The First Lutheran Church of America

by Arnold Nelson

Preface

This story is about the church I grew up in. It will not appeal to everyone. It is a story I felt I had to write. This story coves over 100 years in the life of the chyrch


This story is a story that will not appeal to everybody but it is a story that I felt I wanted to write. It is a story about the church I grew up in and little bit about the history of that church.

The date was April 24 1901. It was the first service of the First Evangelical Lutheran Church of Redlands California. The pastor with Rev. F.C. Burke and there were 26 members present. The location of the service was never written down.

One year later on July 18, 1902 they bought the original church property it was a lot at the corner of Myrtle Street in Olive Avenue. They paid $300 down and had a $600 mortgage. The cornerstone was laid on March 20, 1904.

A special service was held on January 24, 1909, the church was declared debt free and the mortgage was burn and a dedication ceremony was held.

They started discussing a parsonage in April 1923. The congregation voted to sell a portion of the church property and use the money to purchase the house on a Northeast corner of Olive Avenue and Grant. The house was purchased for $4000. 3000 down and a mortgage of 1000.

Like any other organization the church had its ups and downs. March 3, 1924 was probably one of the lowest times of the church. The Rev. C.W.F. Stauffer and his seven-year-old daughter Esther were killed returning to Redlands from visit to Los Angeles when their vehicle stalled on a railroad track and was struck by a train. In the next few years the church was growing. In 1946 it was discovered there were many serious plumbing problems at the parsonage. The Council and the pastor started looking for new parsonage the decision was made to purchase a six-year-old three-bedroom home at 908 Church St. The house on Olive Avenue was sold.

After the end of World War II, for whatever reason the church with losing members. By 1950 there were just a handful of families left. Rev. John D Foerster was called. I believe he came from Pennsylvania with his wife Mary and her twin sons Dick and Dave. He started serving the church on September 1, 1950. Rev. Foerster came into the church at a low time in the life of the church and he worked hard and long and pretty soon the church started growing again.

In November 1953 a new family moved to town. It was the Arnold Nelson family. Arnold had been sick a lot and he was tired of the cold in Chicago. So after his mother died he took his family and went to find someplace warm. He ended up in Redlands California. At that time they had six kids later the family grew to eight.

Due to the dynamic leadership of Rev. Foerster and the need to expand a decision was made to purchase a property adjacent to the church. To be used for Sunday School rooms. My grandfather William Nelson was a professional carpenter and my dad Arnold Nelson went in and got the house ready to be used for Sunday school rooms. In the main part of the house was the nursery behind the nursery was a kindergarten class. In the West side of the house was in office and behind office with the Sunday school room for the fourth, fifth and sixth graders. It was dedicated on April 15, 1955.

I remember being in the kindergarten class there because my oldest sister and some of her friends were helping out in there. It was a fun year being that close to my sister. The first second and third graders had their classroom in the basement of the church building. I remember that basement well. That basement was also used for banquets and other festivities. I remember two pictures hanging on the walls in there. They both touched me for different reasons. The first was a picture of Jesus standing next to a heart knocking at the door. Below the picture was the caption "I stand at the door and knock." The other picture I don't remember too clearly except that it had two dogs in it and below the picture was a caption "surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life." One of the reasons I remember that picture is because I always thought there should be three dogs, one named Shirley, one named Goodness, and one named Mercy. It was many years later when I figured out why there were only two dogs. The junior high and high school classes met in the sanctuary and the adult class met in the annex. In the 1964-1965 Sunday school year I was in the eighth grade and my oldest sister was teaching the class again it was a fun year.

In December 1959 it was recommended that the property on the corner of Cypress and San Mateo be purchased to be the new location of the church and the parsonage. In December of 1960 the congregation voted to purchase the 9.3 acres site on the corner San Mateo on Cyprus at the end of two and a half years the property was paid for aided by the sale of the oranges on the property.

I remember every Sunday there was a lady in the choir. She always said in the first seat. Even when the choir was not singing she sat in that seat. Her husband was the head usher for as long as I can remember. After we moved to the new building I don't think I ever saw them again, I don't know what happened to him.

The groundbreaking ceremony for the new sanctuary was held on July 25, 1965. Pastor Foerster turn the first blade of earth. Shortly after they started building my dad was called over there. He was going to put in the lawn sprinklers and they wanted him to lay pipes under the parking lots before the parking lots were paved. So my dad, my brother and I went over there and laid the pipes. While we were working my grandfather came by to see how we were doing. I believe that was the only time he ever saw the new church property because it wasn't too long after that that he died.

