In 1904, a small group of German Lutherans gathered together in the Boy’s Gymnasium at Sixth and Locust to worship Jesus. Though they had no idea at the time, God was beginning a Kingdom movement in downtown Long Beach through this small gathering.
First Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church of Long Beach, a mission congregation that would later be known as First Lutheran Church, was formally established in April of 1905. The church initially held worship services in a vacant store building on the corner of Seventh and Locust. However, in October of 1906, the church bought the lot at the corner of 10th and Linden, where the Education Building stands today.
From 1906 to the early 1960’s, the church grew and flourished in the downtown area. Many of the congregation members, made up predominately of individuals from European descent, lived around the church. The church opened a school in 1910 that grew to over 200 students in 1954. They bought the land at Ninth and Atlantic and built a sanctuary building in 1959. However, beginning in the early 1960’s, things began to change at First Lutheran Church.
It was in the early 1960’s that Long Beach became known as the “International City” with its port welcoming huge cargo ships and ocean liners. It was also in the early 1960’s that the neighborhood surrounding the church began to shift from predominately families of European descent to becoming predominately African American families. Though several of the new families began attending First Lutheran School, the church as a whole had a hard time embracing the new culture of people in the neighborhood.
From the 1960’s to the early 2000’s, the neighborhood surrounding the church morphed and changed as refugees from Vietnam and Cambodia began to settle in the communities surrounding the church, and, in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, the community saw an influx of families from Latin American descent move in as well.
Throughout this time, members at First Lutheran church continued to try to reach out to their new neighbors, but they had limited success in building relationships with the community as the ethnic and socioeconomic cultures of the community were different from the majority of members of the church.
In late 2014, the members of the congregation found themselves at a crossroads. They knew that if they did not do something drastically different than what they had been doing up to this point, they would probably end up closing in the next five to ten years, maybe sooner. So, they began to pray and listen to what God would have them do.
On June 14, 2015, the members of First Lutheran Church of Long Beach came together and, after much prayer and discussion, came to the conclusion that the furthering the Kingdom was more important than their personal preferences of ministry and worship style.They voted to replant the congregation.
The vote to replant meant that First Lutheran Church would close and ministries cease, except for the SAY Yes! program, and a new church would be planted in its place using the resources of the old congregation. The new church would hold on to historic Lutheran theology but it would seek to engage, and embrace, the surrounding community and cultures, raise up local leaders, and make disciples through ministries and worship expressions that bless and reflect the community.
The Next Chapter
On Sunday, September 13, 2015, during the final service of First Lutheran Church, Pastor Kyle Blake was installed as a church planter and missionary to Long Beach. Over the next three years, Pastor Kyle and the community of the newly formed Gathering Lutheran Church would walk the neighborhood and pray with community members, conduct surveys, host community gatherings, listen to neighbors, and gather people together for worship and Bible study.
Through our work, we came to understand that our church is right in the middle of one of the largest under-resourced communities in Long Beach. We also came to realize that people in an under-resourced community often struggle feeling valued by society as a whole, and, as a result, struggle with uncertainty and loneliness.
What we are seeking to do is to gather people together in a community that restores their value in Christ and one another.
We are seeking to do this through a process of…
- Gathering individuals to spaces where they can be restored and grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ.
- Gathering individuals to spaces where they can be restored to relationship with others around them through processing, and healing from, their trauma, brokenness, and/or addiction.
- Gathering individuals to spaces where they can be restored to society as a whole through learning about their own giftedness and how they can use their giftedness, through work and service, to bless their neighbors.