Northlake was founded in 1961, when Lola Reynolds, Betty Jirucha, and Ellen Hanly, members of East Shore UU in Bellevue, began thinking and talking to each other about having a church closer to where they lived – a liberal fellowship to serve Kirkland and the northern shore of Lake Washington.

Twelve couples met and drafted the first bylaws. Northlake’s first home was rented space at the Cadle Theatre at Lake Washington High School. The first service was on April 21, 1961. The official charter for Northlake Unitarian Fellowship was issued by the Unitarian Universalist Association on May 15, 1961 – the very first charter issued after the merger of the Unitarians and Universalists.

Northlake purchased its first building – a former mortuary – on First Street in downtown Kirkland in November 1962. (We also acquired a parcel of land in Juanita.) The church community included 27 adults and 43 children.

In 1965, we hired our first minister, Rev. Ralph Mero, part time. Under his leadership, Northlake took on social justice causes, such as remodeling houses for minority families. In 1971, with massive layoffs at Boeing and other cultural events, Northlake faced financial challenges, and Rev. Mero resigned.

The congregation became lay-led and more active within the local and national UU organizations.

In 1974, we sold the Juanita property and did a major remodel of the building. We paid off that mortgage in 1976.

In the late 70’s, Rev. Patrick Thomas Aquinas O’Neill gave a memorable sermon as a guest speaker. The congregation loved it and hired Patrick to return for guest speaking. Then in the fall of 1979, Patrick was hired as our second minister on a part-time basis. His ministry energized the community, adding more spirituality and more music. His preaching “packed the house.” Membership grew from 80 to 120 in one year. He encouraged work for social justice, and we housed a Vietnamese refugee family in a church rental house. Religious Education once again became important, and we hired our first paid RE director.

Rev. O’Neill resigned in 1985, and we hired Rev. Mary Scriver as an interim minister. In 1986, we called Rev. Michael Hennon, who was not a good fit and resigned a year later. After a lay-led period, we called Rev. Barbara Morgan in 1989. Membership increased from the low 80’s to 130, the church school was full, and two services were held weekly. During Rev. Morgan’s tenure, we changed our name to Northlake Unitarian Universalist Church.

In 1993-94, the church sold its First Street property to the city and bought our current building on State Street. Rev. Morgan resigned in 1997 due to her assessment that her effective ministry was coming to its conclusion.

We became lay-led again and hired Rev. Roger Smith as a quarter-time minister. We created a task force to move us towards strengthening the liberal religious presence in the city. This group’s work established clear values and goals, with priorities and a timeline to achieve them. After completing this process, Rev. Amanda Aikman was contracted quarter-time for the next four years.

In 2005, we acquired the chapel. This structure has a complicated history. The chapel is a pre-war building and had been the original Lutheran church located building on the site of our current sanctuary. Back in 1964, the Lutherans sold the building and moved it onto the funeral home land across the street. Then in 1996, that land across the street was sold to a developer. In 2005, the developer offered the chapel building to Northlake. The building was free, but we would have to pay to physically move it to our site and construct a new foundation. It would have been cost prohibitive to bring the chapel building up to current codes, but it was deemed eligible for historic landmark status, which made the project viable. Many of our current members have stories about the chapel project. There were thousands of volunteer hours devoted to it, and the church community was strengthened in the process. Today we rent the chapel building to several tenant organizations, and we use it for our RE program on Sundays.

The congregation called Rev. Marian Stewart in 2008 to serve as a full-time minister. During her tenure, membership increased from 92 to 161, and the number of children in RE grew from 25 to 60. We prioritized a strong RE program, including adding “Lifespan” Religious Education when hiring our current RE director, Margaret Rogers. Rev. Stewart was a leader in strengthening interfaith alliances in the area. Following services commemorating the 10th anniversary of the attacks on September 11, 2001, the Fostering Interfaith Alliance in the Eastside (F.I.R.E.) organization was created. The social justice issue that galvanized NUUC the  most during this time, period legalizing same-sex marriage. Our congregation worked on the state legislative process to guarantee equal rights for LBGT. Rev. Stewart left Northlake to lead a larger congregation in 2017.

Rev. Jim VanderWeele was hired as an interim minister in the summer of 2017 and served till summer of 2019. He was an invaluable guide as we looked for our new settled minister. He steered the congregation through a reflective journey, helping us create our congregational covenant, which defines our common values and priorities.

In August of 2019, Reverend Nancy Reid-McKee came to Northlake. She joined us with a goal to focus on growing our social justice programs. Six months later, the first cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. were diagnosed here in Kirkland. We jumped online, figuring out how to offer all of our programs remotely. Nancy held us steady, keeping Northlake healthy and vital through the pandemic. We continue to offer hybrid services and meetings because they greatly increase accessibility and inclusivity. Under Rev. Nancy’s leadership, Northlake made important upgrades to our buildings and grounds and restructured our governance to prioritize transparency and wide participation. Rev. Nancy inspired the congregational vote to adopt the 8th principle, which addresses racism and other systemic oppressions.

In the 2023 – 24 church year, we were also joined by Rev. Kimberly Quinn-Johnson, who offered monthly sermons remotely from New York. Part of her mission with us is to help us understand the 8th principle and revisions of Article 2 of our Unitarian Universalist Association bylaws, which addresses our shared values and places love at the center of our faith.

This article draws from a combination of “How Northlake Began” by Ellen Hanly, with additions written by Kim Convertino, Laurence Fennema, and others.