A growing flock in Pacific Northwest
Minister James A. Maxwell has news for his fellow Christians, though: The Church of Christ is not sheepless in Seattle.
In this city of 600,000 souls, the flock of the Holgate Church of Christ has more than doubled in the last seven years, approaching 300 members.
“The field’s white unto harvest,” said Lynn Fuller, one of the congregation’s four elders. “If there truly is a multitude of unchurched people, that’s just more opportunities to draw people in. And you do it through service.”
The church, just off the busy Martin Luther King Jr. Way and next to the American Red Cross hub in the center of Seattle, has outgrown its building and is nearing completion of a $2.3 million expansion project, leaders said.
Church member Robert Stowers, the congregation’s financial secretary, led a visitor on a tour of the construction site, excitedly describing plans for a new fellowship hall, additional Sunday school classrooms and an auditorium that will seat 600.
“Right there, that’s a physical fitness room with showers in them,” he said. “We might become a shelter if there’s an emergency, so the Red Cross requires that emergency shelters have showers.”
The fitness center will serve, too, as a tool to help members — and the community — stay in top physical as well as spiritual shape, Stowers said.
A commercial kitchen will allow the church to expand its feeding program for the homeless, while the new classrooms will open up more opportunities for community outreach, he said.
“We’re going to be exploring having childcare down here when we’re not having Sunday school,” he said. “We’ve talked about having a teen night on Friday nights and having the community come in.”
Seattle is a long way from the Bible Belt — more than 1,700 miles, in fact, from Terrell, Texas.
That’s where Maxwell — the Holgate church’s preacher — grew up. His father, James O. Maxwell, serves as vice president of institutional advancement at Southwestern Christian College.
In 1995, while working as youth minister for the Dellcrest Church of Christ in San Antonio, the younger Maxwell and his wife, LaConya, brought 30 teenagers to the National Youth Conference in Seattle.
“It’s one of those places where you say, ‘I wouldn’t mind living here,’” he recalled. “But I never thought I would.”
Maxwell later spent six years as associate minister with the Figueroa Church of Christ in Los Angeles, where he worked with longtime minister Calvin Bowers.
When the Holgate church called in 2004 — nearly a decade after the youth conference — Maxwell felt God’s urging.
“There were certain things they wanted to do,” he said. “They wanted to build. They wanted to grow the church. They wanted to evangelize the community. And I was excited about the possibilities.”
Special events, such as a recent Friend Day, where the church welcomed guests and new convert Brandon Roy of the Portland Trail Blazers, draw crowds of 300 or more.
Asked what has brought about the growth, Maxwell replied, “We emphasize a strong pulpit, and it’s a place where you can get, we believe, the sound teaching for your family, teaching for your everyday life, your work life. I think that’s a strength for us.”
The dapper-looking man with stylish glasses and a charcoal-gray suit leading singing on a Sunday was Owen Craft.
It was impossible to tell that he’s a recovering drug and alcohol addict who just marked five years of sobriety.
“Everything that tasted like alcohol and everything that somebody said was a drug, I took it,” said Craft, 51.
“It’s only God,” he said of how he overcame his addiction.
Holgate members minister to addicts through the Union Gospel Mission, a homeless center a few miles from the church. That effort has resulted in a number of baptisms, leaders said.
Danny and Darryl Ann Mason, both recovering addicts, said the congregation welcomed them with genuine love and care.
Darryl Ann said she walked away from her children, prostituted herself and served time in prison.
At her lowest point, loving herself and believing that God could forgive her were impossible, she said.
“The women here just have taken me under their wing,” said Darryl Ann, sporting a black-print jacket dress and a necklace with a large onyx pendant on a Sunday. “They have not asked me about my past, nor do they care about my past.
“What they do care about is my soul, which is something so different for me,” she added. “I get really edified when I come here.”
While primarily African-American, the Holgate church embraces increasing numbers of white and immigrant members, leaders said.
Fuller and his wife, Jeri, are white. They have five adopted children of mixed races.
“As you get to know brother Maxwell, all of a sudden, his character is more important than how he looks or the color of his skin,” Lynn Fuller said. “And as you meet these people, you learn to appreciate the greatness in them rather than go, ‘Hey, that guy’s a different color/race than me.’”
Since his conversion nearly a half-century ago, Holgate member Behailu Abebe has devoted himself to sharing Christ. He has won souls in his home nation of Ethiopia and among refugees in Kenya, and now he teaches African immigrants in the U.S.
“Many times, we don’t know why God takes us from one place to another,” said Abebe, who came to Seattle to deal with heart problems. “But now I see here a lot of Kenyans and South Sudanese, and I am having (Bible) classes with them.
“The church here, there’s really a lot going on,” he added. “They want to work with all nationalities.”
As the construction progresses, the congregation meets on Sunday mornings at a community center, arranging folding chairs on a gymnasium floor.
On Sunday nights, Holgate members worship about 10 miles away with the Southside Church of Christ.
The joint services have strengthened the relationship between the congregations, Southside minister William Harper said.
“We’re getting to know each other much better,” Harper said. “That’s one of the greatest benefits we have seen.”
The Holgate church enjoys similar close ties with the Madison Park Church of Christ, the Seattle church where basketball star Roy was baptized.
“The congregations here are kind of spread out, but we do have a level of closeness that some cities with a lot of congregations don’t have,” Maxwell said. “I think the fact that there are so few congregations, collectively, that it’s allowed us to be closer, since we kind of have to depend on each other more.”
The recent Legacy Conference, overseen by the Holgate church and directed by LaConya Maxwell, brought together more than 250 girls and women from 20-plus congregations.
Besides Bible study, the three-day event featured service projects, from assembling 300 rescue kits for shelters to providing 100 pairs of shoes for a church-supported school for the deaf in Ethiopia.
In Seattle, where about one in five adults describe themselves as atheist or agnostic, sharing one’s faith can present challenges.
“I can’t go out and say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’” said Holgate member Earl Conner, a Christian since 2007 converted through the recovery ministry. “OK, I do say it, but people will reject it. So I have to allow God to put me in the places where he wants me to serve him.”
So far, that approach seems to be paying spiritual dividends: Conner has helped lead six friends to Christ.
HOLGATE CHURCH OF CHRIST, SEATTLE
LOCATION: Center of Seattle, just off busy Martin Luther King Jr. Way.
ELDERS: Jeremiah Brewer, Lynn Fuller, Paul Reynald and Elgin Williams.
MINISTER: James A. Maxwell.
THEME FOR 2011: “Soaring toward heaven in 2011.”
FeedbackWe appreciate the Christian Chronicle for all the good work they do. The Holgate Church thanks them for sharing our work with the world. May it serve as an encouragement for all Christ Followers.James A. MaxwellHolgate Church of ChristSeattle, WA
USAOctober, 10 2011Very Good article you did a good job and we so enjoyed meeting and talking to you… God BlessPaul ReynaldHolgate Church of ChristSeattle, Washington
United StatesOctober, 5 2011