The formal history of Sherman Oaks Lutheran Church begins with the date of its organization, November 16, 1947. However much prayer and work in preparation for this event took place before this date. In April, 1946, the family of Russell Halen inquired of the Rev. M. Henry Tietjen, at that time in El Cajon, whether it might be possible to open a mission in Sherman Oaks. In the following month, the Executive Secretary of the English District Mission Board, the Rev. R. Jesse, surveyed the field. He was accompanied by the Rev. Schlichting, Counselor, and the Rev. Tietjen. The nucleus of the mission would be the Halen family, Russell and Gladys, and their children, James and Donna.
There was no place available where church and Sunday school might be held. However, when the time came for opening the mission, the La Reina Theatre on Ventura Blvd. became available when another church that had been worshipping there moved out. In this manner, God answered prayer by solving the first problem, the location of a place for worship.
A year before organization, November, 1946, the English District Mission Board gave its blessing to begin work in Sherman Oaks. The first service was held on January 12, 1947. The Halen family and Mrs. Linda Snowden, plus Mrs. Tietjen, the Pastor's wife, were the only Lutherans present who would later help to form the congregation. Visiting friends and relatives from neighboring congregations raised the attendance at the first service to 19.
A forward-looking spirit prevailed as others began to join the little group, and a series of "firsts" began to be recorded. The first Communion service was celebrated on March 2, 1947. The first tentative Voters Assembly met on April 1. Mr. Russell Halen served as Secretary-Treasurer from the beginning of the mission. The first reduction of subsidy amounting to $45.00 for the second quarter of 1947 was a welcome sign of things to come. $220.00 was requested of the Mission Board for that quarter. The first instruction for confirmation was given on April 12, with 2 young people in the class, Donna Halen and George Krebs. A first concerted effort to canvass the community was made on April 7 by Rev. Tietjen, assisted by five pastors of the local conference. A tentative Women's Missionary Guild was assembled on April 23, with eight women present. The first Sunday School Rally was held on September 1. Mrs. Mary Eckberg was the first of the mission's members to enter her heavenly home, on August 1.
On June 22, 1947, a special meeting was held to consider organizing a congregation. Less than 2 weeks later, July 2, a draft of the proposed constitution was read and accepted. The constitution was signed on August 14, and it was resolved to hold the organization service together with the celebration of Holy Communion as soon as a suitable place could be found. On October 5, the Valley Park Country Club was obtained for the organization service to be held November 16.
Pastor M. Henry Tietjen, 1st Pastor
The joy of that occasion is reflected in the words of Pastor Tietjen: "The greatest day in the history of our Sherman Oaks Lutheran Church . . . was the day of its organization." 1,300 invitations were printed and distributed to neighboring homes and congregations. The auditorium of the Valley Club was made over into a church, having Chancel, Altar, Railing, Pulpit, and Lectern. The charter members, led by Pastors Schlichting and Tietjen, processed to the front of the auditorium. The Rev. Schlichting, Counselor for the Los Angeles Circuit, preached on Revelation 3, 7-13: "Philadelphia, The True, Faithful, Successful Church; Our Model."
The 26 charter members were arranged in the order in which they had joined our mission during the year: January 12, Mr. and Mrs. Russell Halen, Ned and James Halen, Linda Snowden, Pastor and Mrs. M. Henry Tietjen; April 6, Mrs. Anna Kneer, Mr. & Mrs. Louis Meier; May, Mr. & Mrs. Gustav Eckberg; June Mr. & Mrs. Arthur Kraska, Albert and Leonard Kraska; July 6, Mrs. Annette Spille, Mrs. Alice McLachlan; August 3, Mrs. Olive Vartan; September 7, Mrs. Stephania Brand, Mrs. Tina Leverenz, Mr. & Mrs. Joseph Kellner; November 16, Mr. Roland Huebner, Mr. & Mrs. Justus Isler. Pastor Tietjen addressed each person by name, giving the hand of fellowship and love, and presented a certificate of charter membership as a token of the organization of Sherman Oaks Lutheran Congregation.
The following month, on December 10, the Congregation resolved to apply for membership in the English District of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. It was also resolved to join the Lutheran Church Extension Society of the English District in Southern California. Six months later, on June 15, 1948, Mr. Russell Halen, lay delegate to the English District Convention in Chicago, signed the constitution of the English District in the name of the Sherman Oaks Lutheran Congregation.
