Le and Elaine Wallin were playing badminton with their children in the front yard when a pastor walked up. Rudolf Johnson wanted to start a church in El Dorado Hills.
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“So we knocked on doors and helped,” Elaine said.
Fifty years later, St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church has a few hundred members, 50 to 70 attending each Sunday morning and serves the community in many ways.
The inaugural service took place next to the old El Dorado Hills Community Services District Park Village pool in 1963 and St. Stephen’s was incorporated as a member of the Lutheran Church in America in May 1964. Poolside services continued for a while.
“Then we met in the fire house,” said Wallin, recalling that the kids had Sunday School in a loft. “That was quite the experience because they had to pull out the fire trucks.”
Though meeting locally was better than driving to Rancho Cordova, as the congregation grew so did the need for a church.
Pastor Johnson, who had been designated by the Pacific Southwest Synod of the LCA for the mission church in the newly developed villages of El Dorado Hills, and his congregation went into fundraising mode. The Pacific Southwest Synod had purchased a 4.5-acre site in the triangle formed by Olson Lane and El Dorado Hills Boulevard, according to the church’s history, but the economy hit the region hard and plans had to be scaled back.
On Oct. 15, 1968, St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church was dedicated under the leadership of Pastor John Olson. Ten years later, church members broke ground on the fellowship hall, which opened in October 1980.
“It’s home for us,” Elaine said. All three of her children were confirmed at St. Stephen’s, one daughter was married there and another daughter was married by the St. Stephen’s pastor at a larger location.
The church has become so much more than a place to gather every Sunday morning.
“Over the years, St. Stephen’s has always supported youth activities, such as Boy Scouts, Camp Fire Girls, Girl Scouts and a child development center,” said Pastor Trudy Franzen.
“Service projects have included various denominational drives to combat hunger, as well as work with Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, the faith-based nomadic shelter for the Homeless, St. John’s Shelter for Women and Children, Food Bank of El Dorado County, Lutheran Social Services, Heifer Project, El Dorado Mental Health Services and American Muslim Voice,” said Franzen.
The church’s history also notes that the church provides licensed day care and members of the congregation have taught reading skills to inmates at Folsom Prison, cooked and served meals at the St. John’s Women’s Shelter for Women and Children and quilted lap robes and baby blankets for use by local hospitals.
This year, St. Stephen’s is very excited to begin a new relationship with the Kibungo Parish in Rwanda, partnering with Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Auburn and Grace Lutheran Church in Lincoln, according to church administrator Kim Stein.
“Like most congregations in California, we acknowledge the fact that church is just one of many options for Sunday mornings. Many of our most faithful members only attend a couple times a month. What that means is St. Stephen’s is a church that is adapting to new ways of being the church and realizing that many things ‘count’ as church besides attendance,” Franzen said. “Our members are very generous and devoted and give many hours to the community at large. This spirit of adaptation, creativity and generosity makes St. Stephen’s a great place to be.”
St. Stephen’s will host anniversary service at 10 a.m. on Sunday, May 18.
To commemorate the half-century of serving the community, Franzen created a 6-foot mosaic that will be revealed on May 18. The piece is also a featured stop on the El Dorado Hills Arts Association’s Spring Studio Tour, May 31 and June 1.
For more information about St. Stephen’s stop by the church at 1001 Olson Lane in El Dorado Hills, call 916-933-1441 or visit sslcedh.org.