I Find in Pullman’s Trinity Lutheran Church an Immersive Experience
Commentary by Michael Banks
My friend Susan Swan spoke very highly of Trinity Lutheran Church (TLC) located just off of the Washington State University campus nestled gently at the top of NE Lybecker Road in Pullman.
She was a retired WSU history professor, and in her more active days, she spent many a Sunday at TLC. The congregation was started in 1926 at the request of Washington State college students who wanted a Lutheran place to worship.
The location of the church moved over the decades, settling in 1964 to its location today. They have a warm, uniquely angular-shaped building with lots of thick lumber beams and some really gorgeous stained-glass windows above the perimeter where the pastor abides during service and the Communion of bread and wine are given to the congregation.
There is also a circular labyrinth outside used for meditative purposes, and a ‘columbarium’ at the entrance of the labyrinth, which is a stone wall with niches for funeral urns and ashes of the souls passed.
The Church’s Outreach
The congregation reaches out to help those in need with a curbside pantry, which needs restocking several times during the week.
The church, with the help of Libby Walker, also hosts a program for Ukrainian refugees along with the State Department. They have raised over $7,000 to assist arriving families in Pullman. That is exciting and fitting, giving them assistance with lodging, supplies and work opportunities. It is very positive and helpful in the community.
The Church’s Interior
The unusual and angular pipe organ that inhabits the rear of the central church room was built in 1968 and was brought in from another Lutheran church in Pasco in 2001. It still has a minimalistic character to it, and it fits the style of the place nicely.
The stained-glass windows circling all the way around the room tell a unique story.
They were custom-made by artist Catherine Cross, and are called, “Flight of the Spirit.” Cross donated hundreds of hours of her time and the glass used was financed by the church.
They symbolize the calendar year with colors of swirling ribbons throughout signifying the seasons of the church. These seasons move through Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter and, finally, the long season of Pentecost.
It depicts the birth of Christ, his life, the crucifixion, the burial and the resurrection, all in beautifully simple symbols. It is a lovely sunlit room and very soothing to be in.
The Church’s Services
And the services too, are unique.
They begin with the Rev. Wesley Howell (Pastor Wes) doing a lesson for the children. It’s usually something fun and interactive like a race of some type, and, when finished, all the kids inevitably win a prize of some sort, such as stickers, etc., to reward them for their participation. The point always ties into the Bible story for the day and prepares the adults to hear and learn, too.
Then, there is a gathering hymn, with sheet music distributed beforehand so everyone is singing together. It is extremely beautiful and calming, unlike many modern churches that play worship songs with full bands. This experience draws you in as the arrangements are simple with piano or pipe-organ accompaniment.
Then, there is a lesson with Scripture, given by the pastor, followed by the choir singing another hymn. With very smooth transitions between music and speaking, it all flows effortlessly and puts one at ease to be there.
The Church’s Demographic
Most of the congregation has been there for some time with people of Nordic, Finnish, Danish, Norwegian and Swiss ancestry, as well as newer imports from Uganda, Philippines, France and more weaved in.
And oh, the lovely hand-knit, Nordic-style sweaters, which Susan had many of, are worn by many of the folks there during the colder weather seasons. It is truly charming.
The Church’s Care of My Friend Susan
When Susan was in hospice at my home in December of last year, three of the choir ladies came out in the cold weather and sang for Susan in her room. They did about six angelic hymns. It was the most magical and sacred thing I’ve ever witnessed in a home, and it made Susans’ difficult situation very holy.
I will never forget that as long as I live.
A few days after the choir’s visit, Pastor Wes came in full cleric attire, equipped with the bread and wine sacraments for Susan, so she could have Communion one last time. This was also a special, uniquely holy event, which we were so very grateful for.
It was an extension of the church, and the simplicity and innocence of these moments struck a chord in my very soul. It made that Christmas one I will never, ever forget and always cherish.
The Ending of a Church Service and the Seat Next to Me
The service continues with another shared hymn for all to sing, then the Lord’s Prayer and finally the offering of Holy Communion of bread and wine. The bread is rustic, soft, yeasty and very tasty. The wine is real Port, which can be a little intense at 11 a.m. on a Sunday!
But the services are truly special. They end with a final prayer, a benediction, and a sending hymn.
As people shuffle out, returning hymn books, there is usually a table with coffee and snacks, and everyone stands around the lobby and chats for a bit, before heading back out to the very serious real world outside.
Still, it’s comforting to know, that for a few hours, we can sit close to God.
And, I know that in the chair next to me, sits Susan, in her angelic robe and wings, and I hope she is proud of me for being there, as I am so proud to have called her my friend. I’m so grateful to her for all the good things she showed me in her time here.