On January 13, 1948, permission was granted to purchase the northwest corner of Dickens and Kester Streets for the future church. The next day, January 14, the Voters Assembly instructed the Trustees to proceed with the purchase of the property, 100' x 190'. A down payment of $4000 was needed, of which $1800 was on hand. The Mission Board made a loan of $3200. The full price of the lot was $15,500. However, before permission could be received to build, the property would first have to be re-zoned by the Los Angeles Zoning Commission. The commission granted a hearing on August 23, at which time 18 members of the church were present. On August 25 the glad news was received that the petition had been granted, opening the door to construction of a church building.
During the first year steady progress was recorded On February 6, 1948, the church was incorporated. On February 19, the Women's Missionary Guild adopted its constitution which was signed by 8 charter members. The Guild resolved to join the Missionary Guild of the English District of Southern California.
On May 5, 1948, the Voters Assembly in a special meeting considered the building of a church at the approximate cost of $40,000. At the May 12 meeting Messrs. L. Meier, W. Larsen, and A. Kraska were appointed to serve on the Building Committee. Meanwhile, on June 6, 1948, the congregation was able to change its place of worship from the theatre to the Women's Club House on Dickens and Sepulveda. On the same date the first Confirmation service was held, the junior class being George Krebs and Donna Halen, and the adult class, Mrs. Margaret Huebner, Mrs. Petersen, Floyd Davis and Ruby Davis. 30 worshippers attended the service.
As plans for the building continued, the congregation took steps toward future growth. On March 31, 1950, it was resolved to make a down payment with option to purchase a 30' x 190' section of the lot adjoining the church lot. On November 5 ground was broken for the combined chapel and social hall. Pastor Tiejen threw the first spade of earth, followed by Mr. Justus Isler, chairman of the Building Committee, and Mr. Wendell Larsen, Secretary. Busy months followed for the young congregation. Two months after ground was broken, the cornerstone of the new chapel was laid in a special service. The Rev. Oswald McRee, Mission Secretary of the English District, preached.
Pastor Harold Engelbrecht, 2nd Pastor
At this time Pastor Tiejen, who had shepherded the little flock from its beginning, requested to have his status changed to Pastor Emeritus as soon as a new pastor would be installed. A Call was issued to the Rev. Harold H. Engelbrecht of Gary, Indiana. On Feb. 1, 1951, his letter of acceptance was read to the congregation. The date of installation was set to coincide with the dedication of the new church edifice.
In preparation for that date, the congregation signed a contract with Canoga Park Planning Mill for fabrication of the Altar, Pulpit, Lectern, Communion Rail, Baptismal Font, Collection Table and Collection Receptacle, at a cost of $650. The material was to be redwood. Also at the special meeting of January 21, 1951, the decision was made to purchase a rebuilt pipe organ from the Kilgen Organ Co., in the amount of $4626. To furnish housing for the new pastor, the District Mission Board reported that it was negotiating with 2 individuals for the purchase of a parsonage, at the eventual cost of a little over $20,000. On April 6, the decision was made to negotiate a loan of $18,200 with the District Mission Board, at an interest rate of 2 ½%.
The date of April 22, 1951, was a day of rejoicing for the congregation, as the new church edifice was dedicated to the glory of the Triune God, and the new pastor, the Rev. Engelbrecht, was installed. The preacher for the festival service was the Rev. A. H. Schmidt, Eagle Rock Lutheran Church, and the Officiate was the now Pastor Emeritus, the Rev. Tiejen. Neighboring pastors of the English and Southern California Districts assisted. The organist was Mrs. Russell Halen, and the choir sang under direction of Miss Clara Arndt.
Church furnishings, dedicated to the glory of God, were given by the following donors: Brass altar cross, by early members of the congregation; altar candelabra, by Mrs. M. H. Tietjen, in honor of Pastor Tietjen's 50th anniversary in the holy ministry; brass altar vases, by Women's Missionary Guild; floor candelabra, by Mr. and Mrs. Wm. Bohne; offering basons, by Mrs. A. Hubly, Mrs. S. Strand, Mrs. H. Butterfield; chancel hymnals and candle lighter, by Mrs. G. Eckberg and Mrs. Clinkaberry; Bibles, lectionary, agenda, and liturgy, by Women's Missionary Guild. The architects of the building were Moe and Larsen of Van Nuys, the general contractor, William Bohne.
