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Wabash Presbyterian Church turns 100

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By Kevin Hanson-The Courier-Herald

Wabash Presbyterian Church has experienced more than a few twists and turns in its long and storied history. From humble beginnings, “the church in the country” has grown to serve the spiritual needs of generations.

And now, the congregation is counting the days until they can enjoy a centennial celebration.

With a single service beginning at 9 a.m. Nov. 4, Wabash will celebrate 100 years, inviting special guests the Rev. Mark Patterson and the Rev. Keith Vandegrift to join in the service. Each spent a time leading the Wabash congregation.

The centennial festivities get rolling the evening before, when all are invited to Garrett Hall on the Wabash campus for a light meal, storytelling and video presentations in the sanctuary.

One of the interesting things about Wabash is its rural setting. Despite having an Auburn address, the congregation has a decidedly Enumclaw makeup. One church elder estimates during any given service, about 80 percent of those in attendance hail from Enumclaw.

Sharon Smith and Sally Sharick have worked long hours delving into Wabash history and compiling a memory book that will soon be available.

Sharick, an Enumclaw resident, says her church “still has a bit of the flavor of the country.”

Smith agrees, noting, “there's not a lot of pomp and circumstance.”

“It's a ‘Little House on the Prairie' story in a way,” Sharick adds.

Over the course of a century, there are surely some interesting tales to tell.

Wabash Presbyterian earned its name simply because services were originally offered in the small, rural Wabash School. For decades, it was considered a “supply church” because the ministers who delivered Sunday sermons hailed from other churches; they would conclude a service in their own church, then head for Wabash, where they would preside over an afternoon service. A full-time pastor didn't come on board until 1979.

A central character in the Wabash history is Fred Garrett who was born in England, orphaned at a young age and forced to work for a cruel boss as a boy. He eventually ran away to Wales, married and moved to America, landing in the Newaukum area. He was one of the church founders and his involvement included more than a half-century as Sunday School superintendent. Wabash's Garrett Hall in named in his honor. Garrett died in 1958.

Land was donated, allowing the congregation to leave the schoolhouse, and the original church building was dedicated in 1912. Two Sunday School rooms were later added, along with a fellowship hall and the large sanctuary was first used in 1995.

Wabash didn't always experience growth and there were times when the Seattle Presbytery considered shutting the doors for good. It is generally accepted that five women - Phyllis Murray, Vivian Hall, Gina Berg, Marion Newman and Marguerite Alcorn - kept the church on its feet during the rough times.

Finally, it was the energetic work of a young lay pastor, Roger Brown, who really got the ball rolling. As a seminary student assigned to Wabash, he started going door-to-door throughout the rural neighborhood, spreading the word of the church in the country.

Brown's enthusiasm brought more people to the church, including young families. At one point, the crowd required three services on Sunday and one on Saturday night.

Attendance has leveled off, but the congregation remains solid and committed to the church in the country, the one about to begin its second century of service.

Kevin Hanson can be reached at khanson@courierherald.com.

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