WALLA WALLA -- For members of the Amazing Grace Church of the Nazarene, a lot has changed in 100 years, but according to the Rev. Ron Alexander the important things have remained the same.
"There's still that need that people have to be loved and accepted," he said, "There's a need to belong and to be a part and to make that connection with people."
Next weekend, the worship leaders and congregation will celebrate their 100th anniversary with Sunday worship services and a Saturday night banquet at the Walla Walla Fairgrounds pavilion. Dozens of members will share stories of how the church has changed their lives.
The church, at the corner of Alder and Clinton streets, was constructed a century ago. The building has seen a lot of additions and transformations, including a new sanctuary. However, despite the architectural history, the emphasis for the celebration is on the thousands of people who have attended through the years.
"We're celebrating generations," Alexander said, "We want to highlight the amazing things that God has done."
Alexander, who is also a volunteer chaplain with the Walla Walla Police Department, and his wife, Pam, worked in youth ministry at the church in the late 1970s and have led the congregation as a ministry team for the past 26 years.
"When I consider that I've been a part of this church for a quarter of its history it's amazing," said Alexander. "We consider this to be our family."
The Nazarene denomination has always placed a strong emphasis on sending missionaries to other countries. However, above a set of doors leading outside is a sign that says, "You are now entering the mission field," and Alexander stressed the importance of helping your local community.
"We have a strong connection with the Christian Aid Center and our youth group has spent time serving meals with them."
"That's been a really neat connector for us," he said. "Our congregation is actively involved in our community."
Celebratory photo books for the event have been created by Pam Alexander, who is also chairing the celebration committee. The pages include black-and-white images of the first church members arriving in horse and carriage for Sunday morning services.
But local transportation is not the only thing that has changed during the last 100 years.
"Worship has changed too," said Ron Alexander, "there's an expressiveness and freedom in worship that's changed from the formal style to a more relational style. Our members are now singing to God rather than about him."
Other things, however, have stayed the same. "Children and youth are still the high priority," he continued, "Their education has been a consistent factor."
After walking through the halls and into the rooms of the church, it is clear that a significant emphasis is placed on children's ministry and that at a lot of work has gone into making it fun.
"We wanted to make it into a place where children would be excited to come," Pam Alexander said.
A corner of the old sanctuary, which still has its cathedral-like ceiling, serves as a kid's adventure zone, complete with Wild West store fronts and cowboy gear, and the children's Sunday school classes are held in rooms with brightly painted walls and dazzling carpets with vivid decorations.
Pam Alexander explained some of the initial difficulties the church faced in transforming the historic sanctuary into a multipurpose youth room.
"Making the transitions was hard at first," she said, "because people had their marriages and funerals in here. But now it's a place where children run and play and laugh."
For more information on the upcoming celebration, call the office of the Amazing Grace Church of the Nazarene at 509-525-9493.