Pastor Engelbrecht served the congregation until the beginning of 1955, when he accepted the Call to serve as pastor of Mt. Calvary Lutheran Church, Phoenix, Ariz. He preached his farewell sermon on February 13. The Rev. Elmer Streufert, Chapel of the Cross, served as interim pastor through 1955.
Pastor William Wittrock, 3rd Pastor
In January, 1956, the Rev. William Wittrock, of Chicago, IL, received the Call from the District to serve as Missionary At Large at Sherman Oaks Congregation. He began his lengthy and fruitful ministry in April, 1956, and received the formal Call from the congregation in 1957. He was installed as third Pastor of the congregation in October, 1957.
In June, 1956, the congregation adopted several decisions which would be blessed by God toward future growth: To purchase the adjoining property, 100' x 190' on Dickens St. (price being asked, $27,500 with the possibility of trade on the Sutton St. parsonage); to request a loan of $35,000 from the English District (which was granted a month later); and to go self-supporting after having received subsidy since the beginning of the congregation.
In September, 1956, the disposal of the Sutton St. property was approved for $20,000. On April 2, 1957, the Pastor informed the congregation that membership stood at 166 communicant members, a gain of 125 since the beginning of his service the previous April. This made the congregation one of the fastest growing churches in the English District at the time. At the occasion of the eleventh anniversary, the Rev. M. Henry Tietjen, founding pastor, wrote the following letter: "Dearly Beloved Brother Wittrock and Members of Sherman Oaks Lutheran Church: Congratulations at the eleventh anniversary of Sherman Oaks Lutheran Church. God's blessing has rested upon you and Pastor Wittrock and his work, especially in these last years. He is truly a most consecrated man; and you have greatly prospered under his leadership, both in numbers and through his leadership and his preaching ... May God's richest blessing be with you in the future! Such is the prayer of your founding Pastor and Mrs. M. Henry Tietjen." Shortly thereafter, on November 14, 1960, this man of God, the Rev. M. H. Tietjen, was received to his eternal home in his 88th year. The Savior he had served so faithfully had used him to lay the groundwork not only of Sherman Oaks Congregation, but also of some 14 other congregations in the southern California area.
Concern for the continuing Christian training of the children of the congregation was evident in various recommendations and plans. In March, 1958, the "Long Range Planning Committee" recommended to use the back part of the church to start a Christian Day School. (It was noted that the house on the property did not lend itself for use as a school.) As plans for such a school were deferred, consideration of a proposed educational building was presented to the congregation. Estimated cost of such a building was $80,000, with half of this amount to be financed by the congregation. At the meeting of January, 1959, the proposition was broached to sell the parsonage (about $30,000 to $35,000), and to apply the proceeds toward the building of a Christian Day School. The District Board of Missions would lend $40,000 toward the total projected cost. However, no action was taken on this proposal.
The plans for a school building remained a topic of discussion for several years, with no decision made until 1963. At the November meeting of that year, the motion was adopted: "To construct a combination church expansion and Sunday School building at an estimated cost of $75,000.; and each person voting for the plan to pledge support financially for a period of 3 years for the proposed Sunday School, Church Expansion Building for the development of the Kingdom of God." The resolution was adopted 118 for, 8 against.
On May 23, 1965, ground was broken for the new Christian Education building which was to be erected adjacent to the church. The speaker for the service was the Rev. Carl Harman, Tucson, Arizona, 4th Vice President of the District. The cornerstone laying was celebrated on November 7, 1965, with the guest speaker being the president of the English District, the Rev. Dr. Bertwin Frey, of Ohio. The cornerstone contains the Bible, Luther's Small Catechism, history of the church listing the charter members, constitution of the church, along with the names of the Pastor, officers, and groups and organizations.
The day of dedication came on April 24, 1966, with two special services of dedication and thanksgiving. At the morning service the preacher was the Rev. Gordon Mackensen, First Lutheran Church, El Cajon, and Counselor of the San Diego area. In the afternoon, guest preacher was the Rev. Jerome Groth, Chapel of the Cross, Mission Hills. Special music was provided at both services under the direction of Mr. Wes Cook, organist. The dedication program listed the officers of the congregation, the Sunday school, and societies. Architect was James Keisker, and contractor, Hugo White.
