As a pastor, chaplain, and advocate for social justice, alumna Ellie VerGowe (’06) recognizes Bellevue
Christian School for showing her how to serve with humility and work with the marginalized to create a community where we all thrive.
VerGowe started at BCS as a 6th grader at Three Points, but her connection to the school began years earlier. Her mother, Sue VerGowe, worked in the Central Office and at Three Points as an office manager for several years. She was instrumental in designing after school programs at both Three Points and Mack as well.
Looking back on her time at BCS, VerGowe has fond memories of singing in choirs with Mr. Ulrich and being discipled by Ms. Steffen in Bible study. Those two teachers had a deep impact on her life and future, modeling how to build relationships and serve others from a place of faith.
“Ms. Steffen helped us not to just focus on ourselves, but to let Jesus change us and lead us to work for justice, to have mercy, and love people deeply. She was good at helping us focus outward – Mr. Ulrich taught us that as well. His leadership showed me what it means to be a loving artist and teach in a way that cares for others, while also creating things that are excellent.”
One of VerGowe’s favorite events at BCS was the annual Madrigal Feast. Each year, Kantorei put on a medieval holiday dinner and performance. Hundreds of BCS students and other guests would attend as part of their Christmas celebration. The production was a huge team effort, but the late nights spent preparing and hours of practice developed many great friendships. She also recalls Mr. Ulrich encouraging students to mentor one another as they were going through auditions.
“Being mentored by older students helped me understand humility - humility isn’t about self-hatred, it’s about true self-understanding. If you’re good at something, you can acknowledge that, but also recognize that you have things to learn. Mr. Ulrich and Ms. Steffen both taught us this kind of humility.”
Another layer of her choir experience was traveling for competitions and performances. The student groups rarely stayed in hotels – Mr. Ulrich arranged home stays at churches, schools, and family homes. Years later, VerGowe acknowledges how those stays were important in growing her confidence to meet new people and build relationships. They gave her the chance to see other sides of life.
After graduating from BCS, VerGowe went to Whitworth University where she studied Vocal Performance and Music Ministry. Once she earned her degree, she took a job at Cascades Camp in Yelm, WA. As a kitchen assistant, VerGowe found herself tasked with hiring teens from the community to work on her team in the kitchen.
“A lot of the kids we hired were going through things that I knew so little about…at that point I was struggling in faith and didn’t even consider myself a Christian. But as I worked, I found myself returning to the Christian story which provided hope. I discovered my passion for meeting people in places of pain - when they are at their lowest.”
From her time at Cascades, VerGowe felt called to help others and learn more about ministry. Her co-workers at camp were studying at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago and suggested that she apply. At seminary, VerGowe found her way back to her love for Jesus. She identified her path in ministry by working as a hospital chaplain and in juvenile detention centers while living in Chicago.
After graduating from seminary, VerGowe took a job as Pastor of Outreach, Worship and Children, Youth and Family at First Covenant Church in Seattle. Her role is focused on designing and implementing liturgy in worship services, caring for youth and families in the church and community organizing with marginalized communities through the love of Jesus in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. During the pandemic, she has taken an internship as a Chaplain at Harborview Medical Center, meeting people in deep pain, loneliness, and grief.
As she reflects, VerGowe traces her passion for seeking justice and supporting the marginalized back to a foundation that was laid at BCS. She remembers traveling with other BCS students to the John and Vera Mae Perkins Foundation to work with the founder’s daughter, Elizabeth Perkins.
“That was the first time I began to understand the racial disparity in our country. It’s not just a thing in the south, it’s not just a thing in the past, it’s happening right now. BCS gave me some language to start recognizing injustice around me and listening to folks who were at the margins of things, who were pushed there by people in power. I think that piece was really important for me.”
In addition to her work with First Covenant and Harborview, VerGowe expresses herself by writing poetry, selling paintings on her art website, and teaching voice lessons (once singing is safe again). Coming out of the pandemic, VerGowe’s hope is that things don’t go back to “normal”. She has seen many injustices in our world surface as a result of the virus, and her hope is that we will work together as the body of Christ to change them rather than accepting the status quo.
“I hope we don’t go back to normal. I hope things change so that all people are better taken care of when these things happen. Whether it’s in our government, churches, schools or healthcare, it’s become very clear what needs to change. It will always take longer than I want it to, but I’m encouraged that there are already people out there who are working to make change.”