Santa Cruz County History - Religion & Spirituality

Santa Cruz Spirituality: Lutheran (Lutheran family)
by Paul Tutwiler


  1. Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)
  2. Missouri Synod Lutheran
  3. Various Lutheran

The reformation of the Western Christian Church which began in Germany in 1519 with Martin Luther gave rise first of all to a church which was called "evangelical," but which later came to bear Luther's own name. Although Luther's church differed from the traditional Christian body by its insistence on justification by faith rather than works and by its popular appeal to the Bible, it retained many resemblances in liturgy and organization. It went on to be the official church of most of the German states prior to the unification of Germany. It also became the official church of the Scandinavian countries.

Brought to the United States by immigrants, Lutheranism has had numerous variants, the earliest of which derived from the nationality of the immigrants. Later Lutheran congregations organized into numerous territorial synods. Today, however, American Lutherans are mainly found in three groups. By far the largest of these groups is the ELCA, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which was formed in 1988 by the merger of numerous state synods. The second largest is the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, which is, generally speaking, more conservative than the ELCA. Both of these groups are represented in Santa Cruz County. There is no church here of the third largest American Lutheran group, the Wisconsin Synod, the most conservative of the three, although there are two Wisconsin Synod congregations in Santa Clara County. ( 2010)

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)

» Lutheran Community Church. Watsonville, 1880-2010.

The congregation was organized in 1880 as the Danish Evangelical Church of the Pajaro Valley, and its first structure was dedicated in 1889. (SC Sentinel, June 28, 1980) In 1960 it moved to the Alta Vista site, (SC Sentinel, June 28, 1980) where it is now, 95 Alta Vista Ave., Watsonville 95076, tel. 724-3460. (2010 Yellow Pages)

The names by which this congregation was known varied over the years. It was the Danish Lutheran Church at least through 1912. (Thurston 1912-1913) Polk 1925 and 1950 called it First Lutheran Church, but Polk 1935 called it Danish Lutheran. In 1954 it was incorporated as the First Evangelical Lutheran Church of Watsonville. (Santa Cruz County Articles of Incorporation no. 1801)

The name changes of this congregation accord with the institutional changes in the American Lutheran community. From 1896 to 1946 the Watsonville congregation was affiliated with a synod called "United Danish Evangelical Church." In 1946, however, this synod became the "United Evangelical Lutheran Church," which, in 1960, became a component of the "American Lutheran Church," which, in turn, in 1988, became the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, noted above.

Regarding Danish Lutherans in California, it is useful to know that, "Danish Lutherans, for example, at the turn of the century founded Ferndale in the far north and Solvang in the South, both near the coast." The "for example" here refers to small, homogeneous, rural populations of immigrants. (Eldon G Ernst, Pilgrim Progression, p. 53)

In 1959 the United Evangelical Lutheran Church, although only one year away from becoming a constituent body of the American Lutheran Church, was still considered a Danish synod, although a small one, and it is interesting to note that the state in which it had its greatest number of members was Wisconsin, with 14,660; followed by Iowa, 14,462; then California with 9,495; followed by Minnesota with 6,852. The only other state in which it had over two thousand members was Kansas, with 5,933. (Robert C. Wiederaenders, Ed., Historical Guide to Lutheran Church Bodies of North America. St. Louis: Lutheran Historical Conference, 2nd ed., 1998, pp. 39-40)

The other Scandinavian Lutheran churches, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Norwegian-Danish, and generically Scandinavian, were also found in the state, as were German Lutheran congregations. In 1916 Pastor Edward M. Stensrud, originally a Norwegian Lutheran, wrote a book which was intended to encourage Lutherans throughout the Eastern States to emigrate to California. He was particularly concerned to welcome English-speaking Lutherans rather than Lutherans who would speak their former European language in the church congregation. In his work he devoted three chapters to the history and status of English-speaking Lutheran congregations, especially the prominent one in San Francisco which he himself had founded. To indicate, however, the distribution of Lutherans, let it suffice to observe that two chapters were on German-speaking congregations, and thirteen were on the various Scandinavian language-speaking ones. On page 74 of his book, under the heading "Pastors and Churches of California in connection with the Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church in the United States," Stensrud names no pastors, but he lists the seven Danish-speaking churches, which were in Salinas, Chualar, Watsonville and four other, unnamed, locations. (Edward Martinus Stensrud, The Lutheran Church and California. San Francisco: 1916)

» St. Stephen's Lutheran Church. Live Oak, 1954-2010.

