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Updates from congregations around the Church of the Lutheran Confession

It’s been a little more than five years since the “Slice of Life” articles about our California congregations appeared in the Lutheran Spokesman. Since then, quite a bit has happened. Here’s a small slice of “What’s New” with your brothers and sisters in Christ in the San Francisco Bay Area and throughout California.

Saint Stephen Lutheran Church and School of the San Francisco Peninsula (Mountain View, California)
Saint Stephen Lutheran Church and School of the San Francisco Peninsula (Mountain View, California)

Our congregation certainly has had its share of challenges over the past five years. However, along with these challenges, not only has the Lord faithfully gotten us through them, He has also provided numerous blessings as a result—many of them unexpected!

The COVID restrictions led us to put our entire worship services online, complete with hymns and readings on the screen. We have gotten good and regular viewership, especially during the first year of the pandemic, and even have regular non-CLC viewers each week (one from as far away as Arkansas!)

We also began an online Wednesday Night Bible Study during the pandemic. This had the added blessing of allowing many of our scattered California CLC members from Sacramento down to San Diego to get to meet each other virtually for online fellowship and Bible Study.

The Lord has provided us with several in-person visitors from the nearby retirement communities who attend our services and Bible Classes regularly.

Sanctuary, Saint Stephen of the San Francisco Peninsula.
Sanctuary, Saint Stephen of the San Francisco Peninsula.

Our school staff was reduced to one full-time teacher, Mikkela Hammond, after our previous principal, Rebecca Lillo, and her family moved back to Wisconsin, where she now serves in our CLC school in Markesan. Our enrollment for this year was too low to provide funding for two full-time teachers, but we were able to hire Julia “Jewels” Bernthal as our part-time school administrator. This has proved to be a tremendous blessing to our school, as Julia’s skills in photography, marketing, and web-design have helped increase our school’s exposure in our area and, by the grace of God, helped bring in two new students at the end of October. Our current enrollment for this school year is up to eleven students, whose families are from five different countries, including the U.S., and from various religious backgrounds. One of our students, a member of our East Bay congregation, was able to join our school last year because we have been offering “hybrid” classes (online and in-person) since the start of the pandemic. Her family lives two hours away, and her school attendance would not have been possible if not for the online classes. This is yet another reminder that the Lord works out all things for good!

Some members of Saint Stephen of the San Francisco Peninsula.
Some members of Saint Stephen of the San Francisco Peninsula.

We’ve had several building projects and property improvements in the past few years as well. A much-needed new church sign and landscaping project was completed at the end of 2018. In 2020 we were able to refurbish the parsonage garage apartment into a new teacher’s apartment thanks to the untiring labor of a number of our members and generous donations from Saint Stephen members, past and present. As a result of the sale of our former teacherage, we were able to hire out the replacement of the flooring in our entryway, fellowship hall, and church and school office. This project will be completed, Lord willing, near the end of February. Other property improvement projects are in the discussion phase.

Our preaching station in Southern California (Saint Stephen-South) continues to meet every other month. While the group’s numbers have gone down over the past few years, this small group is very faithful and appreciative of their time together around the Word.

Saint Stephen Lutheran Church of the East Bay (Hayward, California)

Our East Bay congregation had the blessing of a youth confirmation for the first time in quite a few years in June of 2021. This congregation’s numbers have declined slightly over the past few years as the Lord has taken a number of our older members to their heavenly home. However, our East Bay members are very faithful in their church and Bible Class attendance each week.

The East Bay congregation also has a preaching station in Stockton, California (Saint Stephen-Central Valley) that meets monthly at Oakmont Senior Living Center. We minister to a number of residents there who attend regularly and gather for the Lord’s Supper afterwards with those who are members of our congregation.

We also are grateful for the home ministry of the Forever Easter House in Sacramento, California, which is the work of two of our East Bay members, Warren Malach and Joy Saint John. This couple houses and ministers to a number of people who are dealing with homelessness issues, as well as a variety of other challenges. This group is very appreciative of their time together around the Word, whether it is by watching and participating in the worship services from Saint Stephen online, or at our quarterly gatherings in person for worship, visiting, and counseling. We had the privilege of welcoming one of the Forever Easter House residents into our fellowship at a special confirmation worship service in August. Praise God from Whom all blessings flow!

Please continue to pray for our California congregations and our school. We trust that God will see us through the various challenges that lie ahead with even more of His “unexpected” blessings. And if your travels bring you out to the Golden State, please come and visit us at one of our congregations or preaching stations for worship and fellowship!

Luke Bernthal is the pastor of Saint Stephen Lutheran Church of the East Bay in Hayward, California, and Saint Stephen Lutheran Church of the San Francisco Peninsula in Mountain View, California.