Our Story

Peace Lutheran Church is an urban congregation in the heart of the beautiful Hilltop neighborhood of Tacoma. We seek to reflect the ethnic, generational, socioeconomic and cultural diversity of our community and, while Peace is a vital presence in the Hilltop today, there was once a time in the life of the congregation when it nearly did not survive.

Peace Lutheran Church was founded in 1909 by German Russians living in the blocks surrounding 21st and S Cushman.
Located in the historically working-class Hilltop neighborhood, Peace Lutheran Church was a vibrant spiritual home for its German-Russian congregation – with services continuing to use German language worship all the way up until 1956. By the 1970s however, the community had dwindled and the church teetered on the verge of closure.

In 1973 Pastor Holle Plaehn was called to lead Peace Lutheran Church. While the German-Russian community was diminished, demographic changes in the area now reflected a significant African-American population. Following God’s vision of a welcoming community of diversity, Pastor Plaehn and church leaders decided to open their doors to everyone – be they not of Lutheran denomination or from different cultural backgrounds. While some chose to leave the church during this time of transition, one German-Russian elder who remained said, “we are going to be together in heaven someday; we need to learn to get along now.”

The church therefore called on lay pastor Clarence Pettit, neighbor Ruby Williams (who spearheaded the Community Meals ministry), and Gospel musician Dorothy White (who played for worship and led Gospel Choir). People began to come.

Worship connected the souls of the people who now filled the pews: strong hymns of faith, Gospel music, freer and less formal order of worship, testimonies, deep prayer concerns shared aloud, Amens and clapping filled the sanctuary. Baptisms happened. God’s spirit was present.

When the Hilltop began to feel the negative impacts of drugs, gangs and violence in the 1980s and early 1990s, Peace Lutheran Church came to be known as a quiet, faithful presence in the neighborhood.

During this time Pastor Plaehn began to walk door-to-door throughout the community, coming to know neighbors, praying for them, and inviting them to become a part of the faith community. The church became known as a neighborhood ministry that was highly relational and which cared deeply about every person it reached. Prayer walks, community meetings and block groups met at the church to “take back the neighborhood,” and slowly but steadily it happened. Pastor Plaehn served his church through this time and retired in 2003 after 32 years of service. He retired from Peace Lutheran Church as Pastor Emeritus of the congregation.

Children and youth programs for neighborhood children have been central to the ministry of Peace Lutheran Church for decades.

Peace Lutheran Church has become an extended family for children with challenging home lives. Community meals, while an important ministry of charity, did not address a deeper question: Why were people hungry in the first place? What could be done to help change the conditions that led people to need a meal? Peace had teachers in the congregation and other individuals committed to education: tutoring and mentoring of young people began.

In 2001, under the leadership of Executive Director Bill Hanawalt, the congregation of Peace Lutheran Church came forth with a separate nonprofit, the Peace Community Center.

Providing tutoring and mentoring to support children and youth from the neighborhood, the Peace Community Center accompanied students from 2nd grade through high school graduation and beyond. The hope was to help sustain young people through school and into adulthood by guiding them towards living-wage jobs and the ability to support their families and serve their communities. Today, Peace Lutheran Church works alongside the center to serve the neighborhood, providing much-needed academic, spiritual and person development services to Hilltop children, youth and families.

In recent years, the Hilltop neighborhood has begun to experience a new community shift – that of gentrification.

Gentrification in the Hilltop has come to displace many low-income families and families of color in particular. Called to respond and to be about the work of community development, Peace Lutheran Church purchased two nearby houses in 2014 and added a third in 2019 as part of its affordable housing ministry. This ministry has and continues to support families transitioning from homelessness through affordable rent, family support and community connections.
 
Another important ministry of Peace is one that has been in place for over 30 years. Community Meals offers hot dinners at the church every weeknight during the months of April and October. Food is shared around communal tables and is served to participants with dignity, hospitality and welcome. In partnership with our Hilltop neighbor, New Covenant Pentecostal Church, Peace Lutheran Church also serves hot meals at other locations through the other ten months of the year.
 
In 2019, a new ministry began in the form of the Community Resources Ministry, offering a free community meal every Friday evening throughout the year. This Friday meal is paired with community resources made available through social service providers present and available to speak with any that stop by. This ministry supports individuals in need toward a more sustainable livelihood.
 
All are welcome at all community meals. A special invitation is given to Hilltop families with children – including those connected to the Church and Community Center, as well as those struggling financially.

KEEP IN TOUCH

2106 South Cushman Ave.
Tacoma, WA 98405 

Phone: (253) 383-1317

Fax: (253) 722-2228 

Email: plcadmin@peacetacoma.org

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