Bethel Encino ELCA continues to serve the Valley as a space where all are welcome and where spiritual sojourners can find a home.
Bethel started as a dream for a new church in Encino back in 1951. Under the Evangelical Lutheran Church's Home Mission Department, Pastor Frederick J. Schenk was called as the first pastor.
The current property at the corner of Encino Avenue and Burbank Boulevard had a 3 bedroom house, a swimming pool, and a small citrus grove. Bethel became known as "The Church With the Swimming Pool."
The first worship service was held October 14, 1951.
Almost a year later a new sanctuary was built. The first worship in what is now the Social Hall was held on Sunday, September 21, 1952. The next morning, Bethel Day School opened with a kindergarten class of 13 students. The school continued to grow with students and classrooms were added to the property. The elementary school operated until 2005. The preschool continues to shape the lives of children.
On September 24, 1979 the Dalai Lama visited Bethel Encino. His Holiness had been touring the USA and was speaking throughout Southern California. This was the first time the Dalai Lama spoke in a Lutheran church.
Bethel has seen years of abundance and celebration and years of conflict and struggle. Like many protestant churches, the 1970s and 1980s saw Bethel increase in members and ministry. By the 1990 and early 2000s conflict had driven folks away from the church and it seemed like Bethel was on the verge of closing.
In 2005, a Resurrection plan was drafted along with a re-commitment to ministry in Encino. Under the leadership of Pastor Rustin Comer, the church and preschool grew in vitality and hope. A new mission statement and core values clarified Bethel's role as a progressive Christian community in the Valley.
After 10+ years of service, Pastor Rustin took a new call. Pastor Steve Jerbi started in August 2017.
The word "evangelical" comes from the Greek euangelion which means good news or gospel. 500 years ago when a bunch of folks were trying to make the church more progressive and engaged with the people, they were called "evangelicals." It was their focus on the gospel message of grace rather than the law of obligation that gave them this "good news" name. Lutherans have been called evangelical long before the political movements of the 1980s reframed that word.
You can read more about this title here.