A special word of appreciation must be extended to the ladies of the congregation, who through the years assisted by word and deed in the work of Christ's kingdom. As noted previously, a Women's Missionary Guild was formed and adopted its constitution in 1948. Fifteen years later, in 1963, the ladies of the congregation organized under the name of "Mary and Martha League." The first official meeting was held on July 3, 1963. The first slate of officers was: Mrs. Howdy Pound, President; Mrs. Hal Hathaway, Vice President Mrs. Raymond Banke, Rec. Sec.; Mrs. Don Fergus, Treas.; Mrs. Don Meyer, Corr. Sec. In its newsletter, the League spelled out its purpose in the following manner: The “Mary and Martha League” was instituted as an organization comprising of all the women of the church. Its aims are to be basically a spiritual organization. It must serve the needs of the Church and provide assistance wherever possible. In so doing, an atmosphere of Christian fellowship and love does prevail."
As one of its services to the congregation, the League began a monthly newsletter of information and inspiration for the members of the congregation. The newsletter, called "Oak Leaves," was born in December 1963, and has remained an important cog in the wheel of the church over the years. The League also resolved to establish closer ties with the Lutheran Women's Missionary League, and at its November 1966 meeting decided to send a representative to the LWML convention. It has remained in close contact with the mission activities of the LWML through the years.
After 12 years of consecrated service at Sherman Oaks Congregation, Pastor William Wittrock preached his farewell sermon on August 11, 1968. A congregational reception was held in the social hall after the services in honor of the Wittrocks, and in recognition of their faithful services to God and to the congregation. Under the blessings of the Lord of the Church, the congregation attained its highest membership and attendance at services over its 35 year span.
Pastor Dennis Schaffert, 4th Pastor
During the months that followed, the congregation was served by Rev. Jerome Groth, as interim pastor, and the Rev. Murray Martin, as interim preacher. On March 30, 1969, the Rev. Dennis Schaffert, of St. John Lutheran Church, Williams Lake, British Columbia, was called. He accepted the Call, and was installed as the 4th Pastor at Sherman Oaks on June 22, 1969. Two weeks prior to this happy day for the people, the newly remodeled sanctuary was dedicated on June 8, 1969. The paneling and remodeling had been done by members of the congregation.
Five years following the remodeling of the sanctuary, an arson-set fire did much damage to the church building. Pastor Schaffert reported in the June, 1974 "Oak Leaves": "At 8:10 PM on Thursday, May 16, 1974, an arsonist set 2 fires in our church, one in the chancel area, and one in the Pastor's study. The fire department was quick to the scene, but the fire was very hot while it burned and much damage was done. We do not know at this time the extent of the damage. The sanctuary is at this time boarded up and hopefully clean-up work and rebuilding can begin soon. Our insurance coverage would seem to cover our loss. We do not have any idea who started the fire or what the reason may have been."
The people of the congregation responded to this time of testing with faith and courage. At the special Council meeting of May 19, a task force committee for proceeding with the rebuilding of the church was named: Messrs. Ferd Luth, Ed Lanning, John Bailey, and George Sell. The insurance policy of the church had been up-dated some 15 months before, covering approximately $80,000, the replacement cost on the building. Plans were formulated to keep the church functioning for purposes of worship, services to be held in the social hall. Offers of assistance were given by the Presbyterian and Methodist Churches of Sherman Oaks, and by First Lutheran of Van Nuys, which offered the use of hymnals.
A year after the fire, the congregation rejoiced once again to worship in the renovated church edifice. The Rededication Day Service of Praise was held on May 25, 1975, with a single united service at 11:00 AM. New pew Bibles were placed in the sanctuary, given as the "Marshall George Memorial" by his widow, Delores. Previous Marshall George memorials were the baptism font, white altar paraments, and lectern Bible, which were destroyed by the 1974 fire. Many hours were given by members who offered their time and craftsmanship toward the renovation of the sanctuary and the office. Mr. Ed Lanning constructed the Altar, Lectern, Pulpit, Communion Rail, and Baptism Font in the chancel, as well as the enclosures for the organ, the choir rail, and the lectern for the guest register. Mr. John Bailey constructed the chancel cross, the desk, lamp table and end table in the office, and refinished the church pews. The restoration of the physical property of the church was symbolic of the growth of inner unity which prevailed during the time of testing. The Lord's promise ever holds true, that all things work together for good for those that love Him.
A significant development in the history of the congregation is the development of Children's Center. In October, 1972, the Woodcrest School began to rent the hall's facilities to serve as a pre-school. However, in the spring of 1974, interest grew in the congregation to start a nursery school of our own instead of renting out the facilities. At the April meeting, the congregation instructed the Council to undertake the establishment of a Nursery School and Day Care Center. The first governing board consisted of Bud Ebner, Ferd Luth, Hal Manthei, David Reddersdorf, and Joy Schaffert. Mrs. Pat Reddersdorf began service as the director of the school, and continued in that capacity until August 1993.
