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Mercer Island Covenant Church enjoys rich history on the Island | Mercerversary
“Go west, young man, go west!” Those seemed to be the words that Bud Palmberg was hearing over and over at age 31. The Pastoral Search Committee of the tiny Mercer Island Covenant Church had repeatedly contacted him in 1966. The church had begun in 1951 as a Sunday School in the home of Lester Seed on North Mercer Way. Later, services were held at the VFW Hall, until the lot where the Mercer Island Post Office is now located was purchased in 1954 for $4,500. The Fireside Chapel was built at the post office site, and with almost all-volunteer labor, the cost was just $8,500.
By 1959, with denominational assistance, the entire four-block area from S.E. 32nd Street to S.E. 34th Street and 78th Avenue S.E. to 80th Avenue S.E. was purchased. The Fireside Chapel was moved across S.E. 32nd Street to the 80th Avenue S.E. corner. A small sanctuary seating 110 (now Hansen Hall) and a lower level with classrooms and a pastor’s office were added. The total cost of property and construction was approximately $70,000. The additional land to the south was eventually sold for the present medical clinic and condominiums.
We were in our fifth year at the Covenant Church in Kewanee, Ill., and enjoying our life there. This was where our two children, Jeff and Chrisi, were born. However, by April of 1967, we were headed to Washington. Bud, his dad and “Useless,” our lovable mutt, were in Bud’s little 1963 red Cutlass convertible. His mother, the children and I were following behind in my Nash Rambler station wagon, “Mabel.” There were adventures along the way ... a stop at Pioneer Village in Minden, Neb., a rodeo at Cody, Wyo., and then a broken down Cutlass in Cascade Falls, Ore. At that point, we had to leave the car to be repaired and crowd into the station wagon for the final few hours.
Arriving a day earlier than planned, we surprised Polly Lindberg, Nancy Dings and Mary Dawson. The three were cleaning the only A-frame house in Mercerdale for our welcome to Mercer Island. At that time, this was a “parsonage” owned by the church for the use of its pastor families.
Our little family was warmly welcomed by the approximately 40 members of the church that first May 1967 Sunday. We sensed a wonderful enthusiasm. There was an optimistic look to the future and camaraderie among this small group of people.
We were thrilled to realize that our home was located only three blocks from the church property. In addition, the Mercerdale Island Club (swimming pool) was, as we figured, 200 steps from our front door. The clubhouse was the present Thrift Shop; where there is now a parking lot, there was once a swimming pool. Bud would walk home in the late afternoon and join me with our then 4- and 2-year-olds for swimming fun. We lived in that house for three years and loved that summer lifestyle. Mercerdale Park, at that time, was a huge bare piece of property, and Bud would take the children there to fly a kite right across 78th Avenue S.E. from the church. In the winter, whenever snow came, we would take our sleds up the S.E. 34th Street hill.
By 1972, the Sunday worship services were overflowing the original church sanctuary, and closed circuit TV was being used in another room of the church building. It was time to build a new worship facility on the corner of 78th Avenue S.E. and S.E. 32nd Street. Mercer Island resident and member of the church, Bill Polk, of Waldron and Pomeroy, was chosen to be the architect. It was dedicated on Mother’s Day, 1974. A former pastor, Robert Larson, returned from Chicago to be the guest preacher.
After living in Kewanee for only five years, we were not expecting that our Mercer Island experience would be much different. Yet, our growing congregation was made up of people who had a great desire to “live out their faith.” They were sharing their faith with friends, inviting those who did not have church affiliations to visit on Sundays or come along to social events. Almost every Sunday, a growing group of people gathered at the Royal Fork Buffet (where the present state liquor store is now located) for lunch, and friendships were deepened.
It was during these years and into the 1980s that the church began sponsoring scores of Southeast Asian refugees, and many came into the fellowship through children’s classes and an ESL Bible class for adults on Sunday mornings.
In the early spring of 1993, the International Church of Lucerne, Switzerland, was pursuing us to “come over and help.”
It was difficult to leave Mercer Island and the fruitful ministry which God had blessed us with.
We trusted that God would continue to use this ministry for the good of the Island.