A BRIEF HISTORY
In 1995, as part of the 70th anniversary of Elim Lutheran Church, a history book was produced. If you would like to purchase a hard copy of this book or of the second volume that was produced for our 75th anniversary, please send us an email or give us a call: 707-762-4081.
The History of Elim Lutheran Church of Petaluma, CA
Petaluma was growing in 1920, with a population of 6,266 persons. The town had doubled in size in the last twenty years, due to Petaluma being the undisputed world leader of the chicken and egg industry. Included in its population was a large group of persons of Danish descent. There were no less than four different well-established Danish organizations in Petaluma, the first one organized in 1893. All of these Danish immigrants had been thoroughly schooled in the Lutheran faith; this had been almost the only religion in Denmark, and where Lutheranism was taught in the classrooms by their grammar school teachers or the local church deacon. While local Danes had successfully bonded together on the social and fraternal levels, which had been essential to helping them find security in a new country, many sorely missed their religious upbringing.
The United Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church, Pacific Circle, was the closest Danish Lutheran Church organization in California. For many years, pastors from this group, known as mission pastors, would travel to Petaluma to marry, baptize or bury persons upon request. Elim's pastoral records show 58 children were baptized into the Lutheran faith from 1911 to the date of the organization of Elim church in 1925.
Finally, in May 1920, seventeen persons joined together to organize a Lutheran congregation in Petaluma. They applied to the Pacific Circle for admittance into the United Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church. They promised to pledge $40.00 per month to support a mission pastor, P.C. Jensen and the church activities. Pastor Jensen's residence was in Livermore. Foremost of importance to the congregation was to start a Sunday School. The young church gave themselves the name "Johnannes" and arranged for services on Sunday afternoon at the German Lutheran Church, 5th and F Streets in Petaluma. The pastor resigned within three months, and although he stayed on for another five months, the council officers were unsuccessful in calling another pastor to the area and the congregation’s records stopped in August 1921.
From the end of November 1923 until answering of call in May 1924, pastors traveled here once a month and held worship services. The meeting place was changed from the German church on 5th and F Street to the Adventist Church on English and Upham.
On January 11, 1925, the Danish Lutherans of Petaluma gathered at Dania Hall (in the McNear building), holding an all-day meeting to organize a church. 54 members including children, were enrolled on the church roster. They planned to continue for the present, holding church services at the Adventist Church.
An edition of the Argus-Courier dated July 25, 1925, announced the purchase of the Mitchell property at the corner of Baker and Stanley Streets. The Elim Lutheran Church trustees planned to sell a portion of the lot on the Baker Street side to Pastor M. Th. Jensen so that he could build an 8-9 room home for himself with the agreement that he would sell his property back to the church at any time the organization desired to buy it.
A building permit was issued to Pastor Jensen on September 14, 1925, and just three months later, the pastor and his family moved into a beautiful new stucco home at 504 Baker Street.
In February of 1926, the Elim congregation purchased the St. Vincent Church building, which was set to be demolished to erect a new Catholic Church. Elim workers were given two weeks to take the building down. The dismantling of the structure took place in March, right after Easter, and the materials were hauled up Western Avenue to the corner of Baker and Stanley Streets.
On May 16, 1926, the cornerstone was laid at ceremonies with 150 persons present. By December, they were able to have their first services in the newly built church. Although the exterior was almost finished, the interior was yet to be completely finished. The Christmas party on December 23, 1926, drew 130 persons, and at the Christmas day services, well over 100 persons attended.
1927 Pastor Jensen resigned but stayed on until a replacement arrives.
1928 A.W. Lund was called as Elim’s second pastor. Elim could not afford to purchase the Jensen home, so a fence is built between the Jensen home and the church.
1929 English services are now held every Sunday night.
1930 Gift of the statue is offered and accepted (it is unknown from whom.)
1931 Discussed attempting to purchase a parsonage. Started English speaking services on the second and fourth Sunday mornings.
1932 As is the case throughout the country, Elim suffers financially hard times.
1934 Mrs. Woldemar offers a stove for the kitchen. John Rasmussen installs it, with protection for the wall behind the stove.
1935 Pastor Lund resigns and plans to leave by September 1. Ladies bazaar proceeds of $150.00 go toward bank debt.
1936 Pastor J.P. Magnussen arrives on August 1. District requests the council sign a contract to pay $500.00 per year for the pastor's salary and to increase it to $675.00 as soon as possible. A collection is taken up to pay the new pastor's moving expenses to California.