Incorporated in 1954, (Santa Cruz County Articles of Incorporation no. 1805) this congregation appeared in Polk 1954 as United Lutheran Church at 429 Pennsylvania Ave. The next year it was at the same address, but it had begun to be called St. Stephen's, and it remained at this address through 1960. (Polk 1955-60) It moved to its current address in 1961, (Polk 1961ff.) and this is 2500 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz 95062, tel. 476-4700. (2008 Yellow Pages) More information can be found on 2010 and 2010.

» Christ Lutheran Church of Aptos. 1966-2010.

Incorporated in 1966. (Santa Cruz County Articles of Incorporation no. 2994) this church is on Hwy. 1 at Freedom Blvd. - 10707 Soquel Dr., Aptos 95003, tel. 688-5727. (2010 Yellow Pages) There is also information in 2010 and 2010.

Missouri Synod Lutheran

» Messiah Lutheran. Santa Cruz, 1930-2010.

The congregation was organized in 1930. ( 2010) It was formerly at 195 Mission St., (Polk 1935 and 1946) and then at 517 Mission St. (Polk 1950 and 1960) Since 1961 it has been at its current address, (Polk 1961ff.) which is 801 High St., Santa Cruz 95060, tel. 423-8330. (2010 Yellow Pages)

» Trinity Lutheran Church & School. Watsonville, 1931-2010.

The congregation was organized in 1931. ( 2008) It was formerly at 12 Brennan St., (Polk 1946) and 303 Van Ness Ave., Watsonville, (Polk 1955 and 1960) or 301 Van Ness Ave., (Polk 1964) but was at its present address by 1967, (Polk 1967) and this is 175 Lawrence Ave., Watsonville 95076, tel. 724-0176. (2010 Yellow Pages)

» Mt Calvary Lutheran Church. Soquel, 1965-2010.

This congregation was organized in 1965. ( 2010) The church has been in the same location from the beginning according to church members, but the address was 2601 Park Ave. in 1984, (SC Sentinel, July 26, 1984) and it is now 2402 Cabrillo College Dr., Soquel 95073, tel. 475-6962. (2010 Yellow Pages)

Various Lutheran

» Mount Cross Lutheran Bible Camp. Conf center, Felton, 1948-2010.

On 102 acres on Mason Creek, it was inaugurated in 1948. (Clark, Santa Cruz County Place Names, p. 222) Its website, 2010, gives its address as 7795 Hwy. 9, Ben Lomond, tel. 336-5179, and states that it is owned and operated by the Lutheran Congregations of Northern California and Nevada. Now known as Mount Cross (Outdoor) Ministries of Northern California, it is listed in 2010, but I do not find it in the 2010 White or Yellow Pages.

» Good Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church. Ben Lomond, 1964-1979.

This congregation held worship as early as February, 1964 in the Felton Community Hall. (Valley Press, Feb. 19, 1964) Subsequently it met at Mt. Cross Lutheran Camp for a year and one-half, but it began to worship in the new structure of its own at 550 Hwy. 9, Ben Lomond in 1968. (Valley Press, Mar. 6, 1968 and Dec. 18, 1968) It remained there through 1979. (1979 Yellow Pages)

» Lutheran Campus Ministry. Service org, Santa Cruz, 1970-1987.

In the Yellow Pages of 1970 and subsequent years this has a UCSC campus address, but it is listed at 350 Mission St. in the 1983 and subsequent Yellow Pages.

» Light of Life Lutheran Church. Scotts Valley, c1985-2003.

Having existed since approximately 1985, the congregation was disbanded in 2003. Its building was sold then and was expected to become the Scotts Valley Community Center. (SC Sentinel, Sep. 14, 2003)

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