The land currently occupied by the parish of St. Paul’s Church is the homeland of the NW Salish People. While the indigenous population never had a permanent encampment in the Queen Anne neighborhood, or specifically on the section of land that holds St. Paul’s Church, here were summer and winter hunting camps near the site. Just a few blocks from the parish, the current site of the Seattle Center, was Baba ‘kwob (prairies), a gathering place for tribal festivals.
St. Paul’s Church was begun as a log cabin mission in 1892 by the early settlers of Queen Anne Town, a neighborhood directly north of downtown Seattle distinguished by a prominent hill featuring many homes with a Queen Anne style of architecture. In 1895 it officially became St. Paul’s Mission. In 1903, land for the present site at the foot of Queen Anne Hill was purchased and, soon after, the first church building was erected. During the next three decades, St. Paul’s became one of the major Episcopal churches in the city. Several additions, including the still-in-use All Saints Chapel, were made in 1938.
In the late 1950s, the vestry purchased land at the top of Queen Anne Hill with a view toward rebuilding St. Paul’s in the neighborhood’s more affluent, residential quarter. At the same time, a rector by the name of John Lockerby was recruited by the parish. Father Lockerby convinced the vestry to sell the newly acquired property on Galer Street to stay at its current, historic site with the explicit purpose of remaining closer to the city.
Father Lockerby’s urban sensibilities were rooted in the words of the parish’s patron, St. Paul, in the Acts of the Apostles: “Rise up and go into the city, where you will be told what you must do.” (Acts 9:6). To this day, St. Paul’s parish retains a strong urban identity and sense of mission to a diverse, cosmopolitan population; a sense of connection to the city and outreach to the disenfranchised of our funky, vibrant, uptown neighborhood. At the same time, Father Lockerby was instrumental in the parish’s endeavor to raze the original wood-frame structure (which was, reportedly, damaged beyond repair) and erect a soaring new modern structure, contemporaneous with the Seattle World’s Fair of 1962.
Following the Reverend John Lockerby’s historic and landmark tenure, St. Paul’s fully developed into a city parish with a distinctive and accepting outreach to a diverse, urban population. Our Anglo-Catholic identity was also more deliberately cultivated during this period.
The Reverend Roy Coulter followed Father Lockerby, bringing an extroverted and charismatic personality to an otherwise introverted community. A young Father Ralph Carskadden began his ministry as a curate with Father Coulter during this period.
The 1980s witnessed the incumbency of the Reverend Peter Moore. This was a significant period in the cyclical history of St. Paul’s as it was in many ways marked by the AIDS pandemic devastating urban populations across America. St. Paul’s walked with the disenfranchised when it was the only religious body doing so.
Father Moore is famous for proclaiming, through Seattle’s media channels, the parish’s willingness to host memorial services for any friends and family devastated by the loss of a loved one to AIDS, irrespective of their faith affiliation. During this time, St. Paul’s lost a significant portion of its own parish population to AIDS. The church was full of bodies, grief and sadness during this period. Through it all, St. Paul’s remains proud of its role as a sacred house of support, solace and comfort during this tragic time in history.
The Reverend Morrie Hauge was called to the parish in the 1990s. St. Paul’s first openly gay and partnered rector, Father Hauge continued to extend the olive branch of welcome to Seattle’s LGTB community. Following Father Hauge’s retirement in the early 2000s, the parish experienced an extended interim period, which also saw a measurable decline in numbers and attendance.
In 2005, the Reverend Melissa Skelton was called to St. Paul’s as our 10th Rector, to lead the parish into a deeper ministry of spirituality, community, and growth, all out of the basic progressive Anglo-Catholic identity of the parish. Mother Melissa began her service to St. Paul’s by deliberately and explicitly inviting and welcoming young families to the parish. St. Paul’s built a Godly Play program and young couples with children joined to participate in it.
By 2012, the parish was thriving with young families; 22 people, mostly infants, were baptized in 2012. St. Paul’s parish tripled in size under Melissa Skelton’s leadership. In 2009, under Mother Melissa’s leadership, the parish committed itself to a self-funded capital campaign and ambitious building renovation. A fully restored and rejuvenated nave reopened its doors on Christmas Eve 2011.
In early 2011, St. Paul’s started a monthly dinner for the hungry in the neighborhood. Called the Fatted Calf Café, the ministry served as a practical expression of the parish’s commitment to social justice and hospitality. Because of the value of this ministry, and thanks to a very generous anonymous donation and the gifts of many others in the parish, St. Paul’s undertook a complete renovation of its outdated kitchen. The renovation planning began in 2013 and was mostly complete by early 2015.
In late 2013, Melissa Skelton was elected, and in early 2014, consecrated as the Bishop of the Diocese of New Westminster (Vancouver, BC and surrounding area) in the Anglican Church of Canada. Teams were formed both to assess St. Paul’s unique character and needs and to search for a new Rector, and the parish entered another interim period. During this time, the spirit of the congregation remained strong with a thoughtful Vestry and broad lay leadership of parish teams and programs. The parish was ably served during this time by priests Samuel Torvend, and later, Catharine Reid, clergy already ministering in the congregation, who each oversaw good work already in progress and kept a steady hand on the helm.
In June of 2015, Mother Sara Fischer, Canon for Congregational Development in the Diocese of Oregon, was called as St. Paul’s eleventh rector, with a view towards consolidating recent parish growth, increasing the connection of parishioners across its many masses, bolstering St. Paul’s practice of stewardship, and enhancing the congregation’s engagement with the surrounding community. Throughout her time here, Mother Sara helped establish the Art Heals Project, with the Mental Health Chaplaincy. In addition, she started parish conversations about race, which has led to continued engagement with the Episcopal Church’s Sacred Ground curriculum and the formation of the Anti-Racism Commission.
In October of 2017, Fr. Robert and Debbi Rhodes joined the parish. As Associate Rector, Fr. Rob was instrumental in developing Wednesday Night Church, a time to celebrate Mass, have a meal together, explore adult continuing education based on a Catechumenate program, and followed by Compline.
In October of 2019, Fr. Rob and Debbi left the parish for the mid-west to found the monastic Community of Mary, Mother of the Redeemer. This Christian Community of the Episcopal Church is currently based in the Abbey of Mary, Mother of the Redeemer in Michigan City, IN.
In the spring of 2020, Mother Sara Fischer accepted the position of Rector at Saints Peter & Paul Episcopal Church/Iglesia Episcopal San Pedro y San Pablo in Portland, OR.
St. Paul’s celebrated 100 years at 15 Roy Street in 2003 (see Seattle Times article). In that time, this parish has been a beacon of faith and beauty for its members and the community. This diverse and sometimes challenging parish has also enjoyed a long history of stability with its rectors. The Holy Spirit continues to guide our household of faith through the mysteries and paradoxes of our collective life in Christ. We pray, as we continue into the next hundred years, that this place may blossom and touch the lives of generations to come with the joy of Christ that so many have known here.