A SLICE OF LIFE IN THE CLC
SNAPSHOTS OF CONGREGATIONS FROM AROUND THE CHURCH OF THE LUTHERAN CONFESSION
This month’s unique “Slice of Life in the CLC” is the testament to God’s grace that is St. Stephen Lutheran Church of the San Francisco Peninsula—Mountain View, California. The congregation is most commonly known among us as St. Stephen–West, or St. Stephen–West Bay (to differentiate it from its sister congregation across the Bay in Hayward: St. Stephen–East Bay).
Mountain View is in the heart of the “Silicon Valley” and is home to the corporate headquarters of Google as well as numerous other high-tech corporations. The word silicon in that term originally referred to the large number of silicon chip innovators and manufacturers in the region, but the area is now home also to many of the world’s largest technology companies.
According to a recent report by the Barna Research Group, the Silicon Valley and the surrounding San Francisco Bay Area is the least “church going” metro area in the United States. It is also the most “de-churched” metro area in our country (meaning that it has the largest percentage of people who have consciously decided to stop attending a church).
It was in this unique and challenging region of the country that God saw fit to plant, develop, and preserve the St. Stephen congregation. The earliest roots of the congregation go back to 1963, with worship services being conducted in the home of CLC members in San Bruno. In 1965 Pastor Rollin Reim was installed as the first full-time pastor of St. Stephen and missionary to the San Francisco Bay Area. This was an incredible step of faith since the group initially was made up of only nine adults and seven children! This small but dedicated group took on half the costs involved, while the CLC Mission Board provided the other half. The church constitution was signed in 1967. In 1968, through Pastor Reim’s radio ministry, contact was made with Don Luebkeman, and the East Bay congregation was begun and developed.
The congregation worshiped in several rented facilities before the Lord raised up a sanctuary of their own (literally!) “from the dead.” In 1985 the congregation was able to acquire a mortuary building that was about to be demolished in Mountain View. Six months later it was moved three miles down the road to its current site on Moorpark Way, where the Lord had already provided the congregation with land. In February of 1986, the congregation dedicated this remodeled sanctuary and facility with thanksgiving to the glory of God. A funeral parlor that had once housed the dead was now dedicated to the Lord, and to the proclamation of eternal LIFE!
St. Stephen was faithfully served by Pastor Rollin Reim from 1965-1990, and from 1996-2000 when he was called back into the full-time ministry. Pastor Reim currently lives in a retirement home in the area and remains an active member of the congregation.
In late 2016, it was agreed that it was in the best interest of both Bay Area congregations to enter into a dual parish arrangement. St. Stephen West-Bay and St. Stephen East-Bay each issued a divine call to Pastor Luke Bernthal, who accepted both calls and began his service in January of 2017.
In 1995, under the leadership and encouragement of Pastor Bruce Naumann, and with the dedicated efforts of the congregation, the Lord provided St. Stephen with a Christian day school for the children of the congregation. Sara Pfeiffer was the first full-time teacher called to the school, and for twenty-one years taught and served as principal. Her talents and passion for teaching children and bringing them God’s Word were instrumental in the establishment and growth of the school. Many other full- and part-time teachers have served the school over the years, with a number of them coming from within the congregation.
From its inception, the school has also served as an incredible outreach tool not only to the children and families of the Silicon Valley, but also to others from around the world! Because families who live in this area come from all over the world, our school truly is an “international” school. In the school’s current enrollment of fifteen students, ten countries are represented (not including the United States): India, Great Britain, Nigeria, China, Korea, Ukraine, Tonga, Indonesia, New Zealand, and Germany.
St. Stephen Lutheran School (SSLS) is in its twenty-third year of existence. By God’s grace and guiding, the congregation called and installed a second teacher this summer, Mrs. Rebecca Lillo. She joins the teaching staff with the current principal, Kirsten Gullerud, who is going into her fifth year at SSLS. The school continues to serve as a vibrant and visible witness of the Gospel to our community and beyond!
St. Stephen has always had a dedicated and active membership. From the building of the church facility, to the building of the parsonage, to the establishment of the school, to hosting congregational meals as well as other church and school events, St. Stephen is a congregation that loves to serve, and loves to serve with each other!
Current congregational activities and outreach efforts include the following:
• The “Ambassadors,” a congregational mission society, led by the congregation’s Mission Board, that encourages both “in-reach” (within the congregation) and “outreach” (to those outside our congregation).
• Distributing “blessing bags” with food and other helpful items (including a New Testament) to individuals in the ever-increasing homeless population in the area.
• Serving CLC members who live in Southern California (Los Angeles and San Diego areas). This group is known as St. Stephen–South.
• Vacation Bible school, which brings a number of non-member contacts to hear the Gospel message, is held during the last week of July each year. This year we were blessed with a very talented and dedicated teaching team from the Traveling Vacation Bible School (TVBS) program.
• Planning and building a new church sign.
St. Stephen is currently planning its fiftieth anniversary celebration, to be held on Sunday, July 29th, 2018. The theme of the celebration includes something that has been a part of the congregation’s logo and mission: “Fifty Years of Lifting High the Cross.”
There is still much more “Lifting High the Cross” that needs to be done in our area. The good news is that Jesus has already done all the “heavy lifting”! We pray with confidence and optimism that He will continue to bless the proclamation of His cross and resurrection in this mission field that is so ripe for harvest.
Luke Bernthal is the pastor of St. Stephen Lutheran Church of the East Bay in Hayward, California, and St. Stephen Lutheran Church of the San Francisco Peninsula in Mountain View, California.