The Early Roots of
St. John Lutheran Church, Covina
Back in 1907, the initial mission plans for St. John were made. The orange trees, which have all but disappeared from Covina, were very young on February 11, 1911, when a small, devoted band of people comprising six families formed St. John Lutheran Church.
They had been worshipping together once a month since 1908, in the home of Jacob Maurer and later in the Covina Woman’s Club. The Reverend August Hansen of Pasadena made the monthly trip to minister to these pioneer Covina Lutherans.
For nearly two years the tiny congregation struggled along, holding only two services per month pending the day when its own house of worship could be built.
St. John Lutheran Church, Covina
Third & Dexter
In the fall of 1912, the congregation welcomed its first resident pastor, the Reverend Paul Scherf, a Concordia Seminary graduate. Immediately plans were laid for construction of a church on property at Third and Dexter Streets, donated by the Jacob Maurer family.
On January 19, 1913, the cornerstone was laid with dedication services following on Pentacost Sunday that year.
A period of spiritual and material growth followed that led in 1915 to affiliation with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Missouri, Ohio, and other states. This move was dictated by the realization that the Lord’s work could be accomplished better in unity and cooperation with other congregations of like conviction.
Pastor H. O. Michel served St. John from 1915-1933, followed by Pastor Arnold Lankow (1934-1939), and Pastor R. G. Defner (1939-1951). The first Vacation Bible School was held in 1947 at St. John with enrollment of fifty-five students.
Pastor Hugo M. Warnke served St. John beginning in 1951. By 1952, with the East San Gabriel Valley population boom well underway, the congregation began to feel the pinch of inadequate facilities at the Third and Dexter church facility. Two services each Sunday were begun and in May, 1953, a committee was appointed to find a suitable site for a new church. On July 22, 1953, the committee was authorized to negotiate the purchase of a three and one-half-acre site on Covina Boulevard a block east of Citrus Avenue. That October, the transaction was completed at a cost of $11,400.
St. John Lutheran Church, Covina
304 E. Covina Boulevard
With a Christian Day School definitely a part of the congregation’s plans, the first project on the new site was a four-room classroom building. The building was erected at a cost of about $30,000 and dedicated on December 19, 1954. The day school opened in Fall of 1954 and met at the VFW building prior to the completion of the first building. From then until October 7, 1956, the school building served for both Sunday services and day school classes. The first teacher of the day school, Mrs. Florence Thieleke once said, “I would teach for nothing if we could get the school started.”
Pastor Warnke had left St. John in 1955 and was replaced by Pastor Clarence C. Boye. In 1955 plans and working drawings for a new church sanctuary were presented to the congregation and approved. Ground was broken on February 19, 1956, the cornerstone was laid on July 8, and the structure was dedicated to the Lord’s service on October 7, 1956. The church was constructed at a cost of about $88,000.
On May 10, 1959, ground was broken for the second classroom building, which also housed the parish hall. October 4, 1959, the $40,000 structure was dedicated with the Reverend Theodore Gohlke, who was serving as supply pastor, officiating.
In the meantime, the Reverend Clarence C. Boye had accepted a call in Nebraska and resigned his post with St. John in 1959.
The vacancy was filled by Pastors Gohlke and Herbert Schulenberg until Revered Richard A. Schinnerer accepted the call and was installed on January 17, 1960.
St. John’s first vicar, Seminarian Thomas Koske served St. John from 1963-1964. Not long afterward, St. John dedicated our fellowship hall (gymnasium) on July 9, 1967. Pastor Schinnerer was St. John’s seventh minister and served St. John until 1967.
In 1968, three vacancy pastors, Reverend O.W. Mieger, Reverend Ralph Busch, and Reverend H.N. Nierman served St. John. In that same year, St. John’s one and only assistant pastor, Reverend Louis F. Brighton come out of retirement to serve St. John until 1981.
From 1969 until 1971, Reverend William J. Schmelder served as pastor of St. John. In 1973, Pastor Lloyd J. Strelow accepted a call to serve St. John and continued to do so until 1984. Semenarians Fritz Raedeke and Richard Plaster served St. John from 1981 until 1982.
Revered Martin Mayer served as St. John’s vacancy pastor in 1985 until a call was accepted by Reverend Thomas William Hirsch. The next couple years were a very tumultuous time at St. John. Membership declined significantly, but a faith core would remain.
St. John had a long pastoral vacancy, which lasted from June of 1987 through 1991. Seven pastors would decline St. John’s calls and the eighth would become ineligible to accept. During this vacancy, several interim pastors would serve St. John, including Pastor David Bass, Jr. Following Pastor Bass was Reverend Leland Settgast, who was then contracted to fill in at St. John. He had previously served as a prison ministry chaplain. Pastor Schinnerer then returned to serve St. John. Following Pastor Schinnerer, Pastor Mather filled-in.
In 1991, St. John called twenty-five-year-old and newly ordained Reverend Alfonso O. Espinosa to serve St. John. During his tenure, membership would rebound.
The church also survived a half-million dollar fire on Thanksgiving Day 1993. The sanctuary was renovated and rededicated on May 15, 1994. Pastor Espinosa served St. John until 1996, when he accepted a call to serve St. Paul’s Lutheran church in Laguna Beach.
In 1997, St. John called Pastor Patrick Curley home to Southern California, where he grew up.
In 2000, Mr. Bejcek, the longest-serving teacher of St. John Lutheran School went home to the Lord, after serving St. John for 32 years.
School membership had continued to decline and at the end of the 1999-2000 school year, St. John Lutheran school was closed, but the Pre-school remained open. Two years later in 2002, Eagle’s Nest Pre-school was also closed.
In August 2004, the back portion of the lot was sold for $957,800. In February 2006, St. John began its Epic Vision. In 2007, construction was begun on a new room that would be used for fellowship and classroom use.
In 2010, the voters of St. John Lutheran church approved construction of a Memorial Garden. Construction began shortly thereafter and was dedicated June 19, 2011.
As St. John celebrates her 100th anniversary, we continue to focus on “discipleship, not just membership.” We celebrate in receiving the renewing power of Christ’s love.
St. John Lutheran Church, 100 years old, new every Sunday.