The Burton Community Church is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, and to mark the occasion, its congregation invites the public to stop by for lunch, conversation over scrapbooks and a slideshow after service at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday.
According to island historian Bruce Haulman, Vashon’s oldest church was founded in 1893 by a Welsh Baptist minister named Samuel Beaven, who also served as its leader for 18 years. Beaven also helped establish the former Baptist Missionary Home on the Burton peninsula, which was torn down in 1967.
Built in 1897, the building has enjoyed continuous use — originally as a Baptist church — but was re-organized as a multi-denominational entity, Burton Community Church (BCC), in 1928.
“The congregation is very welcoming,” member Rebecca Graves said. “Everyone can come. We even have some atheists in the group.”
Graves, a 30-year church member, added that despite its open nature, membership has been dwindling over time. Where once this picturesque Burton landmark counted hundreds of men, women and children among its ranks, there are now only about 25 regular members.
“Oh yes, there were so many kids,” Doug Ostrom, church member, said. “Back in the 1940s and 50s, everybody went to church. It was just what you did, it was part of the cultural fabric of the time. Back then there were so many people that we had five different choirs and two kindergartens full of kids.”
Ostrom is one of the church’s longest term members, as he started attending as a child in the 1940s with his mother, who was one of the congregation’s kindergarten teachers and lived in the parsonage. Ostrom moved to the East Coast in 1969, but returned to the church in 2010 after moving back to the island.
“Now there are no kids,” he said of BCC’s current membership. “Times have just changed so much culturally. This church used to be a major force in the community — we voted here, held rallies … when Burton was mad at Vashon, everyone would come to the church as a rallying point before taking action. Lots of things like that. But, that era has passed.”
Despite the dramatic shift in cultural and societal practices, both Graves and Ostrom noted that while its numbers have fallen, the congregation’s spirit has not.
“We have a lot of love in our tiny group,” Graves explained. “We have fantastic people holding things together.”
“We are spiritual, albeit not traditionally religious,” Ostrom added. “We want to be meaningful. We want to offer a social experience and provide community service when we can.”
Burton Community Church holds weekly, mostly lay-led services, though there is a guest minister that comes from off-island once or twice a month.
“We have a saying about our services: ‘If you like what you see today, come back next week, and it will be totally different,’”Graves said with a laugh. “Sometimes we have music, sometimes poetry. We have fun.”
Sunday’s celebration will feature a catered light lunch, scrapbooks to reminisce over and a slideshow that Ostrom put together. All are welcome; previous church members are encouraged to attend.