A Brief History of First Lutheran Church of Manhattan Beach, CA
The Early Years
In the summer of 1948, Concordia Theological Seminary of St. Louis student, Rev. Richard Z. Meyer, was called upon by the Pacific Southwest District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod to begin organizing a new mission congregation. Meyer spent the summer walking door to door seeking potential members. Without a church sanctuary or meeting space of their own, the early congregation met in homes for Bible study and worshiped in the Chapel of the Good Shepherd within the mortuary located at 400 Manhattan Beach Boulevard. When this new congregation held its first worship service on July 11, 1948 in the Chapel of the Good Shepherd, there was a small but faithful group of twelve congregants in attendance. By August 8, 1948, the First Sunday School classes were held at the Property Owners Hall on Manhattan Beach Blvd. and Herrin St. with five volunteer teachers.
These early years were filled with setting up and organizing; setting the slate of officers to serve (October 1948), establishing a Voters Assembly (June 1949), creating service groups like the Martha Society (affiliated with the Lutheran Women's Missionary League) in July 1949, and creating a church constitution (October 1949). The summer of 1949 included the first discussion of building plans and setting up construction funds at various Voter's Meetings. The name "First Lutheran Church of Manhattan Beach" was voted on, November 13, 1949. In February 1950, Worship Services were moved to the V.F.W Hall on the corner of 14th Street and Sepulveda. In the spring of 1950, four lots on 11th Street and two lots facing Manhattan Beach Blvd were put into escrow. This site would become the First Lutheran Church we know today! A ground breaking ceremony was held on the property on the afternoon of October 15, 1950. By June 3, 1951, the church building was ready to be dedicated. This Dedication Sunday was attended by three hundred and fifty four worshipers! By June of 1955, First Lutheran Church of Manhattan Beach ceased mission support and subsidy from the Pacific Southwest District. As you can tell, these early years at First Lutheran Church were a busy and exciting era of growth, mirrored within the community of Manhattan Beach and the greater South Bay area.
The education if its youth and adult members has always been a special part of First Lutheran's mission here in Manhattan Beach. Bible studies, Sunday School, Confirmation classes, Vacation Bible School, etc. are present in First Lutheran's records going back to its foundation! A Christian Day School was created at First Lutheran in February 1954 and served the community until 1959, closing due to financial struggles. The congregation prayed that one day it would be able to sustain a Lutheran School sometime in the future. Years later, with the help of God and the vision and support of Pastor Leslie Beale, Circle of Love Preschool was opened here at First Lutheran Church in 1986. Circle of Love Preschool remains to this day an integral part of First Lutheran's mission to the South Bay community. The campus expanded from the original two classrooms, to seven classrooms as of 2022. Circle of Love Preschool offers Christ-centered, developmentally appropriate, early childhood education to children aged two and a half years to five years. God has blessed the Circle of Love ministry at First Lutheran for many years and God willing, many more to come!
Since its inception in 1948, First Lutheran Church has witnessed the ebb and flow of congregation size, service/worship styles, societal shifts, amongst other changes, great and small. Though the city of Manhattan Beach and the congregation of First Lutheran Church have both weathered and taken part in dramatic changes through the years, one thing has remained constant; the message of Jesus' love.
"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." (Hebrews 13:8)
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
As former First Lutheran Pastor Steven Carlson wrote on the occasion of First Lutheran's 50th anniversary in 1998; "the opportunities for sharing God with our neighbors and friends have never been greater than they are today. This can and must be First Lutheran's finest hour as we trust in the promises of our God, heed His call to live and share our faith, and step boldly into [the] world. Are we up to the challenge? With God's help, we are! It is He who made us... who called us to life and faith in His Son, Jesus Christ, who filled us with the gifts of His Holy Spirit, who has led us to this place and time and promises to be with us always until the end of the age. We do not step into our future alone!"