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Pilgrims/New Pilgrims closes after 145 years

After 145 years of “being church” on Fidalgo Island, New Pilgrims United Church of Christ, founded as Pilgrim Congregational Church, will cease Sunday services and complete its mission as of Dec 31, 2022, due to declining membership and a desire to use its remaining assets as a legacy in the Anacortes community and beyond.

New Pilgrims UCC carried banner in Anacortes July 4 parade. Photo courtesy of Susan Sanderson of New Pilgrims

Pilgrim/New Pilgrims invites members, friends and former associates to attend ita Closing Celebration Service at 10:15 a.m., Sunday, Dec. 18, in Boyd Hall, on the garden level of the United Methodist Church of Anacortes.

Becky Withington, who has served as pastor for Pilgrim/New Pilgrims since 2016, will lead the service with David Schoen, the UCC Minister of Church Closure and Legacy.

The congregation has been meeting in Boyd Hall since July 2014, after selling its 88-year-old church building at 2802 Commercial to a developer. The stucco building needed significant, costly repairs. It has now been demolished and replaced with a new mixed-used structure, said Marcia Neu, a member for 20 years and the recording secretary.

In 2018 Pilgrim Congregational members voted to become New Pilgrims UCC, a name to represent the congregation’s progressive mission to be “a caring community that provides a spiritual home where we welcome doubt and inquiry, promote love of creation and support abundant life for all.”

In recent years New Pilgrims’ 15 to 20 members often marched in the 4th of July Parade with their large rainbow “Be the Church” banner, sold wares at Shipwreck Day to benefit first Project Homeless Connect and the Anacortes Family Center (AFC), she said.

Its other outreach to the community has included A Simple Gesture Food Donation Bag Program, Project Homeless Connect, Anacortes Cold Weather Homeless Shelter, the Anacortes Ready to Learn Fair, Earth Ministry, Links and Alliances Conference, the PFLAG of Skagit County and Stanwood, and the Center for Progressive Christianity.

Upon its closure, funds from the 2014 church property sale will be donated to the Anacortes Family Center that provides housing and jobs for homeless families, to the Pacific Northwest Conference of the UCC for its two camps and church development, and to various animal welfare charities.

Marcia shared the congregation’s history from an article that Nelle Jacobson, a 20-year member, compiled several years ago.

Pilgrim began in 1877 when two families from Antioch, Calif., made the difficult journey by steamer, train and schooner to Fidalgo City. Ewing Tade and Deacon W. H. Hagadorn were part of the home missionary effort by New England Congregationalists to establish churches and schools in the newly settled frontier areas. The missionaries emphasized education, believing people should be able to read the Bible for themselves.

They also believed education should be global, including newly freed slaves and indigenous residents. Their school, Alden Academy, was first a log building located south of Anacortes near 32nd and J Ave. Later lumber additions were hauled from the water at the foot of 29th St. The school was dedicated in 1879. Ewing and Amanda Tade and the Rev. and Mrs. A. T. Burnell instructed students throughout Northwest Washington. It was the first secondary school in Skagit County and the first school to admit Native American children.

The Tades returned to California in 1884 and Alden Academy closed, but the church they established continued to express the founders’ values of education, service and interracial understanding.

Horace Taylor, Pilgrim’s second pastor, moved to the island in 1885, after serving as a foreign missionary in Micronesia, a home missionary teaching freed slaves in Alabama and pastor in Ohio and Tacoma.

The church owned no property. It held services in the Alden Academy schoolhouse. Horace established a church at Fidalgo City and continued with two churches until 1887 when he was called to Ohio.

Returning to Fidalgo Island in 1899, Horace established a church and school at Rosario and was called as full time pastor to Pilgrim Church in Anacortes in 1902. A building at 26th and R was completed in 1903.

R. K. Anderson, the longest serving Pilgrim pastor from March 1925 to October 1943, planned the building at 2802 Commercial Ave. Built in 1926, it was a spiritual home and center for community events. The basement hosted thousands of meetings, classes and dinners, as well as skating parties, cooperative preschools and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

To honor contributions Pilgrim/New Pilgrims made to Anacortes, New Pilgrims moderator Suzanne Sanderson prepared “Special 145th Anniversary Editions” of the New Pilgrims Progress newsletter, at

Becky earned a bachelor’s degree in women’s studies from the University of Minnesota and met her husband Paul there.

After earning a master’s in library and information sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, she and Paul moved in 1992 to Seattle, where she was a librarian. She became part-time director of Plymouth UCC’s children’s program, which stirred her call to ordained ministry.

After completing the master of divinity program at Seattle University School of Theology, two internships and a unit of clinical pastoral education, Becky was called in 2012 to serve part-time at Everett UCC.

Continuing there, in 2016, she began serving New Pilgrims half-time.

Members will disperse to Bellevue, Mercer Island and Everett churches, some through online worship, Becky said.

“They decided to choose when to close so they could share remaining funds with the community and PNC-UCC.”

For information, call 360-722-0185 or email


 Winter Pacific Northwest Conference United Church of Christ News © December 2022


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