Though Urban Grace has only been around for a handful of years, our roots lie in First Baptist Church which was founded in 1883.
“…and the old church was swayed to and fro like a giant oak in a storm; but its roots had taken such fast hold on the Rock of Ages that it could not be uprooted. “ – John Clapp Baker, Baptist History of the North Pacific Coast commenting on First Baptist of Tacoma, now Urban Grace
In the fall of 1882, Rev. J.C. Baker wrote to Joseph W. Beaven of Victoria, British Columbia asking him to go to Tacoma and open up the work there. He responded. On March 28, 1883 in Pincus and Packsheer’s Hall on Pacific Avenue, then the only graded street in town, The First Baptist Church of New Tacoma–Washington Territory was organized. Since that time, thousands have entered the doors at 9th and D Streets (now Market). The congregations found here have always had an acute sense of mission to God, the church, and the city.*
At its high point, the congregation oversaw the construction of our current building at 9th and Market from 1923-1925 and the growth from 450 members in 1920 to 2,390 members in 1931. Throughout its history, the church has supported other Baptist churches, programs lending support to Japanese immigrants, Service Members during wartime, senior citizens, and the city’s homeless, to name just a few. First Baptist flourished throughout the mid-20th century, but amidst the socioeconomic decline downtown Tacoma faced in the 1970s, they also faced a decision. Would they stay or would they go? As many of the city’s wealthy residents moved to the suburbs, First Baptist foresaw the struggle they would face should they remain in their current location, but their commitment was to downtown Tacoma and to the vision of their spiritual ancestors who built a grand church to serve the neighborhood.
As a result, the congregation stayed and faced many lean years. Ultimately, First Baptist was unable to survive, but the dedication of the members to serving in the heart of Tacoma culminated in a radical and courageous reincorporation as Urban Grace-The Downtown Church in 2005, an interdenominational, ecumenical church drawing from their rich Baptist heritage as well as other denominational traditions. The commitment of these longtime members, alongside the infusion of new congregants in the last ten years, has resulted in a diverse congregation that carries on First Baptist’s missional legacy.
- The first church building used by First Baptist Church of New Tacoma in 1883 was rented for $10/month (which was also the salary of the first pastor, Rev. Joseph Beaven).
- One ton of coal was purchased for the church in 1889 at $6.75.
- On one Sunday in 1930, Rev. C.O. Johnson baptized 64 people in the same baptismal pool that people get baptized in today.
*Much of this information was gathered from Fifty Eight Years On A Corner 1883 – 1941 by Mrs. Inez Denny Brandt.
Our historic building was built in 1925.