Seattle Pacific University’s location wasn’t a fait accompli.
When the Oregon and Washington Territory Conference of the Free Methodist Church met 126 years ago and proposed building a Christian school on the West Coast to join the six other Free Methodist institutions already in existence, the geographic home was up for debate.
During the conference’s location deliberations, Nils Peterson rose to his feet and offered his 5-acre garden plot on Queen Anne Hill in Seattle as the location for the new school. Hiram Pease joined Peterson, announcing that he would give an additional $2,500. At this point, the Conference meeting broke for lunch. The break proved detrimental to the momentum of choosing Seattle. Once the conference reconvened, a delegate suggested they sell the Peterson land, combine it with Pease’s $2,500, and purchase a 500-acre farm in Dayton, Oregon, for the university.
Historian Howard Snyder’s book, Rooted in Mission: The Founding of Seattle Pacific University, captures the key moment that established our institution’s trajectory. Snyder writes, “In response, Hiram Pease argued passionately for Seattle. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter said Pease, ‘with an eloquence born of enthusiasm for the school and bias for Seattle,’ declared that Seattle ‘was yet to be the center of either one-half or two-thirds of the United States’ and thus a strategic location.”
Hiram Pease was a visionary. He didn’t see Seattle as a city on the edge at the end of the United States, but rather as a place that was at the edge of the future. Over the course of the last 126 years, and with increasing momentum since the early 1980s, Seattle has risen to become not only a world-class city, but also a world-shaping and world-defining one.
Seattle Pacific University’s own stature and influence has risen as well. We are the only private university in the Pacific Northwest to be ranked by U.S. News & World Report as a best national university. As much as we have grown and developed over the years, achieving, setting, and exceeding industry benchmarks, we remain committed to being the place defined by our founders and our sponsoring Free Methodist denomination — one that is firmly committed to Christ, excellence, and service.
I am currently reading through the Bible in chronological order, and I recently reached the story of Esther. As you may know, Esther is encouraged to take advantage of her position of influence near King Ahasuerus to deliver her people. Her Uncle Mordecai drives home Esther’s potential to make a difference by asking the rhetorical question, “Who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).
As I read this story, my mind turned to SPU. We are located in Seattle during an era of the city’s rising prominence and world influence. We have also risen to a national position of industry recognition and reputation. What must we do as a university in this time to more effectively fulfill our mission and extend our institutional commitments to Christ, excellence, and service, so that we might continue to be the place of influence our founders envisioned? What will it mean for SPU to be a university that shapes faith and learning for the future?
In many ways, our location in Seattle gives us a vantage point and view to the future that institutions in other cities simply do not possess. SPU’s “Seattle advantage” shapes and refines the educational experience we offer for our students and their own future.
“Pease … declared that Seattle ‘was yet to be the center of either one-half or two-thirds of the United States’ and thus a strategic location.”
Our location in Seattle is no accident, but neither was it a foregone conclusion. It is the result of hard work and lobbying by a few people more than a century ago who foresaw the promising future of this city. We bring students here to learn in this thriving, urban environment. We challenge and train them to become leaders who are equipped with the ability to change the world for good, in Seattle and beyond. Our students go out into the world ready to access the real promise of innovation and global networks, but also propelled by the gospel to address the challenges of inequity and injustice. They are equipped to work for a future that is more peaceful and just.
Whatever the future holds, our Seattle location, our Christian faith, and our commitments to excellence and service mean that our students and the rest of our community will face it with confidence.