The Early Years
First Lutheran Church of Venice was originally a blue-collar congregation. Founded by Pastor Eugene Smith, in 1944 we were made up of Lutherans who had migrated west to work in the defense industry during WWII. The first sanctuary, now the fellowship hall and school classrooms, were literally built by the congregation members. For 33 years the congregation’s ministry was “by-the-book” traditional – as most Lutheran churches were.
A New Era
Beginning in 1977, Pastor Jim Johnson, Pastor Smith’s successor, helped breathe new life into a declining congregation. Pastor Johnson had just returned from the Mission field. In a less rigid manner we reached the community which was blue-collar at the time. There were Little League and AYSO families and pickup trucks in the parking lot. We were open to new ways of ministry.
Loving One Another
A remarkable change in the personality of our church began in the late 70s when many married couples attended Marriage Encounter weekends. The Weekend was about listening, communication and for renewing marriages while ultimately for renewing the church. By applying the principles learned we became more overt in showing the love of Jesus to others and to each other. It continues to this day.
Sharing the Good News
Simultaneously with Marriage Encounter and complementing it, there was a new interest in evangelism. There were conferences, witness workshops throughout our Pacific Southwest District. We joined in. We had a team of callers who met weekly and called on visitors and school families for several years, rain or shine, taking a break only for the Christmas season. For those involved it was an exciting time of learning to share the Gospel with others and actually doing it.
Reaching a Changing Community
After 13 years as our pastor, Pastor Johnson felt he had done all he could for us and accepted a call to another church in 1990. As our community had changed, our new Pastor, Ken Frese had the gifts to reach the intellectual and artistic in the community with his unique style of ministry. He heartily affirmed the Marriage Encounter influence.
The introduction of the Contemporary Service was a significant change. It has become a vital addition to our ministry with outstanding and committed musical talent. The traditional service is for worshipers who enjoy the richness of liturgy, hymns and pipe organ music. In both services, God is glorified.
“Jesus skating with his friends in Venice.” That’s what Jesus would do. Father Maur of the St. Andrews Abbey was approached by Heather Davis who asked if we could reproduce his ceramic tile of the same name as a mural on our church. He declined but added that he would paint a skating mural specially for us. Thus our mural was born and has become a hallmark in the community and a reflection of who we want to be.
On Sept. 11, 1998 we experienced an accidental devastating fire. The congregation came together and discussed our options in rebuilding. The consensus was to restore with some improvements while retaining the original architectural style. We worshiped in a large tent outside on the school playground and in our fellowship hall during the reconstruction of the sanctuary. Under Jim Edwards' expert guidance, the physical structure was restored and the congregation was truly blessed by God through the experience.
A Time of Transition
Upon Pastor Frese’s leaving to serve in another ministry capacity, we were served by Interim Pastor Richard Paul from 2005 to 2007, then by Pastor Tom Brewer from 2007 to 2009. After serving a year as Vicar in 2010, Pastor Chris Spelbring was ordained and called to be our pastor in 2011, He brought a calm to our church that had experienced much transition. During these years our congregation focused on community outreach, studying scripture and family ministry through our school. We continued engaging our artistic community through live concerts and theater performances, built connections within the Venice community by supporting local service organizations like Bible Tabernacle, the neighborhood council and various charitable efforts, and took time to worship, pray and break bread together. After Pastor Spelbring accepted a call elsewhere in 2015, Pastor Frese and Vicar Bart Loos and others filled in during our vacancy in 2016.
Meeting the Challenge
After a year long search, we were blessed when Pastor John Palka accepted God’s call to be our Shepherd in 2017. He brings with him imaginative leadership experience and a passion for building God's kingdom, which dovetails with and enhances the congregation's mission and vision for ministry in the West Los Angeles area. It is an exciting time.