Pastor Bill Walles sits in front of his new church in the 4500 block of Rucker Avenue on Wednesday in Everett. What was the Sanctuary Covenant Church is now Hope Covenant Church, which was what it was called in Lake Stevens. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Pastor Bill Walles sits in front of his new church in the 4500 block of Rucker Avenue on Wednesday in Everett. What was the Sanctuary Covenant Church is now Hope Covenant Church, which was what it was called in Lake Stevens. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

2 churches merge under 1 roof

Sanctuary Covenant is now Hope Covenant and is located in Everett.

EVERETT — One was established long ago; the other, a relative upstart.

The century-old church in Everett was founded by Swedish immigrants in their new land.

The Lake Stevens church was born a few years back. It didn’t have a building of its own. The pastor often wrote sermons on a MacBook in coffee shops and he’d deliver them each Sunday in an often cold middle school cafeteria with poor acoustics. He wore phony sideburns at the first service, which coincided with the birthday of Elvis Presley.

The congregation at the older church dwindled in recent years. The new church of more than 100 was growing.

The churches would support each other from time to time, lending musicians as needed and with youth group activities.

Now they are united under one roof.

Passersby along the 4500 block of Rucker Avenue might have noticed a change to the reader board. What was the Sanctuary Covenant Church is now Hope Covenant Church, which was what it was called in Lake Stevens.

Pastor Bill Walles only half jokingly suggests renaming it New Hope, a recognition of the change afoot that also happens to be a nod to “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope.” Walles is a diehard Star Wars fan.

For now, the name is less important than the work ahead. It is a time to blend and, if all goes according to plan, expand.

The church is planning to add a second Sunday service each week beginning on Easter.

Walles, who some folks call P.B., short for Pastor Bill, likes to use the adage: “Don’t just go to church; be the church.” Without a dedicated building for many years, those words seem to take on extra meaning.

“For me it’s the difference between a group of people gathering together for an hour on Sunday to kind of get their church in versus being what I believe the church originally was created for, which is a force of good and love and hope in the community,” he said. “One of the positives of not having permanent space is it really forced us to be the church.”

Walles said the church can focus on its core values — joy, honesty, generosity, simplicity and compassion — without wading into divisive political issues.

“In so many parts of our world I think we see litmus tests,” he said. “People are always trying to find fences and lines and seeing if you cross them. It’s very easy to get drawn into that. We just don’t think that helps us. As much as possible, we try to stay focused on our values.”

Many members of the Lake Stevens congregation attended church as children but drifted away from it as adults.

“They give it one more shot,” Walles said. “That brings me a lot of joy.”

Walles also believes churches can do better at reaching younger generations, particularly in a state such as Washington, which has one of the lowest percentages of church-goers in the country, according to the 2010 U.S. Religion Census.

Walles, 46, didn’t set out to lead a church when he headed off to college. The son of a pastor planned to major in drama at Pacific Lutheran University.

“I think God wisely steered me in another direction,” he said.

Walles met his future wife, Sarah, at PLU. He completed the seminary in Minnesota and the couple spent more than a year as missionaries in Mexico. He’s worked at churches in Phoenix, Marysville and Maple Valley.

He started the Lake Stevens church with close friends, many prayers and modest beginnings.

For years, the worship band practiced in Walles’ garage each Wednesday night, with guitarists needing gloves in the cold of winter.

Walles never lost his love for the stage. He’s drama director at Cavelero Mid High School in Lake Stevens where eighth- and ninth-grade students are now performing “Shrek.” The play, with a cast of 43 and crew of 10, wraps up Saturday night.

Come Sunday, it will be back to Everett where he works with interim Sanctuary Covenant Church Pastor Dave Wells, who has stayed on half time.

Walles feared that the thought of crossing the U.S. 2 trestle, a symbol of traffic gridlock during the week, would discourage members of the Lake Stevens congregation from venturing west on Sundays. That, he said, has not been the case.

He also credits members of the Everett church for their willingness to open their doors to others whose worship and preaching style might seem more contemporary.

“It’s like letting 100 people into your house and letting them take it over,” Walles said. “It’s an incredible amount of trust. I’m just so humbled by them.”

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

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