Our Children's Center commenced operation in September, 1974, with 6 children, 1 teacher, and a director. Under God's blessing, continued growth has increased the enrollment to the full capacity of 110 children, with 11 teachers, a director and assistant director. Through the years, the Center has pursued the goals for which it was established: 1) To be of service to the community in an area of great need, that is, day care/nursery facilities 2) To assist the congregation in meeting its ever-increasing financial needs 3) To offer an invitation and opportunity to a greater part of the community to worship with us and share our Christian hope and joy. The Center has contributed approximately $100,000 to the congregation's treasury during the years of its operation, which amounts to some 30% of the church's budget during that period.
The years of the decade of the 70's were marked by an intended study of the reasons for being Christ's Church in the community. In January 1975 the program called "Decision '75" was adopted. This effort aimed toward 4 areas of responsibility (Evangelism and Church Growth, Financial Planning, Involvement in Congregation Activities, Involvement in Christian Growth). The congregation also studied the questions raised in the church at large, especially in regard to fellowship, the status of women in the church, the authority of the church, and the understanding of mission. In October 1977, Pastor Schaffert announced his desire to attend the Deaconess Hospital training program in Spokane, Washington to enter the field of full time hospital chaplaincy. In November the congregation bade farewell to Pastor Schaffert.
Pastor Enno Schmoock, 5th Pastor
During the next months the congregation was served by various guest pastors of the area. In May, 1978, the Call was issued to the Rev. Enno Schmoock, of St. Paul Lutheran Church, North Tonawanda, N.Y. He accepted the Call, and was installed as the 5th Pastor of the congregation on August 6, 1978.
Sherman Oaks Lutheran Church can enumerate many reasons for thanking God, Who has sustained His people by His undeserved love through 3 ½ decades. Not the least of these reasons is the manner in which the Lord assisted us to re-finance our large debt. He placed into the heart of Augusta Tews, fellow member whom He took to Himself on October 3, 1978, the desire to remember the worth of His kingdom after her death. She named the church as beneficiary of her estate. This generous bequest, totaling $109,812., enabled the congregation to re-finance its debt of $150,000. In September, 1980, the treasurer was able to report, "August 14, 1980, is a red-letter date for Sherman Oaks Lutheran Church. On that date, our refinancing effort culminated with paying off our mortgage in the amount of $155,377.59. We now owe the Lutheran Church Extension Fund $100,000 on a 10 year note. We have a temporary $40,000 short term note pending conclusion of the Augusta Tews will; (The final accounting and distribution was approved on June 15, 1981, 2 ½ years after her death.) To facilitate our new arrangement with the Lutheran Church Extension Fund, 26 members invested $30,500. As a result, we reduced our interest terms from 9% to 8%. In recognition of God's gracious blessing, the congregation resolved at a special meeting July 19, 1981: "That the members individually and unitedly raise their heartfelt thanks to God for having moved this sister in Christ to remember the congregation with such generous love." Special immediate expenditures included repayment of the short term loan, thanksgiving gifts to the Synod and English District Church Extension Funds, and various needed repairs to church property.
The congregation also established a long-term remembrance of the Tews gift in its worship program. At the special meeting of March, 1982, the resolution was adopted to rebuild and expand the church organ, to be named the Augusta Tews Memorial Organ. The current organ had sustained considerable damage in the 1974 church fire. Since the church could not at that time finance a new organ, members of the congregation, under the leadership of Mr. Don Bostrom, donated hundreds of hours cleaning and repairing as much as possible. The rebuilt and expanded organ had 10 sets of pipes (as compared with 3 ½ sets presently in use), chosen to provide a stirring variety of sounds for the leading of the congregation in its praise and worship of God. Included is a new housing with exposed pipes to present a dramatic and striking appearance. The contract was awarded to Abbott and Sieker Organ Builders of Los Angeles, at a cost of $38,500. The new memorial organ was scheduled to be completed by January, 1983.
The worship life of the congregation was further enhanced when the decision was reached in January 1982, to hold one service each Sunday, beginning with the first Sunday in February. The time of the service was set at 10:00 AM, with Sunday school and Bible Class at 9:00 AM. Through out the years two services had been scheduled each Sunday, at 8:30 and 11:00 AM, with occasional single services. The blessings of a single worship service are evident, as a full church gives encouragement to God's people as they join in the regular use of the Savior's life-giving Gospel and Sacraments.
