By Suzanne Wallis
On Sunday, April 24, 1853, the first Protestant sermon was delivered at the homes of settlers on Whidbey Island. The two ministers who traveled to the island enrolled members into the Whidbey Methodist Episcopal Church, which later became Coupeville United Methodist Church.
The church at Coupeville was the first church organized north of Olympia in the Washington Territory, which had been ceded by the British in 1846. Among the church’s earliest founders were Colonel Isaac Ebey and his wife Rebecca. Our historic Ebey’s Landing National Reserve is named for them. Rebecca’s leadership and vision helped to ensure the establishment of an organized church in our town.
The first minister to the new church, Reverend W.B. Morse, trekked hundreds of miles on foot, horseback, and by Indian canoe to reach people of his water-bound district. The first church building was erected in 1859, thirty years before Washington would become the 42nd U.S. state.
In 1893, during the pastorate of Rev. W. F. Clark, the church building was destroyed by fire. Unfortunately, the church’s fire insurance policy had lapsed only days before. Once again, the congregation took up the challenge of building a new church. For over a year, all church services and Sunday School classes were held in the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (W.C.T.U.) hall across the street while a new church building was erected.
Over the years, there have been several major building projects that have changed the landscape of our church.
In 1908, a kitchen and several smaller Sunday School rooms were added. In the early 1930’s the seating configuration of the sanctuary was changed, and some upstairs classrooms were added, all during the depression years.
In 1949, $15,000 was set aside for improvements to the church. Rev. Henry Cross, the pastor at the time, helped in raising the funds and in making the improvements to the church, which were considerable.
In 1968, the congregation voted to renovate the entire church. Rev. Al Waln and his wife Liz joined a team of mostly volunteers to accomplish it. The sanctuary was completely reconfigured and updated, as it stands today.
In 1978-79, the entire auxiliary portion of the church was demolished and rebuilt. With most of the work done by volunteers aged 60+, a basement was added with more rooms for church and community use, and everything was updated.
Rev. Mary Boyd was the first woman to serve as pastor of Coupeville United Methodist Church, arriving in August of 2001. Our current pastor, Rev. Jin Ming Ma came to Coupeville in 2007. Jin Ming has brought an excitement for God’s word to us, and her deep caring and support are a true blessing to the congregation.
As we look back we can see as through a glass darkly – Rebecca Ebey dreaming of this church; we can see the result of her vision. As we look forward, we see a continuing ministry to the needs of future generations.
On April 22, the Coupeville United Methodist Church will celebrate its’ 165 year anniversary, and the public is invited to participate in this historic event. As part of Sunday’s worship service at 11:00 AM, the History Committee will describe aspects of the Coupeville church from its beginnings in the 1850s. A potluck lunch will be available immediately after the service in the fellowship hall.
Bishop Elaine J. W. Stanovsky, who oversees the Greater Northwest Area of The United Methodist Church, will be an honored guest at the anniversary celebration.
Suzanne Wallis serves as Church Life Coordinator for Coupeville United Methodist Church.