westminster ucc
Westminster congregants, along with the Rev. Bob Feeny (second from right), lay their hands on the church and pray to dedicate the new tower lights. / Photo by Karen Nielsen (Contributed)

Westminster UCC Lights Their Tower, Says to Spokane, ‘We’re Still Here’ & ‘You Are Welcome’


Westminster UCC Lights Their Tower, Says to Spokane, ‘We’re Still Here’ & ‘You Are Welcome’

This news story was made possible by contributions to FāVS from readers like you. Thank you.

News Story by Cassy Benefield

westminster ucc
Westminster UCC congregants gather together and sing “This Little Light of Mine” for the dedication of the new lit tower on February 21. / Photo by Luke Grayson-Skinner (SpokaneFāVS)

Singing “This Little Light of Mine,” a gathering of about 12 people participated in blessing the newly lit tower of Westminster United Church of Christ (UCC) last week.

The recently installed pastor, the Rev. Robert (Bob) Feeny, led the group by anointing and blessing the attendees’ hands — and the building — with oil. Afterward, he prayed the blessing over the new tower lights with all their hands laid upon the building.

Verne Windham, Westminster UCC’s music director, accompanied the celebration with his French horn.

And all who gathered celebrated the new lights inside the tower and their ability to communicate to the downtown Spokane community they are still there and do not plan on going anywhere.

“It’s really just wanting to be a more visible presence in Spokane, and, obviously, the tower does that in a literal way,” said Feeny. “But also this church has kind of doubled down on their commitment to be a downtown church and to really try to serve our neighbors and keep working with the agencies that are downtown.”

Since 1890, Westminster UCC has occupied the corner of Washington Street and West 4th Avenue and is known as the “Spokane’s oldest organized church.” Despite the building’s history, however, Feeny says the church’s theology exists more in the present.

“I think a lot of people that don’t know us would hear ‘the oldest church in Spokane’ and would think that we have the oldest theology in Spokane, which is very much not true,” he said. “I think we’re one of the more vibrant progressive churches in Spokane.”

The church’s recently updated website describes in more detail their philosophy of welcome.

“We are a community of Christians, and people who aren’t quite sure what they believe. We are queer and straight; our families take many shapes and configurations. We come from a variety of life experiences, and we welcome and celebrate a diversity of cultures and peoples. We welcome people who think like us, and people who disagree,” it reads.

Concluding with, “Who you are — just as you are, in all your complexity — matters to God. Come see, and be seen, for yourself.”

It is this “outward facing” and welcoming posture that has kept Randy Crowe in the UCC denomination, since it began in 1957 when his childhood Congregational denomination joined the Evangelical and Reformed Church and became the UCC.

“We’re a progressive church in Spokane, and there are not many progressive churches in Spokane,” said Crowe, retired director of N-Sid-Sen, a camp and retreat center of the Pacific Northwest Conference of the UCC. “And I’m proud of that. That’s why I stay a member of the church because the United Church of Christ has always stood for justice and justice issues.”

Crowe, and his wife, the Rev. Linda Crowe, who retired from the Veradale UCC, after pastoring it for nearly 18 years, were a couple of the biggest supporters of putting lights in the tower. They even shared the cost of the new LED-lighting system, which now offers them a choice of 1,800 colors and a way to light the tower to celebrate holidays, pride months and, for the next several days, the Lenten season, which is represented by the color purple.

The tower used to house a carillon of bells, that “quit working somewhere in the 70s,” says Randy Crowe. When the building needed reroofing about two years ago, the roofer wouldn’t guarantee the job with them still in the tower. Out they came, and the tower had been dark ever since.

From the freeway at night, the corner where the church stands looked “shockingly dark and it just looked dead,” Feeny says.

“If you weren’t familiar with this church, you would look at it (at night) and think that not much happens here,” he said.

But that’s not the case according to Feeny and many other local stories written about Westminster UCC and its ministries downtown over the years.

For example, in December 2018, SpokaneFāVS published a news story about Westminster UCC becoming a warming center for homeless young adults.

Another example, in May 2019, The Fig Tree published an article celebrating the church’s 140th year in the community by listing several ministries they had been involved in over the years, including supporting homeless women through Hope House and homeless youth through Crosswalk Youth Shelter and being charter members of the Spokane Alliance.

Randy Crowe and his wife, Linda, are excited about this new opportunity to shine their church’s light in Spokane.

“[Lighting the tower] just seemed like a way to say here we are, we’re alive and well. And welcome everyone,” said Randy Crowe. “You know, it doesn’t matter the color (of a person’s skin), [someone’s] sexuality or anything. We’re more than happy to have people come and join us. And it just seemed like it was a good way to say that to the community.”

This news story was made possible by contributions to FāVS from readers like you. Thank you.

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