According to Dr. Robert L. Welsh, Presbytery of Seattle historian, Laurelhurst United Presbyterian Church has a rather checkered existence. It was organized as First United Presbyterian Church of Seattle on October 14, 1891 with 21 charter members. It purchased property on the southwest corner of Sixth and Seneca for $5,000 with funds from the Board of Church Extension. The new church was dedicated on January 29, 1893. In March 1903 the congregation voted to move to their property at 16th and East John. Membership was now 150 and $450 remained to be paid on a note. The church became self-supporting in 1903. In 1904 the “Capitol Hill United Presbyterian Church” was listed with the Rev. W. A. Spalding as its pastor. A new sanctuary was dedicated in November 1904.
Due to a downtown Seattle re-grade by March 1906 a new church site had to be chosen. By June 1906 damage to the current church with the re-grading caused a settlement of $4,000 for the church. New property was purchased for $8,500 in July 1906. In March of 1907 a $5,000 loan and other monies were sought for the new building. A loss of members had occurred with the move. By summer a $15,000 loan was authorized. In April 1908 Mr. Spalding’s annual report to the congregation was mainly statistical and showed his frustration with the growth of the congregation. In July Spalding resigned over disagreements with a faction of the congregation. During his pastorate the membership had tripled and finances quadrupled.
On February 28, 1909 the Rev. Ralph Atkinson began his pastorate. Membership had dropped from 155 to 130 when he began. In 1910 the membership increased to 187 with 183 in the Sunday School. In January 1910 the property at Sixth and Senecas was sold for $36,500. Total budget was now $6,278 with $3,000 the pastor’s salary. In March 1912 the session reported “Largest membership in our history, 214." Two hundred copies of our new “Psalter Hymns” have been ordered. Average of 103 in Sabbath School with six classes. Christian Endeavor (Y. P. S. C. E.) average attendance was thirty.
In September 1916 Dr. Atkinson left the church. Pulpit supply was apparently difficult. In November 1916 Rev. William R. Sawhill became the pastor at a salary of $2,500 per year plus moving expenses. In 1917 church membership stood at 250 and in 1918 the Sunday School was the largest with an enrollment of 375. The church was debt-free with 273 members on the roll. In 1925 the pastor’s salary was raised to $3,600 to include automobile and the total budget was $13,432. There were 334 members and 290 in the Sunday School. In 1938 Mr. Sawhill resigned. There was no office in the church so one was constructed in the belfry for the Reverend French from Topeka, Kansas. In April 1944 French resigned to go to the Laurelhurst Church in Portland, Oregon. He was replaced by the Reverend James L. Rohrbaugh. On June 18, 1953 at a congregational meeting the congregation voted 66 to 29 to relocate the church. A new church site, five lots, was chosen in Laurelhurst. The move to the new site was announced on September 26, 1953. The name Laurelhurst United Presbyterian Church was chosen. The first service in a new sanctuary was on October 10, 1954. In January 1955 membership was 478 with 300 in the Sunday School. The year 1956 ended with a membership of 500 communicants.
In June 1965 Dr. Rohrbaugh was found guilty of schism and contempt by Seattle Presbytery. In September of that year he was given a six month leave of absence for medical care. The next month three elders resigned. In October 22 members of the congregation supported the minister and seven abstained. The last session minutes approved by the presbytery were for the meeting of February 5, 1967. The church then voted for withdrawal from Presbytery in October over the issue of the Confession of 1967 (C67). The property of the church and its records were ordered by Superior Court to be turned over to the Presbytery of Seattle. On October 30, 1967 Mr. Rohrbaugh was removed as pastor of the Laurelhurst Presbyterian Church. On June 14, 1968 the Laurelhurst congregation made an offer to but the church from the presbytery for $40,000 over ten years. In February 1972 Seattle Presbytery made a plea for reconciliation. After court actions were completed Seattle Presbytery retained the church property. A small loyal remnant began working on the reestablishment of the Laurelhurst Church as a United Presbyterian congregation.
On May 28, 1972 the Reverend Harold Blackwell, interim pastor, held the first United Presbyterian service in the church of eleven members (594 had been erased!). The earliest remaining church newsletters, “The Laurelhurst Presbyterian Newsletter,” are from February 1973. Later the newsletter was written as “The Joyful Sound” followed by the “Laurelhurst Light.” These letters are in the file along with church bulletins. They show that the present church is alive and well.
Newsletters and worship bulletins of the present Laurelhurst United Presbyterian Church from 1950-1995. A summary of the history of the church indicates a somewhat turbulent past due to relocations of the church properties and a disagreement with the polity of the national church in 1965 (Folder 1/2)
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Collection is open for research use.Preferred Citation :
From the Laurelhurst Presbyterian Church ( Seattle, Wash.) Records; located in the Whitworth University Archives; Spokane, Washington.
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