On Sunday, Feb. 15, 113 years since its first worship service and 55 years from the first service at its State Street property, Grace Lutheran Church held it final service.
More than 125 members, pastors, family and friends of the congregation attended the Worship Service of Thanksgiving, then joined together for a festive luncheon to honor the founders’ vision of service to the community, and to celebrate the beginning of Grace Lutheran’s “new legacy of service” as the future location of Grace Village for Seniors, a housing community for low-income seniors, with ongoing funding of local mission services established by the congregation.
The service was presided over by the Rev. Dr. R. Guy Erwin, bishop for the Southwest California Synod, and the special program at the luncheon included remarks by Pat Wheatley, president of Grace Lutheran Church, Rob Pearson, CEO of the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara, the Rev. Erwin, Bill Jennings, CFO of California Lutheran Homes and Community Services, and the Rev. Chris Miller, interim pastor.
“Grace Lutheran has had a positive impact in the lives of so many people in Santa Barbara, including my own family,” said Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara. “I have been blessed to be a member of the congregation for decades. And while the closure of the Grace congregation signifies an ending in one sense, it is also a sign of a fresh beginning. The gifting of the land will allow Grace’s legacy of service to our community to continue by providing much needed housing to low income seniors in our community.”
Like many congregations throughout the country, with an aging membership yet an undiminished will for service to the community, 10 years ago Grace Lutheran members began to explore ways to continue its strong service to membership and to the greater Santa Barbara community.
This exploration led to the gifting of its land for development jointly by the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara and Front Porch Communities and Services as the Grace Village for Seniors. California Lutheran Homes will the current community programs as well as the support services to be provided to residents of Grace Village.
“As one of the five local congregations that founded and continue to support Transition House, our members have long been dedicated to housing our community’s most vulnerable,” said Pat Wheatley, Grace Lutheran Council president. “We are blessed to partner with our City’s Housing Authority and with California Lutheran Homes, that both have demonstrated time and time again their commitment to the well-being of our precious seniors. Each also brings its own legacy of success in creating the purpose-built housing and support services crucial to that quality of life.”
Construction of Grace Village for Seniors is expected to break ground in 2016, followed by an estimated 18-month construction schedule. Peikert + RRM Design Group has been selected as the project architects.
While the closing of Grace Lutheran Church creates a new legacy of shelter for vulnerable seniors, the congregation is assuring vital ongoing support for its new residents through Grace Village Services as well as ongoing support for low-income families and individuals served by local community agencies. Grace Housing Inc., a nonprofit corporation, has been formed to receive and distribute lease income from Grace Lutheran’s properties now administered by California Lutheran Homes. Income from these leases will fund local services through a Legacy Framework established by the congregation. The congregation will see funding continue for community organizations supporting the mission of establishing permanent housing for families and food security, including Transition House and Habitat for Humanity, as well as Grace Lutheran’s 40-year old Saturday food program, the Grace Food Pantry.
The Grace Lutheran facility will also continue to serve the community until construction begins, as the church building will continue to host the many community groups that have been meeting there over the years, including several 12-Step Groups, Alzheimer’s support groups, Grace Quilters and others.
“Although with a measure of pain and a sense of loss, the closing of the Grace congregation does not mean the end of a ministry,” Wheatley said. “In fact, closing has provided the congregation an opportunity of expanding that ministry throughout the years as we try to listen to what God is calling us to do.”
The members of the Grace Lutheran Council, elected by the congregation to serve as the administrative body of the church, are Wheatley, president; Jeannie Christensen, vice president; Inez Christensen, treasurer; Barbara Wagner, secretary; Joan Bennett; Jim Benz; and, Phil Archenbronn.
— Juliana Minsky is a publicist representing Grace Lutheran Church.