1937 Congregation has 57 members, Sunday School averages 45 per week. A church newspaper is started going to 250 homes.
1939 Sunday School is not going well; it is poorly attended. The bell tower of the church needs repair work.
1940 The council discussed that a good cleaning of the church is necessary. Sent floral piece to the funeral of Pastor M. Th. Jensen.
1943 The council urged the collection of funds for a parsonage. Pastor Magnussen resigns. District and Synod urge Elim to become a self-supporting mission, but pastoral housing is a problem. A call was sent to Pastor Christensen. The congregation will pay $1,200.00 per year, district $200.00 per year.
1944 Pastor James Christensen arrives on April 1.
1945 Still in need of a parsonage, a Building and Finance Committee was selected. A new heating system was ordered from Van Bebber at a cost of $600.00. It was decided to buy the home at 722 B Street for $6,850.00 for the parsonage.
1946 Requested help from the city council because of eyesore junkyard next door.
1948 65 children and 8 teachers are in Sunday School. 39 names are on the cradle roll. Secretary and more classrooms are needed for Sunday School. $400.00 from Ladies Guild requested to be used for enlarging kitchen and social hall. It was decided to start a building fund for the same. No funds for the newspaper.
1949 Pastor Christensen to leave April 1.
1950 Pastor H. Milton Peterson arrives. A new garage needed for the parsonage but it was decided to repair the old one. The council agreed that the church should be self-supporting. The name was changed to eliminate "Danish" – we are now Elim Lutheran Church. The roof needs repairs and the bell tower needs bracing. Observed 25th Anniversary at Elim.
1951 Requested pledges from church organizations. The council decided to fund a church newspaper. The roof is repaired and the tower fixed. Purchased new pews at $12.00 each.
1952 Pastor encouraged the use of many committees to spread responsibilities among more persons. Discussed enlarging the church. The Stanley Street homeowner would like to sell his home for $15,000.00. Church property appraised at $8,600-$8,900.00.
1954 Council voted to accept the responsibility of a displaced family from Germany (The Kehr family.)
1955 Mr. Rasmussen builds sacristy. A need for a phone in the church is discussed.
1956 George Nielsen finds housing and work for the Kehr family.
1957 Harry Kissman and family arrive in January, sponsored by Elim. They are proceeded by a single man Gunard Kissman; Harry and Gunard are brothers of Marga Kehr. $40,000.00 in pledges is received for the building fund. The building of an addition to church begins.
1958 The Fellowship Hall is finished except for work to be done by Elim members. Pastor Petersen resigns.
1959 O.V. Magnussen arrived in the third week in January.
1960 A new furnace is installed. Polled congregation to find favorite hymns. Most votes, "Beautiful Savior."
1961 Parsonage garage is built. Elim Lutheran Church Women (ELCW) is formed with four circles, Friendship, Grace, Faith, and Priscilla.
1962 Pastor Magnussen's wife Edith is tragically killed in an accident. An altar is built in her memory by Bud Nelson.
1963 Anna Rasmussen retired from Sunday School teaching after 30 years.
1964 Folding vinyl doors were purchased for the overflow room.
1965 Two services approved for July and August with Sunday School in between. Elim recognizes its 40th year.
1966 Two hundred Chrismons for the church Christmas tree are made. The public is invited to see the decorated tree. Church library is opened with over 300 books.
1967 Pastor Magnussen resigns to accept a call to Coalinga, California. Pastor Evenson arrives in Petaluma on September 4. His first service at Elim is held on September 10.
1968 The Scott property was purchased for $34,253.00.
1969 Bethel Bible Study presented to the congregation.
1970 New church sign donated by Al Johnson in memory of Ann Johnson.
1971 Bethel Bible Study, a two-year program, begins in January with twelve individuals enrolled. LYA congress in San Diego. Girls will be asked to serve as acolytes.
1972 Bulk mailing is started. Ordination of Paul Evenson is held at Elim.
1973 Two new Bethel Bible classes were opened with Ruth Svinth and Vivian Tasselmyer as teachers. With four classes in progress, 87 are enrolled.
