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Evergreen Lutheran Church celebrates 25 years of worship

The daughter of Bremerton’s Memorial Lutheran Church is celebrating its 25th birthday this week.

Evergreen Lutheran Church in Seabeck traces its origin back to its first service on the morning of Oct. 12, 1980. The church even keeps a record of its first opening prayer.

The church’s history is intertwined with the Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor. When the Navy made Bangor the home of its Trident project in the late 1970s, population grew in the region and merited the establishment of a new Lutheran congregation in Seabeck.

Arla Larson is one of the 43 founding members of Evergreen Lutheran. Larson’s family is not connected to the military directly but she is a long-time resident of Seabeck.

“We (were) all traipsing into town in Bremerton,” she said recalling the neighborhood’s church-going days before Evergreen was founded.

“It’s nice to have your worship family close to where the rest of the people you share your life with are,” said Pat Greenwalt, preschool teacher and choir director at Evergreen Lutheran Church and Preschool.

Bringing the aspect of worship closer to home makes the community stronger, Greenwalt added.

Starting with the original service, the congregation made Seabeck Elementary School’s library its home for nearly four years until it settled permanently into the newly-built church at Seabeck Holly and Holly roads.

Richard Brandon was the first called pastor, staying with the congregation between 1981 and 1986. He said it is not uncommon for a new church to be home-less and expressed his thanks to the Central Kitsap School District for hosting the congregation.

“You have to set yourself up every Sunday and take yourself down every Sunday, but that’s the only downside,” he said about the years spent meeting in the school’s library.

Brandon and his wife now live in Salem, Ore. where he serves part-time at a local church. But both are taking a trip to the Puget Sound this weekend. The former Evergreen Lutheran Church pastor has been invited to give the special service tomorrow afternoon to mark the anniversary.

“I will dwell a little bit on the history, the past and the future,” he said about his plans for the sermon.

Brandon also will share his ideas on the meaning of the church’s emblem — a cross with three evergreen trees underneath it and the words “under the cross.”

Larson said inviting the original pastor back for an anniversary is a Lutheran tradition. Tomorrow will be the first time Brandon has visited the church since he left more than 19 years ago when he and his wife traveled to Ghana, West Africa as missionaries.

“I consider it an honor and a privilege to be with (the Evergreen congregation members),” Brandon said adding he and his wife are looking forward to seeing friends and visiting the area.

“I’m sure Pastor Brandon’s message (in tomorrow’s sermon) will have to do with what blessings we’ve been bestowed on in the 25 years,” said current Pastor Hal Ross who was noted his own anniversary this summer — five years at Evergreen Lutheran.

The congregation now numbers nearly 150 and Ross agrees with Brandon that it is the people who give Evergreen Lutheran its spirit.

“From a pastor’s point of view, (the church is) ideal,” Ross said. “These people are terrific.”

Larson, as one of the original members, says she has seen many people join and leave the Seabeck congregation because of the highly transient nature of the military families in the neighborhood. Yet, the congregation has always been close-knit.

“We function much as a family, a church family,” Larson said.

And this family’s tree can be traced in the history booklet a committee, headed by Larson, has put together for the anniversary.

People and events — such as the addition of the preschool in January 1996 — fill up the bulk of the booklet’s pages.

Greenwalt’s name also is recorded in the history-lines as the first, and current, preschool teacher. It is quite the challenge she tackles. On a weekday children’s voices echo through Evergreen Lutheran’s parking lot from the playground or classroom.

When Greenwalt sat down for lunch in her office Tuesday, inbetween preschool classes, it was one of the rare quiet moments when her clothes remained paint-splotch-free. At least before the second wave of pupils rushed in for the day.

“You just don’t wear your Sunday-best to preschool,” she explained laughing.

Ross said offering the preschool service to the community is one of the special things about the church.

“I’ve been just a small part of the history so far, but I’ve seen God working in so many ways here,” Ross said.

Tomorrow’s service will be a chance for the congregation to celebrate that history.

Greenwalt, who has been a member of Evergreen Lutheran for 18 years, also was part of the anniversary planning committee for the church she sees as her worship family. She said, “It’s like a silver wedding anniversary.”

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