At the age of 12, Marcia Bodin remembers moving from “The Little White Church” to the new Grace Lutheran Church campus on 9625 NE 8th St. in Bellevue. The church purchased the property in the early 1960s when Bellevue was still unincorporated and when church-going was above all other commitments.
Bodin was born and raised in Grace Lutheran. Big memories were made in the church. For nearly 30 years, her mother baked the communion bread and her father taught Sunday school for more than 50 years.
“I remember setting up early on Sundays and we were always the last family to leave,” she said. “And every Friday, my mom would bake the communion bread…I can remember the bread rising in our kitchen.”
At one point, Bodin said Grace Lutheran could have been one of the biggest churches in Bellevue. The church held 300 people and they were holding two worship services every Sunday.
After 70 years, Grace Lutheran held its last worship service on March 3. The church was faced with the hard questions about their sustainability and as a church made the decision to permanently close Grace Lutheran.
For at least a decade, Grace Lutheran gradually saw a decrease in its membership. Gail D’Alessio, head of the church’s assets committee, said Grace Lutheran’s final membership had an average of 24 people. With the congregation aging, it was difficult to attract new and younger families.
To confront the hard question, the church’s council formed a taskforce to work through the process. The assets committee included D’Alessio, Bodin, and Eva Mader.
“For quite a long time, the committee explored all sorts of options,” Mader, president of the committee, said. “We explored cooperating with other churches or to maybe even merge and use the church campus for some purpose the combined church would have.”
Bodin said various things influenced the church’s decision to close down permanently.
Grace Lutheran was an extremely active church. Within the church campus, Grace Lutheran held worship services, Sunday school, Discovery Preschool, and a Japanese adult congregation. Outside the four walls, the church grew deep roots with local organizations including The Sophia Way, Congregations for the Homeless (CFH), Imagine Housing and Lifewire.
“We almost had something every month that we were asking the congregation to do,” D’Alessio said. “As our force diminished, we just looked at each other and said, ‘Look at our ages.’ The workload became unbearable…It wasn’t that we didn’t try. We tried really hard.”
After a thoughtful process, church members voted and ultimately chose to sell the property. The Grace Lutheran property was sold to real-estate developer BDR for $8.5 million. With the assets of the sale, minus taxes, the church left generous gifts to more than 25 community institutions and nonprofit organizations.
For several years, Grace Lutheran gave financial gifts, meals, time and hope to people on the Eastside. As a church, Grace Lutheran chose to continue giving back to the Eastside community by donating $3.6 million to homeless services on the Eastside.
According to Bodin the committee voted to donate a large portion of assets to nonprofit organizations that focus on homeless services.
“This is what we wanted our legacy to be,” Bodin said. “We wanted to think about the people in our own street.”
King County’s 2019 Point-in-Time Count found 906 individuals experiencing homelessness on the Eastside. When compared to previous years, the homeless population in King County has decreased.
The committee had a list of organizations they served and, from there, they prioritized and voted on how much each organization would receive.
Imagine Housing in Kirkland was among the beneficiaries to receive $1 million from Grace Lutheran.
“We’re extremely grateful to have received the donation,” CEO Villette Nolon said. “It’s really extraordinary what Grace Lutheran has done and how they have gone about this. They took their time with due diligence on the organizations they gave to. We’re eternally grateful to them.”
Nolon said Grace Lutheran is enabling Imagine Housing and other agencies like them to provide homes for low-income and homeless people.
David Shuster, Imagine Housing director of impact investing and business development, worked directly with members of Grace Lutheran including D’Alessio, Bodin, and Howard Johnson.
“They were visionary and humble,” he said. “They were motivated to take action and allocate those dollars to community services to help with homelessness and housing on the Eastside in particular.”
Imagine Housing said Grace Lutheran’s gift inspired them to rename one of their properties to “Grace Place.” The renaming is scheduled for late fall.
The Sophia Way in Bellevue also received $1 million dollars. Over the years, Grace Lutheran has been a committed supporter of the organization since it started in 2008. According to a blog post by the organization, Grace Lutheran hosted their shelter on weekends, and their Support Network meetings, as well as donated quilts, meals, and financial gifts.
“There are not enough words to thank the Grace Lutheran Church and its congregation. They have been there for us and with us from the beginning. Congregation members Gail D’Alessio and Merrilee Kipfer have been our champions. We are so grateful for their support in helping us better serve women experiencing homelessness,” according to the blogpost.
Bodin said the church hopes this inspires other people and organizations to donate to community organizations.
“You don’t have to think big,” she said. “You can do something small for the people right around you. And that is something big.”