Search PNC News for stories of people and churches in our UCC Conference:

Lummi Island church is integral to community life

While Lummi Island Congregational Church’s 100-year-old classic, white clapboard New England style building makes a statement of its roots, the congregation’s five parish nurses express its current ministry of neighbors caring for neighbors.

Lummi Church

Lummi Island Congregational building is 100 years old.

As part of the building’s centennial, the 106-year-old congregation has been celebrating both its history and its ministry to the community.

The first pastor, I.M. Dicks, traveled by canoe among the San Juan Islands to lead worship for islanders.  The church was called First Congregational Church of Beach, which was the original name of the island, said Cindy Bauleke, part-time pastor for the last three years.

In 1906, the church bought land from pioneer families and called their first pastor, the J.L. Hudson.  They dedicated the building in 1909 and used it until the 1930s, when wind damage made the building unsafe to use.  They met in homes and the grange until the building was repaired in the 1950s.

After the church was rebuilt, an Episcopal Church and a Christian Science Church shared the building.  The name changed in 1954 to the Lummi Island Congregational Church, and it was kept after they voted to be part of the United Church of Christ in 1960.

“There were resident pastors from 1906 to 1918, but then there was no resident pastor until 1978,” Cindy said.

Pastors at Bellingham First Congregational UCC, where Cindy served 20 years as co-pastor, preached there.  Since 1978, the Lummi Island church has had a half-time pastor.

“Every year, the women of the Lummi Island and Bellingham churches have a luncheon, and because they shared a pastor for many years, ties are strong,” said Cindy, who preached there several times while at Bellingham First.  Still living in Bellingham, she takes the $10, eight-minute ferry ride to Lummi Island twice a week.

Early settlers fished, logged, canned fish and made shingles.  Then people came and built summer cabins. 

Today, the 1,000 winter and 2,000 summer residents also include “alternative lifestyle” people, retired people and artists.  There is one store, a grange and a school for 50 children. Now some people are building expensive homes there, changing the flavor of island life, Cindy said.

Those who fish do reef net fishing for salmon, as the Lummi Nation, now on a reservation on the mainland, once did.

“There’s rarely a church meal or coffee hour without salmon or other fish served,” said Cindy, telling how a former organist would rush into the church in his fishing gear, play the organ, and rush out after church to go fish.

For most of Lummi Island’s history, there was only one church.  In 2005, the church split, and an Evangelical church meets at the grange.  Many also take the ferry to attend churches in Bellingham.

The 80-member church draws 40 to 45 to worship in the winter, and 40 to 50 in the summers when tourists and summer residents come, Cindy said.

Nancy Wong

Nancy Wong takes blood pressure.

In 1997, Elaine Granger, a registered nurse who worked at a hospital and nursing home in Bellingham, took a class in parish nursing at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Bellingham.  With the church council’s support, she began the church’s parish nurse program.

For more than two years, she was the only parish nurse.  Now there are four parish nurses and two health ministers serving the island community.

“There is no medical care on the island, so the program serves the entire island,” Cindy said.  “They take blood pressure, do a foot clinic and provide basic services.  When someone has a medical crisis, the person usually calls one of the parish nurses. 

“They help set up home care when someone returns from the hospital,” she said.  “Over the years, they have acquired medical equipment, which they store and loan for free.”

Elaine, who has lived on the island for 34 years and whose husband, John, is from a family that settled there in the late 1800s, retired as a nurse and continued as a parish nurse until a year ago, when she needed care for 90-, 86- and 84-year old family members.

The other nurses are Nancy Wong and Jane Phillips, who are church members; Dorothy Hansen, who is in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church; Candy Jones, a health minister at Island Chapel, and Megan Crouse, a member who is a pastor and a health minister. The health ministers are social workers or licensed practical nurses.

“Most of the people we help are not church members,” Elaine said.  “We seek to keep our elders on the island as long as we can.”

The parish nurses run a food pantry in the church basement and also started the Elderberries senior center that meets at the church.  From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Wednesdays, 15 to 20 seniors come to play cards, socialize and eat a simple meal.

For some, it’s their primary social outing for the week.

Through Elderberries, the nurses keep track of the seniors, answer questions on medicines, advocate for them when they need care and coordinate their care when they come home.

Listening during home visits or when people come to the church Wednesdays or Sundays to see the parish nurses is a primary skill.

“I enjoy helping with end-of-life care, because along with keeping track of physical concerns, I enjoy listening to people’s stories.  I visit a woman, a German immigrant, who tells stories of Germany in the war.

“As an intensive-care and coronary-care nurse before the hospital had a chaplain, I cared for patients and families, but did not do spiritual care,” Elaine said.

As a parish nurse, spiritual care—laying on hands and praying with patients and families—is part of the role.

Elaine is comforted to realize God is present.

“People new on the island are surprised that there’s someone to call and talk with them, someone from the church but  not pushing church,” she said.  “Regardless of their religious beliefs, we care.  It’s what God wants us to do.”

Nancy came to the island nearly three years ago and has been a parish nurse a year and a half.  She earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing in 1984 and a master’s degree in 1995 at the University of Delaware.  She worked as a nurse practitioner in Delaware before moving to Iowa and then settling with her husband on Lummi Island.

She appreciates being able to bring in the spiritual dimension of healing, which she finds important for people, even if they do not attend church.

Cindy said the parish nurses fit in with “the islanders’ independence and strong sense of community.”

Chris Morton and Kathy Jones walk on the labyrinth during its dedication.

A new outreach is a labyrinth one parish nurse, an artist, two labyrinth facilitators, an engineer and a project coordinator have created in “a natural cathedral of trees” in the woods between the building and a cliff overlooking Puget Sound, Cindy said.

The land was cleared and a temporary labyrinth laid out in the summer of 2008.  In May, 2009, it was completed with stones marking the path.

At the dedication in June, island harpist, Stella Benson played, and Bobbi Virta, labyrinth facilitator and pastor at the United Church of Ferndale, participated in blessing the church’s labyrinth.

Cindy said that the labyrinth is in a place accessible for all islanders.

“It is used by residents and visitors, as well as church members and friends,” she said.  “It is an outreach to our community, a way to express our hospitality.  It’s open for the community to use as a sacred space for personal meditation and spiritual reflection.”

The church’s vacation Bible school in the summer draws many of the island’s children.  In addition, the church is part of the Whatcom County Interfaith Coalition, which offers a clinic, low-income and transitional housing.  It also participates in Heifer Project.

“I seek to bring to the church a sense of the UCC’s radical hospitality,” Cindy said.

For information, call 360-758-2060 or visit


Copyright Pacific Northwest Conference News © December 2009


Share this article on your favorite social media Bookmark and Share