Ministries fill Westminster Presbyterian Church on Thursdays
Paid as half-time pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in West Central Spokane, Sandy Brockway runs a full-time ministry.
People in the neighborhood, community and region volunteer to make possible a full-time outreach ministry in one of the city’s lowest income neighborhoods.
It’s no small church sitting on a corner waiting for people to discover it. Instead, Westminster Presbyterian reaches out to discover and embrace the diversity—in economics, race, culture and ability—of people living nearby.
Known for deteriorating homes and discouraged lives, West Central also has some homes worth $300,000, plus there are plans for an upscale development on the Summit Property along the Spokane River.
Sandy, born in Idaho and adopted by her Spokane parents, was baptized in her grandparents’ church in Wilbur. She grew up in Mission Community Presbyterian Church and was its secretary for 13 years. While there she helped resettle a Vietnamese refugee family, starting her interest in outreach.
Later, she became Christian education director for the Larger Urban Parish—Bethany, Mission, Emmanuel and Westminster Presbyterian churches, and began training to become a commissioned lay pastor (CLP).
She has been pastor of Westminster Presbyterian for 15 of its 100 years.
The 50-member congregation was ready to close when she started. Now an average of 60 attend worship, and the average age of worshipers has dropped from 70 to 60.
The mission-funded church has become a center of outreach for the Presbytery of the Inland Northwest and Whitworth College through such neighborhood ministries as its Westminster Food Bank, Christ Clinic, Christ Kitchen, Westminster House, Homework Helpers, Boy Scout Troop 1, Cub Scout Pack 1, Washington State University cooking classes and Native American worship services.
Sandy said she stays in ministry because she sees people in need ignored and she likes to listen to people with physical, mental, emotional and other disabilities.
“I seek to be a presence in their lives, providing love for unloved people in the neighborhood,” she said. “This congregation reaches out to and draws people who need care and who give care to each other.
“We use our building in stewardship for both people who have needs and people interested in mission,” she said. “We can’t do all the outreach by ourselves, so we open it to other people who want to join us in mission.”
Since 1992, Whitworth College has sent graduates as “missioners” to live in Westminster House at 2612 W. Gardner.
It is a beacon of safety for neighborhood children, a place offering Bible study and a place where young adults live while engaging in neighborhood mission, Sandy said.
Several of the more than 40 students who have been there have gone on into various types of ministry—as pastors, overseas missionaries and seminary students.
Jake McCoy, Jason Duba and Trace Rippee, the current missioners, help with the Logos children’s program, Homework Helpers, Boy Scouts, worship and Bible studies. They provide a safe house for children, a drop-in center for people needing help, and a retreat center for churches and for urban plunge experiences for Whitworth students.
First Presbyterian churches in Spokane, Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls, and Whitworth Presbyterian help fund Westminster House.
Ardyce LaBrie, a church member for more than 40 years, described the neighborhood, where she has lived for more than 50 years since moving from South Dakota, when farming hit hard times there.
The area near her home on W. Mission was the suburbs then. When suburbs moved farther out, the neighborhood began to decline.
Now there is an upturn, as college professors move to the area some call “felony flats.”
Volunteering with PTA, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts during her children’s growing years, Ardyce saw the good and the bad—families breaking up and people struggling. Her family often ate hamburger and macaroni, because her husband’s wages with General Mills and then Western Farmers were low.
Across the street from the church is a drug house. Many houses need repairs. Many are rentals. Families who cannot escape poverty move from eviction to eviction in a circle from West Central to East Central to Hillyard and back, Ardyce said, creating a 75 percent turnover rate from September to June at Holmes Elementary School.
Some are third or fourth generations on welfare, with 15 years between generations, she said.
One boy in the Logos program had been in three schools during September and October 2004.
“The high school dropout rate is high. Many children have learning disabilities and special education needs,” she said.
Ardyce sees the positive, too.
Some new residents are moving in and fixing up homes.
To help the children improve their learning skills, the Westminster House missioners tutor first to fourth graders Tuesday and Thursday afternoons in the Homework Helpers program coordinated by Doris Liebert, a retired professor at Whitworth.
Her husband, Don, a sociologist, drives the Whitworth Presbyterian bus to pick up children for the Logos program after school on Wednesdays.
More than 40 youth come at 5 p.m., for a program that includes dinner, music, recreation, a scripture lesson, small groups and prayer. They go home at 6:30 p.m.
Ardyce and Sandy described other ministries:
• Members started Westminster Food Bank in 1972. It was the first food bank in Spokane.
• They helped start COPS West, the neighborhood police station to fight crime.
