By the beginning of the 20th century, Seattle’s Alaska Gold Rush profits and notoriety were being transformed into a new urban center with modern amenities: a beautiful parks system, good schools, modern public utilities, and—churches. Tens of thousands of newcomers were arriving every year, and the leader of the region’s missionary Episcopal Church had taken note of the home-building boom underway along Seattle’s church-less Lake Washington shoreline. In 1907 he persuaded a group of men to start a Sunday school in the back of a Madrona neighborhood grocery store. From that small beginning, a lively Christian community grew into Epiphany, evolving with its city over more than 100 years.
It took only a few months for the little mission to attract supporters living nearby. Land for the building was donated by the developers of the upscale Denny-Blaine neighborhood immediately to the north of Madrona. A young member of the congregation, Illinois-born architect Ellsworth Storey, was selected to design the building, now a City of Seattle Landmark and used today as Epiphany’s chapel. On August 13, 1911, the congregation bid farewell to the grocery and held its first services in their unfinished new brick church’s basement. Less than a year later, in April 1912, the building was complete and Epiphany’s financial strength moved it from a mission to full, self-sustaining parish status.
GROWTH AND OUTREACH
During World War I Epiphany became a secular as well as a religious center, with the church used for city public health lectures, as the neighborhood’s polling place, and as a base for a Boy Scout troop. Throughout the 1920s and ’30s, Seattle’s growth leveled off as economic times worsened, but not at Epiphany. In 1921, the parish’s continued expansion made it possible to build a rectory (now the church office building), also designed by Ellsworth Storey, as a home for its priest and his family. During that era, Epiphany sponsored missions to the rural areas east of Lake Washington that later grew into Episcopal parishes in Kirkland and on Mercer Island.
World War II created a new boom as military, airplane factory, and shipyard employment drew tens of thousands of new workers and their families to Seattle. A young rector, Elmer Christie, called Epiphany to new projects to meet that growth and, in 1940, the Depression-minded congregation surprised itself by raising the funds to build a parish hall for assemblies and Sunday School classrooms. This would make it possible to start a parish elementary school in 1958. Epiphany School, now an independent, non-sectarian elementary, continues adjacent to the church, occupying its own facilities.
In the first decade after the war, Seattle’s population continued to grow and change, and Epiphany’s congregation grew with it, adding a larger brick church building facing onto East Denny Way in 1951. It sponsored another Episcopal mission in the urbanizing area north of the city. Then the neighborhood’s location placed it in the midst of racial turmoil. Epiphany in the 1960s and ’70s found itself taking initiatives to reach out to neighborhood minority youth, seeking diversity in its membership, and leading the way for sexual equality in the region’s Episcopal Church by ordaining the first woman priest in the Diocese of Olympia.
In the decades that have followed, Epiphany has undertaken outreach initiatives that include social service in both Seattle and on mission trips to Guatemala, as well as a major upgrade of its historic buildings, the installation of a magnificent Noak pipe organ built specifically for its space, and ecumenical services conducted in cooperation with neighboring churches in Madrona. The church also added a columbarium in the chapel garden. Today, under the leadership of the Rev. Doyt Conn, Epiphany is a Christian community that welcomes people wherever they may be on their spiritual journey.