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As gifts to the community for its 100th anniversary
Guemes Island created a labyrinth, open foyer

As part of preparing for its 100th anniversary last fall, Guemes Island UCC made its foyer more welcoming and gave the community a labyrinth.

Those projects, which were among others church members rallied to do for the anniversary, were funded in part by a $2,000 grant from the PNC Church Development Committee.

Guemes Island UCC's banner shares its commitments. Photo courtesy of Connie Snell.

A banner with a photo of the earth, a rainbow and a dove communicate readily the congregation’s three-part covenant commitment to: 1) service, 2) inclusiveness, 3) peacemaking and 4) earth care, said Sally Balmer, the pastor, who came in August 2013 and was installed at the 100th anniversary celebration in October.

A graduate of Vancouver School of Theology in Vancouver, B.C., she served a church in Northern California, then nearly five years at Suquamish UCC, two years as interim at Prospect UCC in Seattle and nearly nine years at Pilgrim UCC in Anacortes, where she still lives.

When she first came to Guemes Island, she met with the church council, and they decided to clear and renovate the foyer. 

Everything was moved out of the foyer, which had become a catchall, so members could be intentional about what would be there.  Among the first furnishings added were two wicker chairs to create a sitting area.

Now large displays of the decades of the church’s history hang from hanging rails along the walls the walls. 

Member Carol Harmon gathered the information and created the displays to tell about the church’s story and life since it was founded in 1914.

Guemes Island UCC
Foyer, entry and garden express church’s welcome. Photos courtesy of Bob Anderson

“They are still up, because we’re not done with reading them,” Sally said, nor are the people who come through the foyer to luncheons in the fellowship hall or for other community groups that use the building.

With having the hanging rails, any display is temporary and can be shifted, based on what the church wants to communicate and emphasize at a given time.

Over the church’s 100 years, there were additions to the original sanctuary to accommodate an education wing, a fellowship hall and offices.  The additions formed a U-shaped building, so people  had to go outside to go from one side to the other.

About five years ago, the church decided to enclose the central outdoor space and make it into an indoor gathering space, creating the foyer.  The entry to the foyer has three double glass doors, so people can look in from the street.   

After it was built, the foyer accumulated furnishings and items with little thought, said Bob Anderson, an associate member of the church.

Gary Curtis, an engineer on the Property Committee, designed the space.  With three roofs draining onto the foyer roof, he designed the foyer roof so the water would drain into a gutter.  Water in the gutter flows off the roof and pours over an abstract aluminum sculpture with glass bowls, called “Living Water in Broken Vessels.” Church and island artists created the sculpture.

The water then fills a sump gravel pit with a storage tank that pumps water into the church’s raised bed healing garden.  That garden has herbs and healing plants people are invited to use.

Bob landscaped the raised beds and a new 12-tree fruit orchard on the church’s land.

The foyer and yard were also redesigned as part of the church’s participation in the national UCC Mission 4/1 Earth campaign in 2013.

“The island was once a farming, gardening and orchard area, known as Garden Island,” Bob said.

It was also once called Dog Island for the long-hair dogs raised there when it was the summer hunting and fishing grounds for Salish Coastal Tribes.  They made blankets with the dog hair.

“Our use of the land for the healing garden, labyrinth and orchard honors the sacred ground of the native peoples,” Bob said.

From 1986 to 1999, Bob and Boots Anderson came on and off to Guemes Island from Seattle after buying several adjacent lots.  In 1999, they built a house, then moved there and commuted to Seattle, where he did landscaping.

Bob served churches in Seattle and had a landscaping business, giving him skills to help design the labyrinth in the woods north of the church.

He was minister of outreach and parish care at University Congregational UCC for eight years in the 1970s, then he served Overlake Presbyterian, did several interim ministries, and was pastor of Seattle Congregational Christian Church for several years.

While serving half-time at Overlake Presbyterian, he began a landscaping design company, doing that part time and continuing until 15 years after retiring until last fall.

Sally said Bob typifies many island people, coming on weekends and for summers to island property, building, commuting to jobs from the island and then retiring there.

The labyrinth project began when Lynn Prewitt first gathered members last February.   

The church had a labyrinth in its back lawn. 


The Island Labyrinth is the Guemes Island UCC’s gift to the community.   Photo courtesy of Sally Balmer

Because people especially liked the part that went into the woods, the labyrinth committee decided to have the labyrinth wind under the maple trees in the area between the church and the Community Hall.

Once the seven-circle labyrinth was designed, it took many hours of hard labor to clear the ground of scrub brush, blackberry vines, ferns and moss.  The path, which is lined with three- to eight-inch stones, leads to an eight-foot opening in the center.

There is also a direct path to the middle, so it’s accessible for people with disabilities, and for people who want to use it for meditation and for yoga.

The path is being covered with gravel, which was funded by the Church Development Committee grant.

It opened at the solstice in June, said Bob, who helped design it.

The church’s relationship with the community hall is another aspect of its sharing its resources with the community.

Two years ago, the church renovated its kitchen to qualify as a commercial kitchen, with the idea that it could be used for events at the community hall, as well as the church, Bob said.

Guemes Island has a general store near the ferry, the church just up the street, the community building and a resort on the other side of town.

When the church put in the kitchen, it also put in generators, so the kitchen could serve during an emergency, said Sally.

Many church members are also members of the community hall, which seats more than 100 people.

Bob said that 40 percent of the funds for renovating the church kitchen came from the community, because it’s used by the community to prepare meals at the hall.

It’s also used to cook lunches for about 50 seniors on Thursdays and Tuesday evening soup suppers at the church, and for the community Christmas dinner and the Fire Department’s annual recognition dinner at the hall.

Meals cooked in the church kitchen are taken to the hall.

Bob said about 800 people live on Guemes Island all year.  About 1,500 come during the summer and up to 3,000 come on major holiday weekends.

“The church’s best attendance is in the summer and weekends when people come to their summer/weekend homes, “he said.

Some regular members go to Palm Springs, Ariz., or go skiing in the winter. 

A core of 15 to 20 of the 60 members attend each week.  Average attendance is 30 to 35.

“We seek to get away from the idea of members and focus on being a faith-centered, and a Christ-centered community that serves the community as it cares about the earth, is inclusive and works for peace,” said Bob.

To survive today, he believes churches need to be facilities that facilitate a variety of ministries and welcome use by the community.

The building is used for a book club, yoga, an exercise group, the Historical Society.  They work with the community center, which is 25 percent larger than the church, and less conducive for small groups.

For about 60 years, the church was primarily a place for worship and Christian education. Then there were additions for education, fellowship, meals, offices and meeting space.

In the early years, it was yoked with the Pilgrim Congregational Church in Anacortes. 

“In the 1980s, we had a conservative period and the church became polarized,” said Bob. 

That was followed by several short-term ministers, including the first woman minister, the Rev. Judith Bardsley, then the Rev. Darrel Berg, who served the church 14 years and did much calling to build the church.  Then there were a couple of interims, a settled pastor and supply pastors before the church called Sally. 

She serves part-time, 40 Sundays a year, so other voices preach other Sundays.  She works in the area as a trained spiritual director.

“The balance of different voices in the pulpit is good,” Bob said.

For information, call 360-293-5515 or email Sally at


Pacific Northwest Conference United Church News Copyright © December 2014



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