• The congregation joined other churches in the neighborhood to establish and run Our Place, a cooperative outreach at 1509 W. College, to meet emergency needs of neighborhood people.
• Christ Clinic reaches people with medical and spiritual needs. Patients have no health insurance or use medical coupons. They pay based on ability to pay. Individuals, churches and grants support the clinic, where volunteer doctors pray with patients who are willing, as part of their care.
• Christ Kitchen grew out of seeing a need for women to work and gain skills, so they could escape addictions, poverty and abuse. About 40 women come two days a week to package dry foods and study the Bible. They earn minimum wage to package products. Many have found Christ and changed their lives, said founder Jan Martinez.
• Westminster was one of six Presbyterian churches that built a Habitat for Humanity house nearby in 2002. The owner participates in Christ Kitchen and other church activities.
• An urban ministry with Nez Perce and other Native Americans provides Sunday evening services and a Bible study at Westminster House. On Bloomsday Saturday and Sunday, there is an encampment and powwow on the church grounds, when it is inaccessible because of the Bloomsday Race.
• One church member, Karen Baker, keeps the congregation informed about public policy issues related to poverty, disabled people and other issues of concern to the lives of people in the congregation. Often she goes to Olympia to speak to legislators. Recently, she went to Washington, D.C., to advocate for rights of handicapped people—so money for their care will follow them from a nursing home to assisted living.
“Everyone helps,” Sandy said. “No one does the work alone. This is a mission church in a mission field.”
Presbytery mission funds help keep the doors open, so the church can serve people from halfway houses and group homes, people on medical disability, average people, working people and retired people—neighborhood people who walk to church.
Sandy and her husband, Doug, have a son who is disabled, which she said helps her be accepting and understanding of people many churches reject or ignore.
She said the “beat-up, worn-out building is not a shrine. There’s not a piece of wood without nicks or need of varnish. The building is used.”
To assist with building maintenance members are unable to do, Whitworth Presbyterian has a Multitude for Mission program, bringing volunteers to do yard work, paint restrooms, clean the kitchen or wash the windows.
About six members of Westminster have attended more than 50 years, said Ardyce. Some families are third, fourth or fifth generation in the church.
“People who come here stay,” she said. “Many who attend are not members.”
In worship, Sandy seeks to give hope and share Christ’s example for living. She uses simple parables that are easily understood.
People wear what clothes they have. Sandy set aside wearing a robe. She also stands on the level with the people and uses everyday language.
Sandy, who earned a degree in education from Eastern Washington University, also volunteers on Our Place Board, COPS West Board and the Presbytery Commissioned Lay Pastors Board. She also transports people.
“The church has a heart for people. Our congregation looks outward, not inward,” Ardyce said. “We have people with many needs, and we meet those needs with our love.”
For information, call 328-5002.
Congregation marks 100 years
In a celebration at 7 p.m., Wednesday, May 4, Westminster Presbyterian Church plans to draw former pastors and members for a time to remember the church’s 100 years of life and presence in West Central Spokane.
Laura Waite, a Whitworth research intern, compiled the church’s history in the summer of 2004.
The church started on Feb. 5, 1905 when some people gathered for worship in a rented room on Dean near Chestnut, a room that was once a butcher shop.
On May 4, 1905, the Presbytery of Spokane established the church as Fifth Presbyterian Church. It had 37 charter members.
In July, they held services in a tent on land they purchased at Cannon and Gardner. By December, their 50 members moved into the basement that was completed for their new building.
In 1920, the name was changed to Westminster Presbyterian.
By 1940, the 100 members were active in the Women’s Guild, Christian Endeavor and the Missionary Society. The Sunday school had 113 children.
The congregation moved into its new sanctuary at 2705 W. Boone in December 1959, earlier than planned because of a small fire in the old building.
It moved because it was becoming an inner-city church and the new location would be closer to more potential new members. The education wing was finished within a few years.
By the 1980s, its outreach to the neighborhood was in place with the food bank and a clothing bank.
Laura wrote that from the 1980s to 2004, the church “experienced more than its share of disappointments, obstacles and hardships,” including a proposal to close and distribute members into other congregations, but “the congregation determined to stick it out,” despite a $50,000 unpaid loan, which is has now been paid.
“Sickness of church members and robbery could not shut down this stalwart, tenacious congregation,” Laura wrote. Many people “have seen God’s hand at work and testify about answers to prayer” helping with “seeming insurmountable needs and struggles.
“Reflecting on history provides an opportunity to see how God moves in the lives of people and events of their lives,” she said.
For information, call 328-5002.
By Mary Stamp, Fig Tree editor - © April 2005
Published by The Fig Tree, 1323 S. Perry St., Spokane, WA 99202