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July 7, 2021

Letter to the Editor: University Lutheran responds to DJC column

Dear Editor,

I was stunned and disappointed to read Brian Miller's offensive speculation about University Lutheran Church in his July 1, 2021 column in the DJC. The article primarily covers the demolition of University Temple United Methodist Church, but Miller also carelessly states “Also nearby, University Lutheran Church and Third Church of Christ Scientist also appear bound for sale, demo and redevelopment.”

I have no idea where this idea comes from. Mr. Miller never bothered to reach out to me, anyone else on our staff, or anyone affiliated with this church, nor with any of the several essential service providers that call ULC their home. Had he done so, he would have learned that ULC is a progressive faith community with a ministry that is active, vital, viable, and doing a lot of important work in Seattle.

University Lutheran Church (ULC) is a progressive, “metropolitan” congregation, with members from all over the Seattle area who participate in our ministry. They are urban and suburban; they are families with children, educators, health care providers, professionals, theologians, and retirees. They are kind and hospitable, smart and compassionate, generous and thoughtful. Our membership is stable; our building is in excellent condition and continues to be well-maintained. What's more, we are currently planning ambitious new capital projects in anticipation of serving this community far into the future.

University Lutheran was founded in 1917, and has been worshiping on our current site since 1924. We're a fully inclusive community, welcoming people of all races, means, gender identities, and sexual orientations. We've weathered the storm of the pandemic using video, Zoom and livestream, and since early June have been back to holding live worship services in our sanctuary, as well as live streaming each worship service. Our motto is “We Choose Love.” We cordially invite you - and Mr. Miller - to learn more about us at https://www.universitylutheranseattle.org.

In addition to ULC's parish ministry, our building is also home to UW Lutheran Campus Ministry, a separate program for the UW campus community that was started at ULC in the early 1920s.

Also calling ULC home is Elizabeth Gregory Home (EGH), a transitional housing program for women rising out of homelessness. EGH was founded by this congregation 15 years ago, and is today an independent nonprofit operating a transitional housing program in NE Seattle. In addition to its administrative offices, EGH operates a substantial day center and hygiene facility for homeless women on site here at ULC. It's buzzing with activity 6 days per week, and notably operated without interruption throughout the pandemic. You can learn more about EGH at https://eghseattle.org.

Sanctuary Art Center (SAC) is also housed here at ULC. SAC is another nonprofit service provider ULC helped to start 22 years ago. It provides programs for street¬involved youth ages 16-25, using thousands of square feet of art studios at ULC to develop creativity and build vocational skills, producing screen-printed garments and design projects for other nonprofit clients in the Seattle area. You can learn more about SAC here: https://sanctuaryartcenter.org.

Another important program using ULC facilities is Teen Feed (https://teenfeed.org), an essential cluster of programs for street youth, including a daily feeding program, outreach and counseling services. ULC's dining facilities hosted Teen Feed's nightly dinners several evenings per week for decades. With COVID restrictions easing, we expect them to begin again.

Other users of our building include SHARE/WHEEL, a nightly emergency shelter for homeless women that has been operating in our Fellowship Hall for several years. During the pandemic lockdown, the shelter transitioned to operating 24/7 to provide a safe space for this vulnerable population.

As you see, far from being a moribund church building ripe for redevelopment, ULC's building is extremely busy housing services and ministries that are lively and critically important to Seattle. Implying that our community is at death's door is reckless and irresponsible journalism, not to mention simply untrue.

The potential harm done here is not insignificant. What happens to our credibility and relationships with our tenants, our neighbors, our funders, and other agencies and institutions that are important to our continued viability when they read in the DJC that ULC's building is “bound for sale, demo and redevelopment”? What will they think about our commitment to them and to our neighborhood?

If the DJC would like to do a story about a healthy, loving faith community that strives to ensure our building embodies our understanding of God's presence in and for this neighborhood, if you want to explore how this church provides essential community resources and services, we'd love to help you. If you're interested in an exciting story about a Seattle church pursuing ambitious renovation and expansion plans (running counter to the easy and obvious story about church buildings being demolished), here we are. We'd love to share the facts with you and to show you around the facility.

In the meantime, we'd appreciate a retraction. Grace is a tenet of paramount significance in the Lutheran tradition, and if this moment opens up space for it to shine, there just might be a good story there.


The Rev. Susan Schneider

Pastor University Lutheran Church

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