Since the dawn of humanity, human beings have been religious creatures. From polytheism, henotheism and Zoroastrianism in ancient times, to monotheism and the related Christian, Jewish and Islamic religions that are largely practiced today, religion fills a need for people that other life experiences cannot.
While Seattle is statistically more secular than the rest of the country, churches in Queen Anne and Magnolia run strong, largely from congregants’ reported sense of feeling nurtured and fulfilled.
To grow in faith
“What people love most about the Queen Anne Christian Church is the tangible feeling of love,” said pastor Laurie Rudel. “People comment that they sense the spirit of God in this place as we gather to worship. This congregation is open to questions about the faith and God — they desire to learn and grow in their faith.”
Furthermore, people yearn for something bigger than themselves, Rudel said.
Congregants feel the church “is a place where the piece of God that resides in each of us is tenderly held, nurtured and challenged to burn as brightly as it can, radiating into all facets of our lives,” Rudel said. “The rays from our light reaches far beyond [the church] walls.”
Thirty-five to 55 people typically attend the Queen Anne Christian Church every Sunday; another 30 or so are part of the church but don’t attend worship regularly, Rudel said.
The church prides itself in accommodating young children.
“Everyone here opens their arms and their hearts so freely to the children,” Rudel said. “They feel loved and appreciated, like they truly belong.”
While many religious followers tend to lean conservative on social and political issues, many of Seattle’s worshippers are also liberal, which is not a problem for several Queen Anne and Magnolia religious institutions.
“Our liturgy is deeply prayerful and is a rich experience for the senses — incense, chanting, silence and stillness, vestments, standing, kneeling, wonderful preaching and a real sense of community,” said Rector Melissa Skelton of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Queen Anne.
The church attracts approximately 225 people every Sunday across its four services. Skelton said the congregation will soon triple in size, compared to its population seven years ago.
“[Congregants most enjoy] our Anglo-Catholic liturgy and spirituality, the diversity of our community and the way children are included,” she said.
Religion-less in Seattle
According to a Glenmary Research Center survey published in “2002 Congregations and Membership in the United States 2000,” Seattle’s residents are significantly more secular than U.S. residents as a whole.
Also according to the survey, 50.2 percent of U.S. residents are members of a religious congregation, whereas only 37.3 percent of Seattle residents are.
Of the Seattle residents who are religious, 45 percent affiliate with an unspecified religious belief or congregation, while 43 percent belong to the Catholic Church, 6 percent are members of the LDS (Mormon) Church and 5 percent affiliate with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.
Other affiliations include the Presbyterian Church, Assemblies of God, United Methodist Church, Episcopal Church, Charismatic Churches Independent and non-Charismatic Churches Independent — all claiming less than 5 percent of Seattle’s religious residents.
According to Seattle religion writer/blogger Timothy Berman, Protestantism is the dominant religion among Seattle residents of European ancestry. The Roman Catholic population is also large due to the Eastern European immigrant community.
The city also has a relatively large Jewish community, whose presence in the city dates to the 1860s. The first Jewish congregation began in 1889, according to Berman, and the city’s first synagogue was built in 1892.
A significant proportion of Seattle residents profess no religion. One-sixth to one-fourth are reportedly atheists, agnostics or otherwise unaffiliated.
James K. Wellman Jr., associate professor and chair of the comparative religion program at the University of Washington, said Seattle’s large atheistic and agnostic population is to be expected.
“There is a tendency is for people to drop their affiliations as they fly across the Cascades — quite literally pulling up roots, away from family and starting over,” he said. “They say, ‘Hey, let's just start a new life in the Pacific Northwest,’ which doesn't include religious affiliations.”
Wellman also said Seattle’s religion scene lacks the diversity of most cities, due to the homogenous nature of resident makeup of fewer minorities and more Caucasians.
“We have more ‘no religion’ folks than most in the country — around 20 to 25 percent — and interestingly about the same number of evangelicals [also implying little religious diversity],” he said.
The number of Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist followers in Seattle is statistically insignificant, but many communities exist. Wellman said the city’s relatively large Jewish population — compared to other Jewish communities — could be due to Seattle’s startups, education and business community, factors that typically attract Jews to cities.
While clergy acknowledge Seattle’s smaller religious constituency, many say they are not worried.
“I don’t trouble myself too much about the lack of religious culture in Seattle, “ Rudel said. “My sense is that the Church… is to live out God’s dream for the world. Regardless of belief or non-belief, everyone has a part to play in creating a more just and peaceful world.”