1974 New pews are installed. $20,000.00 in pledges over three years are collected for United Missions Appeal.
1975 The 50th year of Elim is celebrated. The congregation votes to sell parsonage and furnish the pastor with a housing allowance. House sells for $38,000.00.
1975 The parking lot is completed. Pastor Evenson accepts a call to Miranda Church, Redway Group, a Presbyterian Church. Nancy Pugh has started as the pastor's secretary two mornings per week.
1977 Pastor Timothy Kellgren arrives on February 1. Congregation purchases property next to the parking lot for $42,000.00.
1978 New Lutheran Book of Worship Hymnals (green) are purchased. The purchase of a church van is considered. Elim joins Petaluma Ecumenical Housing.
1979 A steeple bell is purchased for $400.00. Long-range plans are approved by the congregation.
1980 A church van is donated by George and Kathy Matt.
1981 A new piano is purchased making monthly payments but it is paid off early by donations.
1982 Pastor Tim takes leave to go on a long sailing trip. Pastor Sig Lokken filled in as pastor for four and one-half months. First communion age lowered from 7th to 5th grade age level.
1983 Little Shepherd Preschool started.
1984 Choir robes are purchased. Elim is now helping FISH, Alanon, Hospice, Overeaters, PEP and participates in annual Crop Walk.
1985 National Youth gathering is in Denver. The ELCW bazaar is held in October. The parking lot is sealed and striped. The play area for preschool is approved next to the office. Elim celebrates its 60th year with "Home for Christmas" theme.
1986 Elim co-sponsors an event with the Jewish-Danish community on remembering the Holocaust. Clay Schmit is hired as Associate Pastor for three-quarter time.
1987 Mary Gary hired as part-time church secretary. Pastor Clay's position becomes full time. The formation of the ELCA church body is approved both locally and nationally. Youth Leader position redefined to include only senior high students. Elim begins to sponsor a mission church, Light of Life Church, in Scotts Valley.
1988 Building Committee chair added to Church Council. The congregation begins the process of purchasing 504 Baker Street (Pastor M. Th. Jensen's home) by selling notes. Formulation of a Child Care Center fell through after several years of planning.
1989 The Church is broken into, and the altar cross, linen, and Pastor Tim's stoles are stolen. Saturday services are started. Handbells and a keyboard are purchased with memorial money.
1990 The Elim Choir takes a tour to Hungary and Austria. The 504 Baker Street purchase is finalized and becomes church offices. Dave Nagler and Jim Atwood take nine youth to Mexico to build houses. Three Sunday morning services started. "Morning Glory" is organized under Kevin Klemenok.
1991 Revamping of choir loft is completed to allow for more seating. The Bazaar is held in October. National Youth Gathering held in Dallas. Nancy Pugh leaves as Church Secretary.
1992 Sylvia Andersen is hired as Bookkeeper. "The Clinic" (a free health clinic) starts at Elim, moves to the old church offices before going to the Joe Elwood Memorial Building, known as "The Kitchen." A family Vacation Bible School is held in summer. Dr. Kindem, a professional Fund Raiser, is engaged to begin the process of raising money for the new building.
1993 Pastor Tim takes fourteen people to Mexico to build houses. The sanctuary is painted. The choir goes to Russia and Latvia. ELCW bazaar is successful and proceeds will be used to carpet sanctuary, overflow and stairs. Dr. Kindem starts a new building fundraiser. A videotape is made to promote Elim.
1994 National Youth gathering is held in Atlanta. The start of the construction of the new addition is on hold. Cynthia Griffith is hired as Church Secretary. Pastor Tim takes a group to Mexico again. Camp Oasis, a summer daycare, is started at Valley Vista school. "Small Groups" are launched. Joint Episcopal, Luther youth gathering is held in San Francisco.
1995 Elim prepares for the 70th Anniversary. Youth and Pastor Clay go to Mexico. Junior High youth change name to ELIM YOUTH POWER, (EYP). Groundbreaking for the new building addition takes place on May 21. Construction is mostly completed during the year.
1996 After much debate, Elim begins participating in the Rotational Shelter for homeless families, housing 3-4 families for four weeks a year. The new building addition is dedicated on March 3. Carole Sullivan is hired as the new Youth Director. The choir goes on tour in Germany and the ELCW Bazaar raises $12,000. A Kindergarten is added to Little Shepherd Preschool.
1997 Elim becomes an Intern site for Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley. Diane Day and Dolores Frey McCloud are hired as office secretaries.
