[updated May 6] This past Sunday, Quest also voted in favor of merging with our neighbors, Interbay Covenant Church. Two weeks ago, Interbay – an older, established church with 65 years of history, voted to merge with Quest – a newer [6 years], emerging, multiethnic, and missional church. The ”merger” is amazing because while two equal churches are coming together, Interbay has chosen to join Quest and dissolve as a formal organization and institution. Their Kingdom vision has been humbling and amazing…
My wife and I hosted our first “info” meeting for our churchplant in December 2000. Eight people showed up. Quest had our first weekly community study in January 2001 and met for several months at the Seattle Vineyard Church. Because Vineyard was planning on starting an evening service, we were forced to move but could not find another church with space. During the last hour, we were introduced to Interbay Covenant Church – in a neighborhood called Interbay which neither I nor any of the 30 Questers at that time had ever heard of.
We rented their building from 2001-2002 and held our service in the evenings at 5.07pm. We inquired with them about the possibility of renovating their small warehouse [next door] that they used to utilize for their youth ministry in the 1970s-80s. After an amazing and quick turnaround [from this to this], that warehouse became our current live music venue, non-profit Q Cafe, and our church space in Oct. 2002. Simply, God has blessed Quest…[5 year video]
About 2.5 years ago, Interbay’s senior pastor, Ray Bartel, approached me about a vision. The idea surrounded a radical vision for Interbay to ‘give itself’ to Quest. It began as a thought, then a conversation, and then led to shared prayer. We eventually shared the thought with our respective leadership teams and it stayed there for a long time and eventually, with support from the respective leadership, was posed to the larger church communities for dialogue, prayer, and conversation this past year.
There are 3 things [amongst many] that make this an incredible story.
- An amazing commitment to the Larger Kingdom. The average size church in Seattle is about 80 people. Interbay is averaging about 60 adults and 10 children. They basically had no debt and were financially stable; While the long term future of Interbay was uncertain, it was very obvious that they could have been around for several more years. Who knows? There are many churches that can’t fully grasp that even churches (small ‘c’) have a life cycle as well; they try hanging on till the very end and are usually forced to make decisions with their backs against the wall. Developers are often hawking for the opportunity to pummel down church buildings to build up condos, high-rises, retail shops, and such. Once the larger Kingdom loses property and building, it’ll never come back. Folks at Interbay have said on numerous occasions: “What we want is to see, above all, is a vibrant and thriving church presence in this area and to Seattle…That’s what matters to us.” This is Kingdom vision.
- An amazing step of faith. Like all works of God, there are stories of amazing faith in the history of Interbay. The ministry at Interbay began about 65 years ago. A man named Henry Isaacson purchased the land and handed it over to First Covenant Church Seattle. FCC eventually deeded the property to Interbay – a churchplant of FCC that was ‘officially’ established on Easter Sunday, 1954. 53 years of amazing history. People like Carl and Inga Hagstrom have literally used their very hands to build the church – physically and metaphorically. I had the pleasure of speaking with Inga recently and was moved to near tears to hear her love for Jesus and the church. There are stories like Elsa Olson who was given a ‘temporary’ Sunday School class of 2 and 3 year olds. That temporary job lasted 24 years and the current [and future] nursery, Elsa’s Garden, is named after Elsa. During the early years, the children’s ministry grew to about 200 children; in the 1970s-80s, Interbay was the hub for a vibrant youth ministry. We still have occasional customers at our non-profit Q Cafe reminiscing how their lives were impacted by their youth ministry in the same space many years ago. Nobody likes change. It is difficult; it takes courage; it takes faith. This is an amazing story of faith.
- An amazing example of generosity. While this is a ‘merger,’ Interbay is giving a great deal as they have chosen to join Quest. In this merger, they will relinquish their church institution – their name, their leadership team, their constitution, and simply, their ‘ways of doing things.’ A well discussed ‘Transition Plan’ will be implemented to ensure that the most important asset in any church community – the people – will not be forgotten or hurt. All of their assets and stuff will also be given to the unifed Quest. While their church building isn’t large, the value of the land and building is astronomical as is everything in Seattle. The building/land – valued at approximately 8 million – will also be passed on to Quest. This is amazing generosity.
While the vote was near unanimous for Interbay and much excitement, it should be noted that there’s some pain and a sense of loss for the folks at Interbay. It’s understandable. Some grieving will need to take place. But it is both my personal and our church’s sincere hope and conviction that the sense of ‘loss’ will be redeemed by the abundant fruit of shared community, vision, and ministry. We’re not naive; we know there is going to be some adjustment for both churches. While we share similarities, we are also two very different churches. I am most excited about the privilege we have of growing together. Their stories, wisdom, and gifts will be a great blessing not only to Quest but in our shared commitment to be a missional presence to Seattle and the larger world.
I am sharing this story not only to inform those who are tracking with this story, but as one way to honor the community and legacy of Interbay. Their story, courage and faith, sacrifice, and legacy needs to be shared with others. Feel free to forward this story to others and since some of the folks at Interbay subscribe to this blog, share how their faith, courage, and Kingdom vision has blessed you.
Interbay: Thank you for your amazing faith and courage!