At the April 18, 1982, meeting of Sherman Oaks Congregation, Pastor Schmoock indicated his desire to retire from the active parish ministry after 4 decades of service. In a statement presented to the congregation, he said: "I have sought to balance the daily demands of pastoral responsibility with the ability to meet such demands, and am persuaded that the conclusion I have reached is for the common good. Therefore I prayerfully ask that the congregation accept and honor my decision, and to release me from the solemn Call as Pastor on October 31, 1982." The congregation resolved to accept and honor the Pastor's request, and authorized the Church Council to establish a Call Committee. Members of the committee were Mr. Hal Manthei, Chairman, Mrs. Marian Aden, Mr. Bud Ebner, Mr. Gordon Elliott, Mrs. Ruth Gibbs, and Mrs. Mabel Howard. On June 27, a surprise anniversary service and congregational dinner were held, in thanksgiving for God's mercies at the 40th anniversary of ordination, and marriage of Pastor and Mrs. Schmoock. Pastor Beyer, 6th Pastor
Pastor Don Beyer, 6th Pastor
Our sixth pastor, Rev. Donald Beyer, was installed in December 1982. At this point in our history, the church had achieved financial stability. The mortgage of the church was paid off and a mortgage burning ceremony was held in June 1990. Our financial stability enabled us to begin making contributions to missions. In 1976, we contributed 1.5% of our total budget to missions, and in 1996 we gave 14.5% of the budget to various missions. Among these missions were contributions to victims of several natural disasters: the Loma Prieta Earthquake, hurricanes Hugo and Andrew, and the 1992 Midwest flooding. We also contributed thousands of dollars to Lutheran Social Services, the District, and the Synod, yearly. There was a change in the administration of the children’s center in August 1993 when Mrs. Reddersdorf left. Her position was covered for one month by Leslie O’Byrne until Cynthia Cummins started in September.
Pastor Beyer retired in September 1993, and Rev. Robert Faga accepted the position of interim pastor. A call committee, chaired by Lauren Drexler, was formed to look for our next pastor. Disaster struck Sherman Oaks Lutheran Church soon after. On the morning of January 17, 1994 a large earthquake rocked the San Fernando Valley. Our church building suffered substantial damage. The homes of many of the members were damaged and some were deemed uninhabitable by the city. Those members in need of assistance found immediate help from within our congregation. Some members took displaced families into their homes and were always available to help in the moving process. Pastor Faga's loving approach in dealing with this disaster helped reassure and calm many aching hearts during the weeks and months that followed the earthquake.
The rebuilding effort began almost immediately. A building committee was set up, chaired by then Vice President Larry Hanna. In a congregational meeting, it was decided that we would take the opportunity to enhance the church property during the reconstruction process. Because of the complexity of the project, reconstruction began nearly one year later. Due to the damage of the property it was necessary for the pre-school to temporarily relocate. From February to August classes were held at OSULA (Osaka Sangyo University, Los Angeles) on Laurel Canyon Blvd. in Studio City.
Pastor George Mather, 7th Pastor
During the reconstruction process, we called Rev. George A. Mather, formerly of Pilgrim Evangelical Lutheran Church in South Plymouth, MA. He was installed in July 1994. He came to us at a time of great importance in our history. The building process was long and difficult, but the remodeled Church and Children's Center is much more inviting and beautiful than before the earthquake. On September 10, 1995 the Church and Children’s center were rededicated. Also in September 1995 Cynthia Cummins resigned her position as Director of the children’s center and Leslie O’Byrne took on the position full time until September 1998 when Judy Golby was promoted from teacher to Director and Leslie took the position of Administrator. The school continued to grow and the addition of a part time Assistant Director occurred in April 1999. Our next three years saw other changes such as blending traditional and contemporary worship, and Rev. Gary Rohwer began using our church for POBLO (People of the Book Lutheran Outreach) bringing Persians into the fold. The contemporary choir and other members of the congregation participated in the Sherman Oaks Street Fair twice as an outreach to the community. In addition to his duties as Pastor, Rev. Mather coauthored two books; Masonic Lodge (1995) and Discovering the Plain Truth: How the Worldwide Church of God Encountered the Gospel of Grace (1998). In February 1999 Pastor Mather accepted a call and moved to Pennsylvania. Rev. Rohwer entered into a verbal agreement with the District and the congregation to split his time between this congregation and the POBLO mission work he was involved in at the time. During this interim time Rev. Rohwer along with his wife encouraged the development of a fellowship group for children from age 4 and up and their parents. This group was called Kids for Christ (KFC). Vacation Bible school was also restarted during this time as a mission out reach to the children of the community.
