A Mesa congregation, First Evangelical Lutheran Church, marked its 60th anniversary on Sunday with a worship service and program that showcased the life of the church that has a legacy of mission and social justice work.
Its first worship service was Oct. 3, 1948, in the Mesa Women's Club building, under the leadership of its mission pastor, the Rev. Ragnar Kastman. By the end of 1950, it had settled on its name, and its first sanctuary went up at its current site at 142 N. Date St. Church historians say the first 15 years were dedicated to "growing physically, spiritually and doing God's work."
The first regular pastor, the Rev. Carl Olson, served from 1949 until his retirement in 1963. During his tenure, membership grew to 536 adults and 229 children. Olson not only did a regular radio broadcast, but was instrumental in the start of Mesa Lutheran Hospital. Among the church's early outreach programs were cookies for Sunshine Acres Children's Home, bandages and thread to an African mission; sewing for the American Red Cross and food, clothing and medicine to a Lutheran mission.
The Rev. Howard Hahn Jr. served as pastor from December 1963 to December 1990. By 1968, membership had reached 1,055, and the church added the summer vicar program, St. James acolyte program, a full range of Sunday school classes, choirs and a professional kindergarten school. Construction of a fellowship hall and kitchen was completed in 1972.
A learning center and the Fireside Lounge were completed in 1985. During the 1970s, five men from First Evangelical Lutheran became "sons of the ministry" by going to seminary and becoming ordained pastors, including the current pastor, the Rev. John Schaumburg, ordained in 1972. Others were Michael Shaw, 1973; Shealds Smith, 1975; James Benson, 1978; and Randy Parshall, 1978. During those years, the church sponsored a Vietnamese refugee family, helped the Phoenix AA Women's Halfway House and special projects.
The Rev. Edward Petersen served as pastor from 1991 to 1997 and oversaw the organizing of a contemporary worship service, the Maricopa Health Care-a-Van program, Stephen Ministry, Christian Movement, fall festivals and "Meet Your Neighbor" Saturdays.
The church marked its 50th anniversary in 1998. Schaumburg was installed as pastor in August 1999. The church opened a two-day-a-week food pantry with Lutheran Social Ministry of the Southwest and became involved in such efforts as the Lutheran Cursillo Movement, a Head Start school and ASPIRE - the After School Program for Instructional and Recreational Experience, geared to tutoring children after school. Four additional church members were ordained for ministry or did internships: Kathleen "Kit" Neeley, ordained 2000; Trudy Tannen Cretsinger, 2005; and Melissa Harr and Miguel Gomez-Acosta, both interns.
In recent years, the church built "The Close," a memorial garden and space for outdoor events. It remodeled its 1951 sanctuary into the "Great Room" for programs and events. Today the church has 317 members and holds worship at 7 p.m. Friday in the Carl Olson Room and 9:15 a.m. Sundays in the sanctuary. For more information, call the church. (480) 969-7221.