Buckle up, hold on tight, and pray like crazy
(By Eva Stimson, Office of the General Assembly Communications). In the mid-1980s, Trinity Presbyterian Church in Tacoma, Washington, was on life support, and Olympia Presbytery had begun nudging the session to consider pulling the plug.
Drugs, crime, and gangs had infested the church’s deteriorating neighborhood. A handful of loyal members attended worship and struggled to maintain the church building.
“But something surprising happened,” says the church’s current pastor, Matt Robbins-Ghormley. “Resurrection happened.” As he describes it, the congregation went from being “on the brink of extinction” to becoming energized through mission in the community.
Last year, Trinity reported 375 “total adherents” (including active members, baptized members, and other regular attendees) and a gain of 19 new members. The number of children in the congregation has grown over the past decade from 30 to 130, and 70 adults are involved in Trinity’s ministries with children and youth.
“The people who have been here a while just shake their heads in amazement,” Robbins-Ghormley says.
One of those long-time members is 87-year-old Irene Orando, who joined the church in 1945. She has remained active in the congregation as it hit rock-bottom and bounced back again.
Orando recalls that once in the mid-1980s she was the only person to show up for Wednesday-night prayer meeting. As she waited hoping others would arrive, she looked around at all the church’s empty classrooms. Finally, she says, “I just stayed and prayed by myself—that we would have people here, that others would come.”
And gradually, the people began to come. Youth With a Mission began using Trinity as a base for outreach to the community. The energy for mission demonstrated by these teens inspired the tiny congregation.
“It was encouraging to us to have them here,” Orando says. “After they left, we thought, ‘What are we going to do now?’ So we got together a task force to see what we could do for the community.”
They came up with two ministries: a tutoring program, in partnership with nearby Bryant Elementary, and a weekly “soup & conversation” gathering to build relationships with people in the neighborhood. “We let people come in and tell us what their needs were,” Orando explains.