The former Mars Hill Church in Olympia has become the nondenominational Harbor Church — so named, in part, because it’s not far from the city’s East Bay.
But in many ways, the church hasn’t changed.
Mars Hill Church, a megachurch that met at numerous locations in the Northwest and was headed by founding pastor Mark Driscoll, disbanded at the end of 2014.
Those former congregations were free to form their own independent churches at the start of the new year, and that’s what happened in Olympia.
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It’s at the same location, 819 Olympia Ave. NE, and there are some familiar faces, including lead pastor Seth Winterhalter, who delivered Sunday’s sermon. Winterhalter, 36, spent a little more than four years with Mars Hill and now says he’s ready to lead Harbor Church into the future.
Its first service as a new church was Jan. 4, and the transition has gone well, Winterhalter said. There’s a congregation of about 300, one-third of whom have some ties to the military, he said. That’s a carryover from the Mars Hill days because it had a big military ministry, Winterhalter said. But he also said new families show up each week.
So who is Winterhalter and what kind of church does he want Harbor to be?
Winterhalter grew up on a ranch about an hour north of Seattle, but he’s a self-described “city guy,” someone who escaped the ranch to spend his weekends in Seattle.
He also speaks fondly of Olympia and its potential, and that’s important to him, because he wants to ensure that the church lives outside its four walls and has an effect on the city.
“I want to be a beacon of hope for this city,” he said.
As for the style of pastor he wants to be, Winterhalter said he wants to appeal to a range of those in the audience. He wants to be profound when he needs to be and humorous when humor is called for.
“My goal is to do the job and preach effectively,” he said.
Allison Fischer of Chehalis, 31, has been coming to Harbor Church since the beginning of the year, she said, preferring Harbor to her parents’ church because it’s not as rigid.
At the same time, the former Peace Corps volunteer to Zambia sought a deeper experience at church, wanting to avoid what she called the “fluff” of some Sunday sermons for something truly rooted in the world of the Bible.
On that note, Harbor Church just spent eight weeks discussing the Book of Jonah, Winterhalter said.
Up next for the church is Easter services at 9 and 11 a.m. Sunday. Sermons will be shorter than usual, he said, so that the church can get to the block party it sets up for the event, including inflatable rides for children.
The announcement of Mars Hills Church’s dissolution last fall came 17 days after Driscoll resigned after a church investigation concluded he led the church “in a domineering manner” but was not “disqualified from pastoral ministry,” according to stories in The Olympian’s sister newspaper The News Tribune.