I was confirmed in the old building on Easter in 1965. I was the last person in our class confirmed. My father told me I was the last one ever confirmed in that building. I remember my grandfather coming up to congratulate me. He could not talk above a whisper then. He said something to me and I could not understand. I just said thank you and pushed him along. I always regretted that because now I'll never know what he said because he died shortly after my confirmation. We started using the new church on Easter 1966 the church was dedicated in October of 1966.

Once the church and the parsonage were finished the complainers started in. They complained that too much money was spent. It was understandable because Pastor Foerster wanted the best of everything. He got it too. Some of the complaining got to my dad and he thought they were complaining about him overcharging for the sprinklers. He got mad and said he would never step foot in that church. It didn't matter anyway because he quit going to church long before that.

The church had kneeling rails in all the pews and most of people used them or at least pretended they were kneeling. There was one older lady in the church. She refused to kneel every time we kneeled she stood up. I remember one Sunday shortly after we moved to the new building the church was so full we had to put folding chairs in the aisles in order to see everybody. That was the only time I ever saw their church so full

Dr. Wayne Bohrnstedt was a church organist for long as I can remember. In the new church the choir was in the balcony. The organ was on the west side of the balcony turned so Dr. Bohrnstedt could play the organ and lead the choir. He had a mirror on the organ so he can look at Pastor in the front of the church and get his signals.

There was another man in the church his name was John Castle he helped Pastor with the communion every month. He was the only one allowed to do that. He did that for over 30 years. Pastor did something I've never seen any other pastor do. He took all the time necessary with communion. They brought about 25 people at a time up to the front. He would hand out the bread. Then hand out the wine. Then Mr. Castle would pick up the empty cups. Most pastors today try to rush through the communion so they can get their congregation out on time. I can't blame the pastors. I am sure they here a lot of comments when the service runs late.

In 1969 I graduated from high school after that I went to the Lutheran Church on and off for the next three years. In January 1973 I attended my last service at the Lutheran Church.

Rev. Foerster retired on June 30, 1981 after 31 years of serving the First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Redlands. Rev. Foerster passed away in December 1988 at the age of 81. I don't think there was a man I had more respect for then Rev. John D Foerster.

The church had a big anniversary party on April 21, 2001 it was the 100th anniversary of the first Evangelical Lutheran Church in Redlands.

The next time I got to worship in the church was the summer of 2004. It was supposed to be our 35th high school class reunion. The reunion got canceled when the place we were going to meet was given to another group. My plans were already made so I took my vacation anyway went to Redlands overnight and on Sunday morning worship in the Lutheran Church. I was there for the early service. When I was there I was talking to a lady she asked me what changes have been made to the church since I was there. At the time I could not see any. It wasn't till later when it hit me the organ was moved it is now in the middle of the balcony and turned around.

I had also heard about their new contemporary service. I want to be a part of it so I stayed around for the contemporary service. It was in the Sunday school building. The Sunday school building was built after I left and this was my first chance to see it. When I walked in the Sunday school building the first thing I saw was a big picture of Mary Foerster, the Sunday school building was dedicated to her. I cannot think of a better person to dedicate the Sunday school building to, it really made me feel good to see that. I enjoyed the contemporary service then I left and finished the rest of my vacation.

I have had one more opportunity to worship in that church and that was Easter Sunday 2011. I was on vacation visiting friends and relatives on the last day of my vacation I went to the Easter service at the Lutheran Church. It was a good service the only thing that bothered me was the church wasn't as full as I expected it to be on Easter Sunday. I noticed another change that Sunday to. Some of pews had been taken out so there is room for people in wheelchairs to worship. I was pleased to see that.

In ending I would like to say my memories are my memories some of them are almost 50 years old and maybe I don't remember them right, but this is the way I remember them. I still love that Lutheran Church I have many fond memories. Maybe someday God will take me back to Redlands and I can worship in that church again. Right now I'm living in North Carolina I have very little money so there's not much chance to travel. Who knows what God has in my future I try to follow him and do his bidding all the time and I know he takes care of me. I did get to see the Chapel one time, that they built out of the old church building, is a beautiful Wedding Chapel. When I walked in there it still felt like the old church and I was very glad of that.

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