From Fond Memories to Future Ministries

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church (TLC) has a long history of mission and ministry here in Santa Barbara. At the turn of the 20th century Santa Barbara was a city in the midst of rapid growth. In 1900 the population numbered just under 6,600. Ten years later it had almost doubled to over 11,000 residents.

In August 1901 Lena Martinsen, Mary Jacobson and a few other women formed the Norwegian Lutheran Ladies Aid Society to provide Lutheran fellowship for the women of Santa Barbara. They were strong in their faith and their efforts led to the formation of the first Lutheran congregation in Santa Barbara which was organized on June 8, 1902. Five years later on February 2, 1907, the Scandinavian Evangelical Lutheran Congregation of Santa Barbara was incorporated.

In the early days, the congregation gathered weekly in the homes of individual members, transporting their pump organ from house to house by horse and buggy. For the first year Pastor P.M. Carlson served this church as a visiting pastor, being also a pastor in Los Angeles. For the next three years members continued to meet in homes with four more visiting pastors serving the church. IF they were unable to come, services would be led by members of the congregation. The Fithian Building, located on the corner of State and Ortega streets, became the center of many activities for the Ladies Aid Society, which was an active working unit of the church during those early years. THe women held their monthly meetings, sold their fancy works at bazaars, and held many lutefisk dinners on the 3rd floor of the building.

The goal of these money making events was to be able to build a house of worship and after five years their dreams and hopes were fulfilled. In December 1905 the first of several building committees for the church was formed and enough money was raised to purchase a lot on the corner of Bath and First street (now Padre street.) The committee soon prepared plans for a chapel which were quickly approved by the congregation and by 1906 the chapel was completed. It was referred to as “The Little Square Box” and it was jokingly said that it had “lutefisk as its cornerstone”. The Ladies Aid society furnished the new church with chairs, hymn books and other necessities.

Pastor N. Pedersen became the first resident pastor in 1905. The little brown church became a gathering place for the community and the congregation flourished. In 1918 the Scandinavian Evangelical Lutheran Church confirmed the first group of young people. SInce then there has been a confirmation class each year.

The 1920s were busy times for the congregation. The Luther League was formed in 1920. Ministry and mission continued with the growth of Santa Barbara, and in 1922 a second building committee was formed to build a new house of worship. Through the efforts and cooperation of the entire congregation, plans were completed and funds were secured, so that on March 14, 1923, a ground-breaking ceremony could be held. Construction began immediately and the work was completed six months later, just in time for the wedding of Clarence George and Mable Wade on September 25,1923. Five days later the first worship service was held in the new sanctuary. “The Little Square Box,” which had served the congregation for nearly 20 years, was sold and moved to the corner of Sola and Chino street. The building is still standing there as an inner structure of a duplex building.

The church experienced steady growth during the 1930s and 1940s. In 1952 another building committee was formed to expand the Bath street church. This project was completed in 1954, which doubled the seating capacity in the church to 275 as well as adding an additional educational unit. During the 1950s, Trinity’s ministry pursued new directions. In 1958 the congregation voted to sponsor its first missionary: Pastor Oliver Carlson in Madagascar. Additional missionary families were added during the years that followed. Through the leadership of Pastor Conrad Braaten, several members of the congregation volunteered their time and talents to work in mission outreach through the world mission fields. They included Ethiopia, Madagascar, North Africa, South and Central America, Nepal, and Rock Point and Chinle Arizona.

The ministry and mission of Trinity was not limited to women’s groups or to foreign missionary work. In 1958, Pastor Braaten and members of the Trinity Lutheran Brotherhood surveyed land from the US Forest Service near Frazer Park, which was later leased to build a retreat camp, today known as El Camino Pines. Men from other Lutheran churches soon joined the building program. As the size and popularity of the camp increased beyond the practical management by the men’s organization, it was turned over to the Southern California Lutheran Bible Camp Associated. Today it has become a vital place in nurture and growth, serving over 2,000 guests annually.

In the early 1960s, the congregation was once again facing the problem of outgrowing the existing facilities. At the 1963 annual meeting, members gave their support in seeking a new location. In November of that year the nine acre Grimm property was purchased, located at the corner of Foothill and La Cumbre Road. Phase 1 of the building program was completed in 1970, and on September 20 of that year the new church, chapel and education buildings were dedicated. A few years later groundbreaking took place for Phase II with a new administration building being completed in 1976. Phase III of the building program commenced in 1991 with the building of a new Fellowship Hall. It was dedicated in 1992 in conjunction with the 90th Anniversary celebration of Trinity Lutheran Church.

Much has happened since the Norwegian Lutheran Ladies Aid Society was started in August of 1901. It provided the spark that ignited the desire among a small group of immigrants to form a Lutheran Church in Santa Barbara. They were able to sustain the flame that had been started and to nourish the seeds that had been planted.

During the past 100 years, the congregation has been led in faith along a path to ensure that the Good News is being proclaimed in accordance with the scripture. Through worship and ministry in education, music, fellowship and outreach, Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church is committed to serve our community and to reach out far beyond its borders.

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