Editor’s Note: This is the third in a 2014-2015 series about La Jolla’s Faith Communities
La Jolla Lutheran Church calls itself “The Church that Bees Built.” After a generous donation from a Wisconsin beekeeper, the church was able to build its first sanctuary on La Jolla Boulevard at Fern Glen. This was not long after founding members held their initial services on Sept. 16, 1944.
These dedicated Lutherans were Scandinavian-Americans who relocated to La Jolla from the Midwest, as had their pastor, Rev. L. K. Johnson.
Rev. Johnson had ministered to Carl and Hazel Aeppler in Wisconsin while they were working hard to convert a beekeeping hobby into an international honey business. They offered to endow the sanctuary in La Jolla, dedicating it to Rev. Johnson; to Aeppler’s father, a Lutheran minister from Germany; and to the bees that had helped them succeed.
La Jolla Lutheran Church, which recently celebrated its 70th birthday, remains an industrious and active one today. Its membership is small — approximately 100 — but its outreach large, and like the original honey business, extends around the world.
The church is part of the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC), the fourth largest Lutheran denomination in North America. It includes 716 congregations in the United States and 117 in Canada, Russia, Cambodia, Mexico, and 10 other nations, according to Rev. Mark Dahle, pastor.
The LCMC describes its members as being “… free in Christ; accountable to one another; rooted in the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions; and working together to fulfill Christ’s Great Commission to go and make disciples of all nations.” While individual congregations share these common standards, they also have latitude to shape their local ministries.
Rev. Dahle describes his church as Bible-based with a focus on healing and encouraging members to be true to themselves. “I give people simple instructions they can follow anywhere, a simple list,” he explained. “1) Ask God what to do. 2) Do that. 3) If there is no answer, do what Jesus would do.
“Sometimes people are already on the right path, but they need a nudge,” he continued. “These steps equip people to hear God’s voice and what is best for them. For example, a doctor may be interested in health care for children and go into educating children around the world.”
The membership of La Jolla Lutheran Church may be small, but Rev. Dahle sees that as an advantage. “Everybody gets noticed and can participate fully. We expect people to participate — and kids get individual care with some projects built around them.”
The church holds a worship service every Sunday at 9:30 a.m. followed by a healing service. Members pray for individuals and also for individual nations, a different one each month. They also send Bibles to these countries in their respective languages. On Wednesdays, the church offers a Bible study at 6:30 p.m.
Ongoing projects keep members busy year round. These include a rummage sale to benefit local organizations, such as families of veterans and the San Diego Food Bank; assembling shoeboxes filled with gifts to send to children around the world every November; and hosting homeless people for two weeks every year as part of a two-month Interfaith Shelter Network program that helps people get off the street.
The church can accommodate up to 12 homeless guests, according to Rev. Dahle. “Every year it is different,” he said. “One year we had a father with a newborn baby and two young children.
“Many of the church’s projects include non-members. We offer La Jollans ways to best serve their community by providing some structure for those who want to volunteer. They can immediately see the value.”
The church also offers meeting rooms for several organizations, including Alcoholics Anonymous, the La Jolla Garden Club and the Nashville Songwriters Association. In addition, it offers musical concerts and art shows giving local artists good exposure. “We try something new each year,” Rev. Dahle said.
Rev. Dahle has been the pastor of La Jolla Lutheran Church for 20 years. He grew up in Ketchikan, Alaska “the last cruise ship stop,” and earned a degree in English at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington. He then went to work as a writer and photographer for a major corporation in the Northwest for several years before deciding to enter the ministry. Already active with a youth ministry, he attended the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, earning a master of divinity degree. He was assigned to a church in Upland briefly before coming to La Jolla.
In addition to overseeing all services and projects, Rev. Dahle is taking on a major fundraising and renovation campaign. The church has a long list of much-needed work inside and out and will start with high-priority items such as repairing gutters, windows, doors and stucco, replacing damaged flooring, handrails and sprinkler system and power washing the chimney.
As Rev. Dahle offered a tour of the church, he pointed out the bee motif. The stained glass windows in the sanctuary include bees, flowers and honeycombs. The pulpit includes bees carved into the wood. And by the entrance, there are gifts for visitors — small jars of honey with cards explaining how bees helped build the church.
La Jolla Lutheran Church
Address: 7111 La Jolla Blvd.
Phone: (858) 454-6459
Year Established: 1944
Sunday Attendance: 60-70
Worship Services: 9:30 a.m. Sundays; Bible Study 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays
Pastor: Rev. Mark Dahle