Emotional day as historic Tacoma church holds its final service

TACOMA, Wash. - An historic church in Tacoma is undergoing a dramatic transformation in order to survive - but members are trying to embrace, not fear, change.

After more than a century of worship in a beautiful building, First Congregational Church in Tacoma held its final service on Sunday. But church members say is not so much an ending - as it is a new beginning.

So many hymms have resonated through the church's historic old sanctuary, so many words of inspiration have been spoken.

And many wonderful memories have been made here as well.

"My sister and I had a double wedding here," says one woman.

"I enjoyed being in the few boards and singing in the choir," says another.

And one woman, Joan Davies Rapp, says she has been coming to this church since she was just a little girl.

"I'd turn around when I was 5 years old, my mother told me, and wink at the soldier boys," she says. "And they'd wink back at me - and that was a big deal."

Her family has five generations vested in First Congregational Church.

But memories are not enough to sustain this beautiful but dilapidated building. Attendance that once numbered in the hundreds has shrunk to as few as 30 on many Sundays.

And now the church has been sold.

"It's grief and it's sadness," says the Rev. Bill Greaver, the church pastor.

He acknowledges how hard it is for his congregation to leave their familiar pews. But it's no time to linger in sadness, he says.

"Goodbye and hello," he says. "Goodbye to a home that we outgrew; hello to a home that meets our needs."

The much larger Mars Hill Church bought the historic building for nearly $2 million and plans to renovate and set up another branch in Tacoma. First Congregational Church will use that money to find another, more modest home.

"So this gives us an opportunity to actually go somewhere and do something that we want to do as far as ministry, and that's exciting," says Rev. Greaver.

Parishioners - younger and older - are starting to embrace that excitement, too.

"As we look to the future we all hold a light in our hearts, and we know that our next place is going to be great," says one longtime church member.

The church will rent space until it finds a permanent location.

During Sunday's final service in its traditional home, the pastor handed out daffodil and tulip bulbs. Members will plant those once they move to their new home.