$n$ PANORAMA - Where Braden Road Bends

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Forty years ago, the location must have seemed even more remote.

The Church of God (Seventh Day) sits at the corner of Old Milton Highway and Braden Road, looking very much on this bright day like a Monopoly property set on a green felt triangle.

Immediate neighbors are few where the city of Walla Walla is left behind and the land stretches out to host vineyards, the occasional horse and country lanes.

Known to many as "the old Braden School," the stucco rectangle was purchased 40 years ago to house the denomination that few in Walla Walla had ever heard of at the time, according to the writing of founding member Lela Blankenship, who chronicled the history of Walla Walla's Church of God (Seventh Day).

It is an accounting of a congregation that has largely gone unnoticed and is often misunderstood, said the Rev. Brian Franks, who has led the congregation here for about 18 months.

Blankenship, who recently died in Seattle, wrote these words in May of 1985: "We are not a branch of any other church, nor are we a sect. We have had our own identity here in the United States since 1860."

Lela and her husband, Amel Blankenship, came to Walla Walla following World War II, looking for employment and in 1947, Amel joined the church.

"There were several Church of God families scattered around the area, but no place had been made to join together and establish a local work."

That changed in the winter of 1963 when an ad appeared in the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, asking for contact with "other members of the Church of God 7th Day," Lela recalled in her account.

It didn't take long from the first meetings of like-minded souls that a conversation started about establishing a permanent place of worship. In 1965, officers of the church were established, with Lela being slotted into director of children's education. The church's work continued to grow, as did the size of the congregation, despite the challenge of finding a pastor to lead and lack of a permanent place to hold services, Lela said - Sabbath meetings were celebrated all over town, in parks, at nursing homes and in community buildings.

Just when those issues began putting up roadblocks to moving forward, two events changed the picture, Lela's history shows.

The church hired its first full-time pastor, the Rev. Victor Youngs from Idaho. Soon after, Walla Walla Public Schools published legal notice Braden School was for sale. "In October we were notified … that our bid of $10,500 was accepted," Lela said in her handwritten history.

And now the 40th anniversary of that happy moment is nearly here. On Oct. 15, Church of God (Seventh Day) will remember the importance of the moment, Franks explained. While the church and its doctrine - which is not Seventh-day Adventist, he emphasized - continues to be unknown to much of the Valley, he hopes to help change that. "No one knows quite who is using the building. Despite the signs that say ‘Church of God Seventh Day,' I rarely run into people who realize it is a church."

Which is arguably forgivable. From the original Braden School bell in the tower - which rings in a sweetly-melodic timbre - to the deep, wood-planked front porch, the little building emanates an academic aura.

And many people believe the historic structure continues to function as a school, "of some sort," Franks said. Or houses a service organization, he added. "Once in a while they think it's a winery."

It can be amusing at times, and he welcomes the curious visitors, but the church is taking an opportunity to set the record straight, the pastor said. "I think the reason people don't know we're here for 40 years is our fault. We stay to ourselves ... we want to better at outreach."

The anniversary celebration will feature a special Sabbath service at 11 a.m. that looks at the past and addresses the future of the church, Franks said. "For anyone who wants to know where we've been and know where we're going." A potluck meal will follow. For information, call 525-2252.

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