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 property acquired at the corner of Encino Avenue and Burbank Boulevard for the church building had a 3 bedroom house, a swimming pool, and a small citrus grove. Bethel consequently became known as "The Church With the Swimming Pool."
The first worship service was held October 14, 1951.
Like many protestant churches, the 1970s and 1980s saw Bethel increase in members and ministry. During the 1990s and early 2000s membership declined 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. A new mission statement and core values clarified Bethel's role as a progressive Christian community in the Valley.
The next decade brought revitalization of the membership and the pre-school, yet it was not sufficient to sustain the financial burden of the church campus. In 2019 the difficult and painful decision was made to sell the property. The coincidental onset of Covid in early 2020 moved worship services from the sanctuary to online.
Pastor Kenneth Davis took on the role of Lead Pastor starting in August 2020. We have continued to dig deep in how we view ourselves as siblings in Christ and how we can show love and dedication to our community including those in need. We continue to encourage one another and grow with our beloved community and look forward to the future.
Being newly "homeless" in 2021, one of our interfaith partners, Temple Judea, offered us worship space in their chapel. As the year progressed, the needs of Bethel soon outgrew the space available. An extensive search for a new "home" resulted in us finding an incredible opportunity with First Presbyterian Church in Encino who has been incredibly gracious and willing to share their beautiful facilities with us. This provides us room to grow and the ability to focus more effort on our outreach ministries. God's path for us is often not what we expect, but in following, blessings abound!
Some folks see that we are part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and wonder what that means
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 how the term evangelical has changed over the past few decades here.