Pastor Alan Koch, 8th Pastor
On Sunday, October 3, 1999 Rev. Alan Koch was installed as our 8th pastor. As a former music director Pastor Koch has been very supportive in the expansion of our worship music. In 2000 he purchased a set of chimes and started a chime choir, Exalt. In 2000 the Vacation Bible School took a major turn and through the efforts of many from the congregation we began the annual task of offering VBS free to the community. During the year 2000 under the direction and encouragement of Hal Manthei, the Stewardship committee began the 20/20 Vision program which through input from the congregation looked to the year 2020 and began setting goals. The 20/20 committee studied the congregational survey results and began the arduous task of renovating Fellowship hall once again. This time a mezzanine level room and office was to be added to expand the area available to the youth and Christian Education. Pastor Koch instituted the NO Debt Club in an effort to reduce the amount of debt that would result from this expansion. In 2001 it became evident that the KFC group needed to be divided so more age appropriate activities could be arranged. That same year Christian Malmin became our first Youth Director. KFC would continue for children ages 4 through 4th grade and their parents while the Youth Director would concentrate on 5th grade and up.
In March 2003 Pastor Koch received word from Timothy Ewell, Director of Parish services for the English District that Deborah Pinto was selected to receive the Lumen Christi: Volunteer Educator of the Year Award. In 2005 Mike Renneker, the choir director won first place in the 2005 CCMNI (Contemporary Christian Music Network International) songwriting contest for "Snowflakes in the Sun". He also received an honor award in 2005 for "Written in My Heart" in the The Great American Song Contest. Then in 2006 he won second place in the same contest for "No God” an honorable mention for "Eastern Stars and Northern Lights". In 2005 a service was planned for Saturday evenings and on Saturday, October 5, 2005 the first contemporary service was held with live contemporary music led by Mike Renneker. Growing slowly over the next year and a half there is a regular attendance at that service today. During this same time POBLO had been able to invite and convert a small group if Gypsies and Persians primarily and incorporated as Good News to All Nations Lutheran Church. Rev. Rohwer then received a call from POBLO to Michigan to an administrative position. Being unable to find a Pastor through POBLO to sheppard this congregation; in February 2006 Good News for All Nations merged with Sherman Oaks Lutheran. Continuing to follow the dreams of the 20/20 committee the pastor’s office was moved and renovated to allow small Bible studies, confirmation classes, counseling and to meet privately with Pastor. A Memorial Garden was also planned. The renovation of the pastor’s office and the creation of a Memorial garden were both completed in the spring of 2006. In October 2006 the children’s center said goodbye to Judy Golby and wished her well in her retirement. Diane Nixon the Assistant Director stepped up to the director position and Leslie O’Byrne added assistant director to her job duties as Administrator. In early July of 2006 Pastor Koch announced to the congregation that he would be retiring June 30, 2007 to spend time with his family in Florida and in December 2006 a call committee began the process of finding a new Pastor.
Pastor Tom Clocker, 9th Pastor
Reverend Thomas Clocker was installed in September 2007. He and his family moved here from Maryland and seemed to settle into the Sherman Oaks family easily. The congregation enjoyed his weekly messages and Bible studies. The congregation continued to grow, especially the Saturday Contemporary Service. His stay was to be brief however and in March of 2008 he tendered his resignation stating he was no longer able to do Pastoral Ministry. Many were saddened by this turn of events but the congregation restarted the call process and began the search to find a new pastor.
Pastor Daniel Pezzica, 10th Pastor
Through the urging of Bishop David Stechholz, rather than going through the traditional call process a second time in less than a year, the decision was made to work with Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne and call a candidate, Daniel Pezzica. After completing his seminary studies, Pastor Pezzica was ordained and installed on July 8, 2008 as the 10th Pastor of Sherman Oaks Lutheran. An emphasis was placed on studying God’s Word and on reaching out with the Gospel to the lost. Pastor immediately began teaching our English as a Second Language course; a position he continued until 2015. At that time, church organist Asmik Gyulderyan earned her Master's degree in Education for ESL through Concordia University Portland, and began teaching the classes twice per week. In June 2009, a meal program was established to provide hot meals for the needy on the last Tuesday of each month. The meals were served for the clients of Lutheran Social Services at Central Lutheran Church in Van Nuys. The meal program, as well as fundraising efforts, earned the “Congregation of the Year” Award by Lutheran Social Services (LSS) in 2010. In November 2017, Pastor Pezzica was elected to the LSS Board of Directors.
