring of 2010. Attendance and participation were down throughout this church year.

Peter took an in situ sabbatical to participate in the Pastoral Leadership Program at Seattle University’s School of Theology. In April 2011, East Shore celebrated the 20th anniversary of partnership with its partner church in Transylvania, a relationship that was founded by Rev. Leon Hopper.

A dual campaign was held to raise money for both the Operating Fund and the Sanctuary Improvement Fund. The highest number of individuals and families so far (91) were actively in care through the Lay Pastoral Ministry. A musical highlight was a mega-production of Jesus Christ Superstar.

Michelle Conklin completed her ministry with East Shore as DRE for the past eight years. During the spring of 2013, Rebecca Chatfield was hired to fill the position of Director of Finance & Operations; and during the summer, Aisha Hauser was hired as the new RE Director.

Three Congregational Conversations were held regarding what it means to be a Caring Religious Community, which generated many suggestions and ideas for growth and transformation in ways the values and visions are embodied. Four Town Halls (worship, finance, children and youth, justice) were also held. East Shore began the Beloved Conversations (with 15-20 people), an 8-week experiential interactive curriculum that explores race and diversity and embraces opportunities to become a more authentically diverse community. Significant staff transitions included office manager Pat Resende, who left after five years and was replaced in the spring by Gina Cari. Marie Zahradnik took over the position of Youth Director when Chris Conkling resigned after serving in the position for eight years. With deep regret the Board in the spring of 2014 announced that Joan Montagnes would be released from her position because of insufficient funding. The Stewardship Committee developed the Connection Team Project for East Shore members to feel more closely connected, valued and involved. The congregation accepted the Youth Group’s initiative to revise the wording of the Chalice Lighting to make it gender neutral. Membership was recorded at 609 in 2014.

The church year of 2014-15 ended with the unexpected resignation of Senior Minister Rev. Peter Luton on June 2, 2015. He officially ended his 21-year association with East Shore on August 31.