1998 Pastor Clay Schmit announces that he will be leaving to go teach at Duke Divinity School in North Carolina. A call committee is formed and recommends calling an Associate Pastor and one other staff person. The Parish Nurse and Health Ministry Team are added to Elim’s ministries. Pastor Tim takes a trip to Israel. Pastor Anne Reiter and her family visit from Denmark. They stay in the apartment and participate in the life of the congregation for three months.
1999 Pastor Nancy Schwabe-Fry is called as Associate Pastor with a focus on children, youth and family ministry. Susan Hoffman is called as Minister of Music and Worship. Communion is opened up to all ages.
2000 The congregation approves the purchase of the 506 Baker Street property, raising $60,000 above the budget to help with this purchase. The council is restructured and becomes the Leadership Team. Elim celebrated its 75th anniversary.
2000/2001 A Sabbatical Policy was adopted for pastors. Pastor Nancy established a youth bell choir which will provide a place for ministry and fellowship for Senior High School youth.
2001/2002 Marilyn Lee retires after 29 years as the church organist. Pastor Nancy trains and serves as a Police Chaplain. Money was raised for new playground equipment, which was installed in May. Doris Widger was hired as bookkeeper and started in April 2001, taking over from Dolores Frey McCloud.
2002/2003 Forty-five people registered for the Mexico House Building Trip this year, which was the largest group to date. During the summer, two of the small classrooms were remodeled into one large room so that it could be used more effectively. The sanctuary building and the church office were painted and gutters were installed. The Elim Garden Club was formed in an attempt to keep up the lawn and landscaping at the church.
2003 Resolution to call Nancy Schawbe-Fry as “Pastor” instead of “Associate Pastor” passes.
June 1, 2004 The congregation issued a call to Peter Schwabe-Fry to serve as half-time pastor for children, youth and family ministry, and Pastor Nancy reduced her call to three-quarter time. Cathe Kiler was hired to lead the 8:00 am adult choir and two groups - one youth and one adult - that lead the 11:15am. service. There are two youth hand bell choirs and an elementary school age choir lead by Pastor Nancy. A consultant/architect, Tim Mattheis from Wenell Mattheis Bowe Architects in Stockton, was selected to determine the future direction for facility expansion. A group of four from Elim go to Tanzania in September to visit the New Life School. The rental at 508 Baker Street was refurbished with mostly volunteer labor. A new men’s ministry and a new young adult ministry was created.
2005/2006 Elim members helped during the summer at one of the summer programs run by the Redwood Empire Food Bank to provide a free lunch to any child under 18 in need of an extra meal. The Petaluma Mobile Food Pantry was begun on the Eastside, offering a free bag of groceries each Tuesday night at Lucchesi Park parking lot. There are currently four churches involved, with Elim committed to the first Tuesday. Elim applied for and received a grant from Hub of Petaluma to begin, develop, and operate a project called Petaluma Bounty.
2006/2007 Another group to Tanzania in October 2007. Elim rented space for worship and fellowship to St. John’s Episcopal Church.
2008 Elim received a three-year grant from the ELCA Division of Outreach and Synod Mission funds to call a Minister of Outreach and Discipleship (MOD). After an unfruitful search, our pastors redesigned their job descriptions and took on different responsibilities so that Pastor Tim could do more outreach in the community. The Facility Improvement Team (FIT) process created a very successful renovation of the Fellowship Hall and Nursery with new walls, flooring, and doors for the side rooms. The work was almost entirely done by Elim members.
2009 Elim used the downtown community room near the Wednesday Farmer’s Market to encourage volunteering and introduce Elim to the community. We have continued that effort at the new community room on 2nd Street in the Theatre District for Quiet Wednesdays, a time for centering prayer, conversation and recently added a Healing Touch ministry. It was discovered that the foundation under the sanctuary was inadequate and it was replaced. The electrical wiring and lighting were also replaced.
2010 Elim had a float in the Butter and Egg Days Parade with the Elim Band (Waves of Grace) singing rousing songs while being pulled by members of the congregation and a tractor. An Elim movie was created and distributed on DVDs. In February, Pastor Peter received a call to a congregation in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and left in March. Pastor Nancy and the rest of the family left in June to join him there, after a tearful farewell celebrating their 11 years of ministry at Elim.
more updates and photos to come!