Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Lynnwood celebrates 100 years

LYNNWOOD, Wash. – Members of the Debre Bisrat Saint Gabriel and Saint Arsema Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church gathered together, May 9, to celebrate the hundred-year anniversary of their building.

The building was bought by the church in November of 2017, with the goal to not only use it for prayer but to help children learn the language and culture of their country of origin and become outstanding citizens of Lynnwood and the United States.

The building, formerly known as the Masonic Temple, began construction in 1919 and was completed in 1921.

The ceremony included two songs performed by a choir of two groups of three children –  Kidset, Yordanos, Timbet, Yeabsira, Eyuael, and Shemles – followed by a brief history of the century-old building.

“Eight men gathered here a century ago who said we need to build a community. These men volunteered their time, volunteered material to build this building. This beautiful brick building was one of the largest buildings in the city of Alderwood [at the time]. Today it still serves our community members, a community to the city of Lynnwood.

“Most of our members are hard-working first generation [Ethiopians] that come here to teach their children Ethiopian Orthodox. We are part of the history of the city of Lynnwood serving in this hundred-year-old building. But keep in mind the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is way older than 100-years old. This building is also a shelter to over 3,000 years of Ethiopian Orthodox beliefs. With that said, council members we rely on you to keep this building up to standard, up to code, for the city of Lynnwood,” Michael said, a member of the church.

Youth church member Yeabsira then recited a passage from the Saint Mary book in the Amharic language.

Ethiopian Orthodox Church
Michael (right) speaking with (L-R) Councilman Jim Smith, Selam Habte, President of the Habesha Community Center, and Councilman George Hurst. Source: Mario Lotmore.

City Council President George Hurst, who has driven by the Debre Bisrat Saint Gabriel and Saint Arsema Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church in Lynnwood many times, said he now has a new education on what goes on inside.

“It is exciting to know that while this building is one hundred years old, it is now being used as a church. I know that you are building a community here and you are building on the heritage that you have but I’m also excited that you can be a part of the Lynnwood community and be able to share the diversity that we have in our city,” Hurst said.

Selam Habte
Selam Habte, President of the Habesha Community Center.

Hurst was in attendance along with council vice-president Jim Smith. An invitation was sent to Mayor Nicola Smith and the council to attend the Debre Bisrat annual festival, also celebrating Mother’s Day and the 100-year anniversary of the building, from Selam Habte, Habesha Community Center President.

Habehsa Community Center is an organization under the sister city umbrella in Lynnwood. The center’s goal is to strengthen relationships between both the Habesha and Lynnwood communities by collaborating with churches, business and families.

After the ceremony Michael offered a brief tour of the building, where shoes were removed, explaining the work they have done to preserve the beauty of the building. Elaborate drawings by Ethiopian artists adorned the walls of religious figures. Red carpets and curtains hung from blue walls while church members played drums and sung an Easter song in Amharic.

Ethiopian Orthodox Church
Melake Shahel Father Aweke Sidelel, the Father of the Debre Bisrat Saint Gabriel and Saint Arsema Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. Source: Mario Lotmore.

The building has three classrooms, roughly 250 square feet each, where church members can hold bible study in the language of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the rich history of their Ethiopian heritage.

“The main area of focus is teaching kids our language and we spend some time doing social studies as well,” Melake Shahel Father Aweke Sidelel said.

Starting at the age of five, children study the biblical word, music, reading and memorization, as well as incorporating the arts – drawing images of the saints.

The church has around fifty kids, grouped by age, and offered four classes before C0VID but now resorts to Zoom and Social Media platforms to continue their bible studies.

The building, being old, is not without its need for repairs such as water leaks and outdated ventilation which can lead to extreme temperatures. The church hopes with the support of the church members and the city of Lynnwood they can bring it up to the standard codes it should be, according to Michael.

After a robbery several months ago, the church has implemented security measures such as cameras but many other repairs are beyond the church’s financial reach.

“We really cherish this building,” Michael said. “We want to leave it for our future generations. To take the representation of the city of Lynnwood and keep it diversified and we hope to get your support to bring it up to that level,” Michael said to the council members.

During a conclusive open mic, a church member asked the council members in attendance: “In order to keep and maintain this building, is there any way you guys can give us a suggestion or direction as to how we can keep this historic building, as it is today, for future Ethiopian generations?”

Ethiopian Orthodox Church
A view inside the church. Source: Mario Lotmore.

“I think one of the important things is that if this building is on a national historical register, which I think it is. We can help you find the guidelines for what you can do…There are limitations on what you can do. But please, when you have plans, let the council know so we can help with that process. I think it’s important for this city because of the historic nature of this building, but now it’s even more important for the future use of this building,” Hurst answered.

“This is the first step to getting things done. The city can’t just allocate funds to rebuild this building, however we can be the catalyst. We can help guide to get organizations, to get groups together. With the support of the council members, with the support of the city we can give credibility. But just doing this today makes a big difference because we get to learn more about what you’re doing. And we need to get more people to learn what’s happening here so that we’re all together in this,” councilman Smith added.

For more information on how you may provide assistance or for questions to Debre Bisrat Saint Gebriel and Saint Aresema Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, please contact Gather Girma w/ Kidan, Secretary of the committee at gebriel.aresema@gmail.com.

Kienan Briscoe

Michael Kienan Briscoe (referred to by his middle name 'Kienan') has a BA in Journalism from Arizona State University and has worked as a freelancer for a variety of publications and organizations throughout New York City and Seattle. Journalism, to him, is one of the most important public tools to ensure an educated and aware society of events surrounding them. When he is not reporting he enjoys writing fiction and poetry, playing guitar, reading classic literature, and getting outdoors. He lives in Seattle with his two dogs.

Kienan Briscoe has 236 posts and counting. See all posts by Kienan Briscoe

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