One of the oldest churches in Tacoma

First Presbyterian Church located in the Stadium district on 20 Tacoma Avenue South in Tacoma has been in existence since 1925. The church has an interesting history. According to the church’s website, the masterpiece of the Romanesque architecture, was designed by famous church architect Ralph Adams Cram, and is rich in Christian symbolism expressed in stone, wood, glass and mosaic. Many of the church’s current ministries and activities have roots in the past. In 1946, the church acquired Camp McCullough. Today this 40-acre lakefront conference center near Kent, Washington, has developed into an importance center for Christian training, retreats, and summer camps. Many young people continue to grow in faith and leadership ability as they work there as counselors and staff members.

In 1969, a Christian preschool was started at the church. The First Presbyterian Church School now enrolls nearly 300 children in preschool through grade five with a focus on a “Christian classical” approach to education. The current head of the school is Dr. Jim Thoburn.
Karen Ackerson, Senior Ministry Coordinator for 12 years, expressed what she thought of the church, “I’ve been a member since I was 11 years old and my mom worked here for over 40 years. I started working here in 1999 and it’s a great fit; the gift God has given me to use it here. My mom loved kids so she enjoyed children’s ministry and we have a camp Mc Cullough out in Covington (camps during year mostly during summer when church isn’t using it’s rented to outside groups: exchange students, other churches that don’t have camps, it’s just been a real ministry that’s real separate from here, but we’re all working together.)

She shared what she believed is the best thing about the church, “I think it would be community, a sense of family, and there’s caring.” Karen explained how the First Presbyterian Church is unique compared to other churches, “We’re conservative; our pastor preaches out the word of God. Our mission statement is, “to glorify God by serving our neighbors, upholding biblical truth and growing in Christ together.” And so with that mission statement, we have over 300 children in our school…outreach most of families that go to the school don’t go to church so that’s a mission feel to get them involved in our church community. Our camp hears about God and then join youth group; those are two outreach [programs]. I think we have a long tradition of 120 people that are over the age of 75 that are still active in our church, lots of new babies in the nurseries, a real good mix of all the different ages. Sometimes your older churches just have older people we have a real good mix of all ages.”

Karen discussed the meetings, events, and programs that the church offers, “We have two services on Sunday, one at 8:28 [am] and Sunday school for all ages at 9:50 [our 11:00 service more traditional with the organ and singing hymns the services are both of the same but the style is a little different…8:28 [am] is more contemporary; hour long services. During fall Wednesday nights we have a program dinner at 6 pm and classes that start at 7 pm. We have new membership classes that meet once a quarter if you’re interested in becoming a member (join church new membership classes once a quarter taught by senior and associate pastor) and elders that come in and answer questions. Youth group is Sunday night.

Every Wednesday night after dinner at 7 pm, there’s adult classes and classes for youth. We have a really good bell choir practice from 7 pm to 8 pm and a chancel choir and that’s at the 11 service. And see along with the organist, more the traditional choir. We have a hand bell choir and they practice on Wednesday and they in turn go to different nursing homes and play for the people there. We have vacation bible school in the summer over 120 kids at there, they come from all over and it’s a weeklong [for children in kindergarten through 5th grade].

Youth group is middle school and high school great youth group director his name is Alaistar.
Christmas we have Advent breakfast the first Saturday of December. A breakfast and a craft that has a wreath (5 Sundays in advent that get you ready for Christmas Eve) concert is open to the public the first Sunday of the month at 3 pm in December. Large candlelight service Christmas Eve at 7 pm; 900 to 1000 people that come. End of service light all candles, absolutely gorgeous (everybody gets one) so whole sanction is filled with candle light, it’s pretty…pretty amazing.

Easter we have a Seder meal (Jewish meal chicken leg represents body of Christ) and we have a Maundy-Thursday (like last supper Christ has with his disciples) we usually have that in preparation for Easter. We have a Good Friday when Christ is crucified on Christ and Easter Service. We do an Easter brunch and 11, one service.”

Karen discussed how associate pastor Becci Curtis has worked at the First Presbyterian church for a year and a month and is currently at the church’s high school camp. Eric Jacobsen is the church’s senior pastor and has worked at the church for four and a half years.

