Fauntleroy church at 'Centennial Milepost'

Environmentalist Judy E. Pickens might be known by area residents for her stewardship and restoration efforts of Fauntleroy Creek, but the West Seattle author is also getting recognition for her new book.

The book is Guided By the Light, Fauntleroy Church at the Centennial Milepost. Her husband, Phillip Sweetland, helped gather church archives, photos, and did some pre-press scanning of the materials.

Pickens recently gave a lecture to residents at The Kenney near the present-day church. Most attending were Fauntleroy Church members. Some were quoted in her book. Pickens and her audience shared memories of life in Fauntleroy during a bygone era.

In her book, generously sprinkled with historic photos of Fauntleroy, Pickens uses light as an ongoing metaphor for its "Spirit, God, the Divine," she wrote. It began with "a pillar of light that guided the Israelites in their flight from Egypt." The light followed to the "Fauntleroy church founders who worshipped on the beach by bonfire," to the "lanterns that lit the rustic chapel" and finally to the stained-glass windows around the sanctuary door "that cast light on all those who enter."

Vespers by bonfire began in 1905 on the beach property of Laurence and Ida May Burwell Coleman. They had a 17-acre summer home on the Fauntleroy Cove waterfront. Two years later the streetcar came, enabling more people to settle the area. As a result of the desire of the new families to attend a local church, the enterprising founders made history, and on July 25, 1908, the "Little Brown Church" was built in one day. Officially the Fauntleroy Chapel, it was located near the Fauntleroy Creek Ravine, on California Avenue east of the pier. It seated 100.

Pickens' book included an account of that evening written by one of its founders, William Sawyer. "Women brought a wonderful dinner, which the hungry hordes of men ate off of tables made by placing boards on bundles of shingles. Scraps of food...were gobbled up by bears that made their home in the gulch."

Pickens relied heavily both on church archives, and memories of living members for facts and anecdotes. "With personal interviews I got some wonderful stories, but also some questionable, conflicting recollections, so I did not use hearsay in the book," she said.

A lot was written about church curmudgeon, Margaret, a.k.a. "Granny" or "Ma" Muller.

"When I asked people about church characters, Granny Muller took the prize," said Pickens. Pickens quoted Robert Hamlin, Jr., whose father joined the church in 1912. He wrote of Granny, "Her voice would make a ghost jump. If that didn't work, she wouldn't hesitate to reach out and belt you in the back of the head...and she could be the kindest person in the world." A young widow, she raised a family during the Depression, which is why people today say she was feisty and independent.

"We are fortunate that some of our late members, like Sawyer, and Agnes Gray Galbraith, wrote essays, first person accounts, just for the church archives," said Pickens.

The book visits World War II's effect on the church, including its publication for area soldiers and their loved ones, "Little Brown News," and, prior to the present-day church being built, the 1949 earthquake.

Kinney resident, Beth Morse, 101, attended Pickens' lecture. In the book she recalled where she was during the earthquake, preparing lunch in the old dining hall, with its big timbers overhead. Reverend Alpheus Lusk told her not to run, but to stay under the sturdy logs, and she did, until the earthquake was over. She recalled that the reverend said, "Stay there! It's a good tall timber! Stay where you can be protected!"

Morse, who, at the lecture, said she "was born in a wheat field near Wenatchee," recalled her fondness for The Rev. Mary K. McKee, who held that post from 1935-1945.

"She had a hard time finding a church to accept a minister who was a woman," said Morse. "I didn't think there was anything awful about it. She was wonderful."

Long-time Fauntleroy Church member and Kenney resident, Muriam Puffert shared a memory at the lecture.

"My husband and I were just engaged, in 1954, and driving around and saw those beautiful rhododendrons which inspired us to go into the church." She said the architect, Robert Durham, was simply a church member and did not yet have "the reputation." She recalled, "After designing Fauntleroy Church, he gained national notice."

Charlette Sedgely also recalled the flowers blooming on Easter.

"I remember this beautiful red rhododendron in bloom outside the window, and this storm came up and made a tremendous sound. It was so wonderful, so appropriate for that time of year."

Pickens is now filming a 30-minute documentary, to be completed by mid-July.

"It looks at the neighborhood from beginning," she said. "We're now getting McMansions. One built nearby has been empty for many months. They are building a lot of townhouses, those blessed little clusters. In the film we want to talk about that, and how do you nurture community as it becomes increasingly urban."

While the shaping of the future of Fauntleroy seems to be getting out of control, Pickens is doing what she can to preserve the past. "We're handling memories with great care," she said.

Steve Shay may be contacted at steves@robinsonnews.com

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