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Westminster UCC celebrates 140th on May 26

As Westminster Congregational UCC in Spokane prepares to celebrate its 140th anniversary, on Sunday, Sunday, May 26, it is doing so by lifting up not only its history but also its present and future. 

Typical to Westminister’s ecumenical outreach, members hold MardiBras event collecting underwear, hygiene items for homeless women at Transitions Women’s Hearth day center and Volunteers of America’s Hope House shelter—an example of the church ministering ecumenically.

Photo courtesy of Andy CastroLang

When it was chartered as First Congregational Church on May 22, 1879, in the log cabin home of Henry and Lucy Cowley, it was the first church in Spokane, formed by a small group of settlers and two members of the Spokane Tribe. 

The Cowleys were missionaries among the Nez Perce Indians in Lapwai.  They moved to Spokane in 1874 to work with the Spokane Indians and set up a school for Indian and settler children.

The church first met in the school and then built a church at the corner of Sprague and Bernard.  Between 1890 and 1893, they built the present gray stone structure on the present site at the corner of 4th and Washington.

It changed its name both in 1893 when it merged with an early Westminster Presbyterian Church and in  1961 when it voted to become part of the United Church of Christ.

The church’s past, present and future is marked by its commitment to be involved with the community and world.

As a downtown church, we are committed to the city,” said Andy CastroLang, the pastor.  “In the past few years we researched leaving that corner, including looking at a site on the east end of Spokane Valley, but the congregation voted to stay downtown.

“A downtown church is what we are in our outreach, mission and ministry,” she said.  “It’s our identity.”

In the 1980s, the church offered a counseling center, a food bank and a clothing bank, housed along with a school in a building it owned, that has since been torn down.

For many years, a group of women met regularly with sewing machines and knitting needles to make layettes for babies.

Westminster leaders, Karen Mobley and Pastor Andy CastroLang meet at N-Sid-Sen for a retreat.

                  Photo courtesy of Jennifer Marquis

In the 20th and 21st centuries, its ministries also included support of N-Sid-Sen and world mission.

“Now we are the most progressive Christian church at the city’s core,” she said.  “If Westminster disappeared, there would be a huge hole in the community.  Our church is activist in terms of both doing charity and systemic change.”

The church ministers ecumenically.

It helped found the Mid-City Concerns Meals on Wheels and actively recruited volunteers for many years.

It is involved with the Spokane Alliance in community organizing in collaboration with education institutions, unions and other faith groups.

Since The Fig Tree started, members have also been involved with the 35-year-old ecumenical/interfaith newspaper the covers religion and nonprofit news in the region.

Westminster offered its building and sanctuary for a 2014 meeting of the Spokane Alliance.

Each month, it recruits members to cook meals when the Spokane Friends Church hosts homeless families in its building once a month through the Family Promise Bridges program.

Members support homeless women at Hope House and homeless youth through Crosswalk, two programs of Volunteers of America of the Inland Northwest.

“Just recently we were a good neighbor to people living in an apartment building next door.  We took in residents when there was a fire in two units, driving everyone out,” Andy said. “The Red Cross came and worked from the church to find housing for people.”

Westminster opened this winter as a warming shelter for homeless young adult men and women, and is open through April in conjunction with the City of Spokane.  Those who have been housed there will join in the church’s Easter Brunch.

“With UCC churches scattered on the West Coast, we work ecumenically and interfaith with other congregations, organizations and people,” said Andy.

Westminster carries its banner in Martin Luther King March.

Westminster Congregational UCC carries its march banner every year in the Pride Parade, the Martin Luther King Jr Day March, the Women’s March, Immigration Rights marches, the 2018 March for Our Lives with young people.

Andy said that when she came 16 years ago in the fall of 2002, the church was tired and demoralized.

“I have buried many of the older members,” she said.  “In last March, we received eight new members, including a youth, young family and a gay couple,” she said.

Westminster is not only LGBTQ friendly, having become open and affirming in 2007, but also it involves people of all ages who come looking for an inclusive church.

“While some traditional, mainline Protestant churches have given up, we are letting the city know we are here,” she said.  “We are a diverse group of people.  We come in all kinds of families.  We are a greater family who come together for love, support and freedom of faith expression.”

Its anniversary brochure says:  “With our money, the power of our people and our building we serve the city of Spokane, especially those whose voices may not be heard and those without access to power who live in the downtown core.”

The congregation reaches out to the GLBTQl+ community, 12-step groups, artists, musicians, unions, nonprofits, seekers and questioners, sharing its facility and resources

Five members of the congregation were in Puerto Rico the first week of April with a PNC Global Ministries team working on rebuilding after Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.

The church also partners with the Unitarian Universalist Church of Spokane in a sister church relationship in Felsorakos, Romania, and is hosting the new pastor and his wife soon.

Members of the Congregation have also served on PNW Conference committees and in leadership.

While the church does have the weight of budget and financial problems with upkeep on a large building, its dedicated, passionate, but small congregation is using legacy funding right now for ministry as a way to strengthen its impact.

The church, which has a pipe organ and a strong music program, rents space for regular use by the Spokane Children’s Choir and Spokane Youth Symphony.

It has for two years rented its space for concerts of the Spokane Symphony, meetings and community events, such as a forum on homelessness.

Through the Spokane Alliance’s leadership education, it has many strong leaders.  When the moderator Steve Paulson recently had to step aside because of health, Jane Baker temporarily stepped into his role and the church will vote soon on Cathy Gunderson and Roger Stevens—Spokane Alliance leaders—to be co-moderators.

“We are updating our website, Facebook, and have a new brochure.  One member is taking video of sermons and putting them on Facebook and YouTube.

Westminster has invited Spokane’s Mayor and City Council members, other congregations, colleagues in town, as well as members of the conference to join in the May 29 celebration.

“We will have an expanded choir with invitations to former choir members.  We will bring our charter from the Museum of Arts and Culture.  We will have an art show on ‘How our Spiritual Journeys Inform our Art,” Andy said.

In a new brochure, Westminster expresses its mission:  “We are a welcoming faith community who seek to strengthen our relationships with God and each other by exploring, questioning and nurturing our spirituality. Responding to God’s unconditional love and with Jesus as our model, we strive to live out love, compassion and inclusion.  We believe we are called to love all people, serve our neighbors, and seek to transform the world into Gods vision of peace and justice, welcome, inclusion and compassion.”

Its future vision as a progressive Christian community is to serve the least and endure the tough life of witness to the community—and to be a neighbor to neighbors in the city and around the world.

For information, call 624-1366 or visit


Pacific NW UCC News Copyright © April-May 2019


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