Karen recommends, “Anyone who wants to be in the body of Christ and listen to the word of God preached.” She recommends her family and friends as well, “It’s the sense of family, sense of unity sometimes you have people that church jump but a family you stay and you work it out. There’s the connection, I’ve been here since I was 11 years old; this is my family.”

Lisa Starks, Director of Church Operations has been working at the church for two years, “Oh love it; it’s a fabulous job. I have great employees.” The best thing about the church, “Everyone has a heart for the Lord. All the staff members wanna serve,” Lisa commented.

Lisa discussed how the church was different than others, “I’ve never worked at a church where there’s a lot of older people that are very involved the young and old people is really neat to see the volunteerism that goes on here. The lady that volunteers here now sits at front desk and volunteer and her kids work here (used to work at the camp). People grow up here and their children attend here and end up being volunteers and working in some capacity I think that’s so kinda unusual.

Camps in the summer we host vacation bible school kicks off our summer then beginner camp (grades kindergarten through second), middle school camp grades 6 through 8, junior camp is grades second through fifth), high school camp grades 9 through 12. Dinner at the church is fall until May. Private Christian school first Presbyterian school grades pre kindergarten through fifth.” Lisa recommends, “Anybody who is seeking Christ…looking for a better relationship with Christ. It offers everything not just the meals and retreats, the classes there’s a lot. This place is busy in fall classes going on a retreat going on a very busy place.” She recommends her family and friends, “Oh yes because we have the morning service and more younger and like guitar music and more traditional service at 11 am and a service for anybody. The pastor who’s my boss is awesome he’s a very relational person he’s transparent which is so important.”

Marie Hayden, a Historian who has worked at the church since 1951 revealed, “We love it (our whole family) it’s a great family church. The friendliness of the people, the connectedness between all the families and the different programs we have in the church.” She shared the best thing about the church, “I think the people you know you can have a beautiful building and it doesn’t mean anything but if the people aren’t friendly, outgoing, inclusive (trying to get people involved) so you get a beautiful building, if the building fell down in an earthquake, we’d still have a church because of the people in the church.”

Marie shared how the church was different than others, “It’s unique that it’s one of the oldest churches in Tacoma and a lot of people that began this church started other programs in the church in 1925 when we built this bldg. the church underway 11 Sunday schools in Tacoma. And of those 11 Sunday schools a lot of them became other Presbyterian churches because we would send our adults to go work at that area and they all became churches in their own right and those people brought their memberships to those churches, which is what you wanna do is get so big and can’t possibly have everyone here in one church. This was built for about 2,000 people at that time we had 2500 adults and how many children? At that time that was absolutely huge so that’s why we had all those Sunday schools and each of those families had three, four kids. So, always been a church with outreach.”

Marie discussed her favorite event at the church, “One of my favorite program is the camp program husband and I worked for so long and the choir, and the Sunday school it just has a great outreach to people. The camp is a chance to use your young people then we train them to work at camp (middle to high school) kitchen staff, counselor in training, counselor when college age, lifeguard, use their skills and develop as a person.”

When asked who Marie recommends to attend the church, Marie replied, “I would tell anybody because I think we’re a friendly church, it caters to all ages whether nursery or 80 years old programs all over and lots of opportunities to volunteer. Our whole family has volunteered our whole life and a normal thing; I think it encourages other people to get involved.”
Marie recommends her family and friends to attend the church, “Oh absolutely, we have a couple Sunday schools and family barbecue outside (last Friday night) in courtyard. We have a Wednesday night that caters to all ages, bible studies, youth group, bell choirs (huge bell choir program meets wed. nights) , and we also have our senior choir, programs for children up through fifth grade a Wednesday night program open to anybody don’t have to be member of the church take part in any part.”

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Marie commented, “It’s a wonderful thing to be a part of history, to know that there are so many people that have come to this church in the past that are staunch Christians that were members before and are still carrying on.” Karen added, “John 3:16 for God so love the world that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him, shall no perish but have eternal life [verse out of the Bible].” Lisa concluded, “I don’t feel like I work, I feel it’s a calling, I love what I do.”

By: Carly Calabrese, staff for

2 thoughts on “One of the oldest churches in Tacoma”

  1. Sounds like a beautiful and historical place.I know it takes money to keep such places in great shape. Every town needs to keep such special places in tact for generations to enjoy.

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