Daffodils lure visitors to church that’s more than a place of worship

STANWOOD — Daffodils, thousands and thousands of yellow blooms, lead the way to the picture-perfect Freeborn Lutheran Church.

Standing since 1900, the sanctuary is an iconic example of an old country church, with simple lines, Gothic-style windows and a steeple. More than a century after it was built, the church still welcomes worshippers to its 10 a.m. Sunday services. And with its daffodils — a sea of yellow now visible from I-5 — and the surrounding Bonhoeffer Botanical Gardens, the church grounds lure other visitors to what was once the village of Freeborn, east of Stanwood.

With the season for daffodils nearly finished, Freeborn Lutheran Church invites the public to an open house today. It’s a chance to see the grounds, the recently restored sanctuary, and the beginnings of what planners call the Pilchuck Living History Farm. The event is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. today, with lunch served from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Donations are welcome, to support the gardens and other projects.

The church, just east of I-5 at Exit 215, is led by the Rev. Donald Brekhus, who became its pastor after retiring from Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Stanwood. The congregation is small, with about 50 members, said Kris Huston, an administrative assistant at the church.

A walk through the church’s small cemetery is an area history lesson. The cemetery dates to pioneer days, when Norwegian loggers and fisherman first came to Freeborn village. Around the edges of the cemetery are unmarked graves believed to be those of Indian women who married the earliest settlers.

There is a rich past to be explored, but also big plans for the future. David Thomsen, 70, has worked for years to make Freeborn Lutheran Church and its surrounding property more than a worship place.

In naming the garden, Thomsen is honoring a Lutheran hero and drawing attention to the horrors that grow from hate.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor and scholar, was executed April 9, 1945, in Nazi Germany’s Flossenburg concentration camp. As far back as the early 1930s, the German Bonhoeffer spoke up publicly for church resistance to Adolph Hitler’s persecution of Jewish people.

With the plantings in Bonhoeffer’s name, Thomsen is creating a nonprofit garden for education and enjoyment. He hopes it will someday include more than 1,000 plants native to the Pacific Northwest. The spring flowers add beauty, and what Thomsen sees as a future “daffodil hill” venue for weddings and other events. More than 400,000 daffodil bulbs have been planted near the church and on land the church has acquired across 300th St. SW.

Along with the garden, the church’s Bonhoeffer Hall is also named for the Lutheran pastor. In the hall is the church’s collection of glass centerpieces created for auctions that raise money for nearby Pilchuck Glass School.

Thomsen, who now lives in Blaine, grew up in the Woods Creek area, near Monroe. He majored in botany at the University of Washington, and before starting a consulting business taught high school science in Ilwaco and Corvallis, Ore.

“I want to create the largest native botanical garden in the state,” he said.

With Thomsen’s financial support, Freeborn Lutheran Church is also expanding across the road to create an area called the Pilchuck Living History Farm. The church and its property is an enclave surrounded by the Pilchuck Tree Farm, Thomsen said.

The church has purchased several small farms, with vintage buildings that were once part of Freeborn village. The buildings, now being restored, include an old parsonage and the original Sunday school building, which Thomsen described as a “Norse longhouse.”

Thomsen said the area was never zoned for public use, but that he is working with Snohomish County to accomplish that. One goal is for school groups to use the property for history or science field trips.

Today, the church serves children at its Stanwood Camano Learning Center, a preschool. It has developed connections with the Pilchuck Glass School and with Trinity Lutheran College in Everett. And passersby find their way to Freeborn Lutheran Church, especially when daffodils are in bloom.

Everett’s Rhonda Nolan said that a year ago she and her husband were on their way to their cabin when they saw the flowers from the freeway.

“We happened to stop — and we went back again this year. It’s beautiful,” Nolan said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

Garden open for visitors today

A public open house at Bonhoeffer Botanical Gardens and Freeborn Lutheran Church is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. today. Lunch will be served 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Donations will support the gardens, which have 400,000 daffodils and native Northwest plants. The church is at 2300 300th St. SW, Stanwood, just east of I-5 at Exit 215. Learn more at www.freebornlutheran.org and www.bonhoeffergardens.org.

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