St. Peter’s, Seattle

Written in 2010

The love of God calls St. Peter’s to invite all people to a life of faith through worship, education, service, and spiritual development.

Christianity was introduced to Japan by Francis Xavier in 1549 (the year of the First Book of Common Prayer).  For 250 years, Christians were persecuted and executed.  In 1859, Channing Moore Williams, an Episcopal priest, ushered in the present era of Christian Missions in Japan.

Among the Japanese immigrating to Washington State in the late 1800s was Gennosuke Shoji, confirmed in 1893 by Bishop John McKim, direct successor to Bishop Williams.  Shoji was to become the first vicar of St. Peter’s Church in Seattle. 

In Seattle on Trinity Sunday, 1908, Evening Prayer was read in Japanese for the first time with five men guided by Asian scholar Herbert Henry Gowen, rector of Trinity Parish.  “Trinity Mission to the Japanese” began in two rented rooms.  In 1912, the work was assumed by the diocese as “St. Peter’s Japanese Mission” with the help of Bishop Frederic W. Keator.  In 1915, a Japanese language newsletter was begun, and in the 1920s this mission opened a Mission Station, St. Paul’s, White River, near Kent.

In 1932 a multi-purpose building was constructed under the leadership of Gennosuke Shoji.  The new building served to bring two Sunday schools in two separate houses, into one location.  On February 7, 1933, the diocesan convention was held at St. Peter’s.

St. Peter’s congregation continued to thrive until the onset of World War II.  Together with others of Japanese ancestry, members of St. Peter’s were forcibly removed and sent to desolate internment camps away from the West Coast for the duration of the war.  During this time the Seattle church was closed.  Daisuke and Joseph Kitagawa, brothers and priests, went with the people to the camps, comforting and reassuring them, bringing many to profess faith in Christ, and baptizing them.  The survival of St. Peter’s as a community of faith during these trying times is powerful testimony to the congregation’s courage, resilience and steadfast belief in God’s grace. When the people were allowed to return, the long hard struggle to re-establish the church began.  The mission building was reopened to serve as a hostel, and 3 ½ years later regular Episcopal worship was resumed.

In 1955, Bishop Stephen F. Bayne, Jr. sent the Rev. Lincoln Paul Eng (a Chinese-American) to St. Peter’s as vicar.  In 1958, Presiding Bishop Yashiro of the Nippon Sei Ko Kai and Mrs. Cynthia Wedel attended the 50th Anniversary celebrations of St. Peter’s.  That year, with leadership from the Nisei (2nd generation), the people determined to build.  In 1962, a new church structure was completed and dedicated by Bishop Ivol Ira Curtis.

In the 1960s, social concerns and spiritual development went hand in hand.  Community organizing and child care became ministries to city and neighborhood; parish life conferences and missions nurtured the members.  The Rev. Eugene V. Harshman was vicar.

The Rev. Timothy Makoto Nakayama, priest from the Diocese of Calgary, Canada, came in 1966 and reintroduced bilingual ministry.  In the same spirit of partnership in mission, St. Peter’s has been an active participant in Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry.  In1973 “EAST” (the Episcopal Asiamerica Strategies Task Force) was born, which has become “EAM” (Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry), a national coalition of ethnic ministries.  Since 1975, St. Peter’s ministry of service, worship, evangelism, education and pastoral care has been extended to refugees. Since 1982, the diocesan Refugee Resettlement Office has been located at St. Peter’s. 

In 1977, St. Peter’s became a parish and Fr. Nakayama its first rector.  After six months, Bishop Robert H. Cochrane and the Ven. Paul Langpaap invited this congregation to begin a new ministry.  St. James of Jerusalem, a Chinese ministry, was born on Trinity Sunday 1978.

The 75th year of St. Peter’s was celebrated in 1983 with mortgage burning, publishing a history book, anniversary banquet and Holy Eucharist.  Archdeacon Eng of Oregon (former vicar) was the guest of honor.  In May 1987 a group from St. Peter’s made a pilgrimage to Japan for the 100th Anniversary of the formation of the Nippon Sei Ko Kai.  This was at the same time a way to celebrate both their Christian faith and their ethnic heritage.

By the late 1980s, St. Peter’s membership had begun to decline as the 1st generation Issei were dying and younger members were drifting away.  A need for redefinition and renewal was recognized as St. Peter’s entered into a search for a new rector in the early 1990s.  A more diverse and inclusive vision of the church was formulated, culminating in the selection by the congregation of St. Peter’s first Caucasian, female priest, the Rev. Jodene S. Hawkins, in 1995.

Throughout the years, St. Peter’s has participated in and supported many outreach efforts.

After 35 years, in 1997, the annual Sukiyaki fundraiser became ‘The Big Take Out’ featuring BBQ Ribs .  The popular BBQ menu continues to raise funds for a wide variety of church, community and international charitable agencies including: Habitat for Humanity, various food banks; KAIROS Prison Ministry; the Maritime Ministry; the Social Justice ministries of the Church Council of Greater Seattle; Seattle Keiro Nursing Home/Nikkei Concerns, and the Japanese American Citizens League.  St. Peter’s also supports the Diocese of Olympia’s Commission for Ethnic Ministries and its Curacy Program. 

“Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus,” a 10-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land-St. George’s College, Jerusalem organized in 1997 resulted in a special relationship with the Diocese of Jerusalem and the Evangelical Girls’ School in Ramallah (now the Arab Evangelical Episcopal School) and financial support from St. Peter’s.  In 1999, St. Peter’s dream of a labyrinth was realized and an individual outdoor labyrinth was painted outside the front doors of the church in September 2001.

In 2000 St. Peter’s was selected as a model parish for training seminarians in multi-cultural ministry by Seattle University. The Rev. Kim Forman arrived as associate priest and assisted with pastoral care and home ministry.  Jodene Hawkins retired in 2001 and the Rev. Carol Ludden became interim.  Under her direction, the parish developed a new mission statement and discussed ways to grow and develop the congregation and increased opportunities for Christian education and spiritual growth were made available. In December 2002, the congregation called the Rev. Elizabeth (Betsy) Seeger as rector and in 2008, the Rev. James Thibodeaux became St. Peter’s current rector.  In 2008 St. Peter’s also celebrated its 100th Anniversary.


1908-1918                   D. H.H. Gowen

1918-1940                   Canon Gennosuki Shoji

1934-1937                   John P. Pennell

1941-1942                   Daisuke Kitagawa, Ph.D.

1945-1946                   Arnold Krone

                                    Joseph Kitagawa

Japanese internment – ministry continued in camps (from 1945-46, there

were two congregations: one English speaking and one Japanese speaking)

1950-1953                   Andrew N. Otani

1954-1955                   Paul B. Denlinger

1955-1963                   Lincoln P. Eng

1963-1966                   Eugene L. Harshman

1966-1991                   Timothy M. Nakayama         

1991-1995                   Albin Fogelquist, priest-in-charge

1995-2001                   Jodene Hawkins

2001-2002                   Carol Ludden, interim

2002-2005                   Elizabeth Seeger

2005-2007                   Alan Mack, priest-in-charge

2008-                           James Thibodeaux  

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