In 2011, Luigi Uwanawich was elected by the congregation to serve on the Board of Elders, becoming the first Gypsy to hold this position in an LCMS congregation. Pastor Pezzica has led monthly Bible Studies in the homes of various Gypsies, which have taken place in Sherman Oaks, Los Angeles, Corona, West Covina, Ontario, and others. The Gypsy Ministry of Sherman Oaks Lutheran has grown into the largest Gypsy Ministry program in the LCMS. Pastor Pezzica has had the opportunity to speak about Gypsy Ministry at several English District Conferences and Regional Gatherings. In 2016, he was also appointed by Bishop Jamison Hardy to serve on the English District Board of Mission and Evangelism.
Throughout Pastor Pezzica’s time here, an emphasis has been placed on growing in God’s Word. In 2008, Pastor Pezzica began a young adult Bible Study for people in their 20s, which eventually gave way into a Small Group. In 2009, Heather Wolter began teaching a Small Group styled Bible Study on Monday nights. In 2009, a Wednesday Night Bible Study was established. The Wednesday Night Bible Study changed formats in October 2015, when it became a “Coffee House Q & A,” providing an open forum for congregants and visitors to ask questions about whatever theological or Biblical topics they desire. In 2017, new opportunities to grow in God’s Word were added for young people in our congregation. Pastor Pezzica established a new Young Adult Bible Study for people in their 20s held twice a month as well as “Taco Tuesdays,” a weekly time for Biblical discussion for high school students.
A “Distinguished Speakers” series was established beginning in 2008. Speakers have included Christian Counselor, Dr. Earl Henslin, retired Police Officer John Caprarelli, scientist Mark Armitage, and apologists Craig A. Parton, Scott Keith and Jonathan Sarfati. In 2017, the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation was celebrated, with a special performance by actor Alan Lempke, who played the role of Martin Luther in a one man play entitled; “Martin: A Life of Martin Luther.”
In July 2012, Nate Brewer was called to serve as Director of Christian Education in a part-time role. He served the youth program with joy until March 2017, at which time he and his family moved to Phoenix.
Projects were also completed to renovate and freshen up the church property. In 2011 a Narthex remodel was completed, followed by a kitchen remodel in 2012.
Pastor Titus Utecht, 11th Pastor
Following the departure of Pastor Pezzica, the church was without a full-time pastor for two years. During this time, many in the congregation stepped up in big ways to carry the church forward. Near the end of this stretch, the COVID-19 pandemic began, and services were held in an online only format for
much of the beginning of 2020.
In the spring of that year, the congregation called Titus Utecht, who was finishing his studies at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne. He accepted the call, and in the summer moved to Sherman Oaks with his wife and two (soon to be three) daughters. After months of online worship, the
first in-person church services were held on July 11 th and 12 th 2020, with the ordination of Pastor Utechton the 12th. The very next morning, the state once again forbade indoor worship. However, after a short period of worshiping online only again, the congregation began holding services outdoors in the
courtyard, which lasted through April 2021. Worshiping outdoors for half a year was a unique experience. Sometimes it was challenging, such as on the very first Sunday outdoors when Sherman Oaks set a new heat record at 116° or whenever a helicopter would fly overhead and the service would have to come to a halt until it was quiet enough to hear. Often times the weather was great and the atmosphere of worshiping outdoors was quite pleasant. Yet no matter the conditions, God’s people continued to come to him in worship. Throughout the whole pandemic, the church maintained good safety practices but remained strongly committed to the importance of continuing to worship together.
At this time we look back to our beginnings and see how the Holy Spirit has moved this congregation forward through some difficult times and rededicate ourselves to bringing the Gospel to all nations. For "To Him who by means of his power working in us is able to do so much more than we can ever ask for, or even think of: to God be the glory of the church in Christ Jesus for all time, forever and ever! Amen." (Ephesians 3: 20, 21)
Sherman Oaks Lutheran Church
Serving Others thru the Love of Christ