Article By Mallory Ware
In the Southeast corner of Washington State, nestled in a valley where the Touchet River and Petit Creek meet to shake hands, Dayton (established in 1880) is a city of adjectives like: small, unique, quaint. These words pass easily from the lips of Craig George, mayor of Dayton, as he relates to me the area of wheat land that he has called home. The same words then easily transpose themselves into his description of Grace Church, another home of his and the reason for my call.
Last weekend the Bishop James E. Waggoner Jr. had the opportunity of visiting the small, unique, and quaint city of Dayton and the congregation of Grace Church. The city, which boasts a plethora of history including the oldest train depot and still utilized courthouse in the state, is a community with a median age of 46 and a small population of approximately 2,500. Grace Church mirrors the town in this way with a tidy congregation of approximately 20.
Grace Church is small, but mighty. That’s what I can’t help but think when Craig begins to describe the activity and passion of their congregation. There is no one mission that Craig feels is their niche, or their calling. They are a body of believers that while few, are fully committed, each and every one, to any task or call that should arise. When someone is ill, if a family has a need, when a child at school is in want of clothing or if the food bank is looking for donations, the members of Grace Church, each one of them, are there doing what must be done. Every member is active.
There is no fear here. With news like lower church attendance and an increasingly more secularized world, Grace Church seems to function as its namesake would suggest, with Grace.
Since technology has significantly lessened the need for manpower out in the wheat fields, the city of Dayton has steadily remained a small town since the 1950′s. It is a spiritual town to boot with around 14 churches. Grace Church itself has seen a small but steady population of members. The question of an endangered tradition seems to be a bit peculiar here.
The members of Grace Church are Episcopalians not because they were born into the tradition or solicited with bright neon signs and promises of rock-concert-Eucharists, but because the tradition of an open mind, sanctity, spiritual curiosity, need for community, and need for involvement have all brought them to the steps of Grace.
Smaller numbers? If the roof caved in… I imagine Craig would be out there to help fix it. In fact every hand that had ever prayed under it would be out there willing to work hard to keep it up. Then after that task, they would go right back to doing good works with a faith unshaken by fear.
For me, I begin to wonder if it is this refusal to be more concerned with numbers and emphasis on doing and being community that gives them their strength and stability. When I get off the phone with Craig, I am reminded that strength in numbers is not a requirement of strength in faith.