Reaching out to the marginalized and oppressed

First Church of Seattle has a long history (150+ years) of reaching out and assisting those who are marginalized and/or oppressed. Here are just a few examples:

The Great Northern Railway came to Seattle in 1884, and with it many Chinese workers who had helped in its construction. First Church was a friend to the Chinese in those days, and had a large mission school for them in the basement, helping where they could. Labor tensions bubbled to the surface around that time. Unemployed white workers accused the Chinese of depressing wages by working for lower pay. Mass meetings were held, and many speeches were made for and against the Chinese. One Sunday in November 1885, a mob of workers pumped with anti-Chinese sentiment drove the Chinese to the docks, intending to ship them to San Francisco. The Home Guard came forward to defend the Chinese at the wharf. Tensions escalated, and the Home Guard fired into the mob, killing several people and inciting a riot.

The incensed mob came to the doors of First Church – our little white church building that once stood on the corner of Second Avenue and Columbia Street. The mob threatened to burn down our church, and threatened the life of Rev. Dennison as well, who stood on its steps trying to dissuade them. Rev. Dennison was successful in sending the mob away, but fearing a return, he and two other men guarded the church, some accounts say with a rifle across their knees, until soldiers of the U.S. 14th Infantry came up from Vancouver to restore order.

In the 1890s, poor economic conditions in Japan prompted many Japanese to immigrate to our city. In general, Asian immigrants were discriminated against in this era via the Alien Land Law, which restricted property ownership, banning the sale of land to “aliens ineligible in citizenship.” (The only ineligible inhabitants of the U.S. were the Asians.) In 1921, Washington State broadened this law to restrict leasing or renting land and renewing old leases. Yet First Church stayed the course, and supported a thriving Christian fellowship of Japanese men. (See archives photo, taken in the early 1920s.)

In 1926, a Filipino Christian Fellowship began meeting in the Blaine room. A former Methodist missionary, Rev. Bundy, was selected as leader of the group by the Home Board of the Methodist Church. This Fellowship found its own worship facility with fundraising help under our pastor Dr. Moats in the 1940s, and eventually merged with the Wesley Chapel Methodist Church to form the Beacon United Methodist Church.

In the 1990s, First Church hosted an Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and a Muslim Prayer Group as well. In the 21st century, we have built the Blaine Center to help marginalized homeless men transition into permanent housing. And so our legacy continues to this day.