This weekend, Whidbey Island’s oldest church and one of the oldest in the state, will celebrate 165 years of sermons.
Coupeville United Methodist Church will be holding a special service 11 a.m. Sunday where the church’s History Committee will describe aspects of the Coupeville church from its beginnings in the 1850s. A potluck lunch will be available immediately after the service in the fellowship hall.
Over the years, the church has grown and thrived.
Rebecca Ebey, wife of Col. Issac Ebey, is attributed with wanting to bring a church to the island, said history committee member Kay Foss. “We do consider her the catalyst, the person who initially wanted a church here.”
In her diary from 1852, Ebey wrote: “All around seems beautifully adorned in quiet serenity. No bustling crowd as in a city or town to mar our peaceful happiness. Although we have not towering churches, yet we can spend our time in training the young minds of our children in the principles of Christianity and creating within them a thirst for moral knowledge…”
Churches were important in a community, Foss said. It was Rebecca’s urging and her husband’s influence that brought her dream to fruition.
On April 22, 1853, Rebecca wrote that she learned two pastors were to arrive from Port Townsend that day and intended to preach that night.
The next day, the very first wedding was officiated, uniting Chloe Terry and Rueben L. Doyle.
Coupeville took the steps to formally establish and join the Methodist Ministry and monthly services began.
Sermons in the early days of the church were held in people’s homes.
“It was really important to them to have people lead them in services,” Foss said. “This was the only protestant church for a long, long time.”
“Families got used to coming here and their descendants still do.”
Rebecca Ebey died Sept. 20, 1853, the same year the church was established and hers was the first funeral held.
The church has been housed in several buildings and locations.
The first official church was built in 1859 out of logs and was located on the west side of Ebey’s Prairie, near where the high school and middle school now sit.
In 1871, a second church was built on land donated by Thomas and Maria Coupe. It had two rows of seats with a center aisle. Women sat on one side, men on the other.
In 1886, a new church was built in the location of the existing church on North Main Street.
Seven years later, a neighboring barn fire spread and burned the first church to the ground.
The congregation rallied and the church that stands today was rebuilt. It’s had some additions and renovations over the years, but the goals and focus of the congregation have remained steadfast.
“It’s always back to the community,” Foss said. “Because that’s what a church is for.
“For 165 years, we’ve helped people, done what we could in the community based on what we learned in the church.”