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  • St Peters by the Sea Front Dust

60 Years at St. Peters

By Dorothy Sprungman and Ned Titlow (2006)

At the end of World War II, the government had a chaplaincy in the Azure Vista Housing led by a Lutheran pastor. This was held by the Augustana Synod. In World War II, the government designated a minister to each housing area such as Azure Vista. When the Augustana Synod decided not to continue their ministry here, it was then offered to our Synod and we accepted.

In the fall of 1945, a Synod team sought advice from Lutheran businessman John Titlow, father of charter member Ned Titlow, the man whom many at St. Peter’s have come to consider the dean of lay churchmen. The senior Titlow offered to buy a site selected by the Mission Board. Three sites were considered: one across from Point Loma High School where the Christian Science Church now stands; another at the corner of Niagara and Ebers Street, and the present site the church now occupies at Sunset Cliffs and Adair Street. The purchase price was $7,000.

The organizing pastor, the Rev. Earl J. Johnson, a former army chaplain, held the first service at the Thursday Club, 1224 Santa Barbara, on February 17, 1946. Eight months later, the name St. Peter's by the Sea Lutheran Church was chosen. Earlier that year, the first council was elected. Chosen to serve were Edward Hanzlik, J.C. Joesler, Carl Nelson, Ray Schroeder, George Speer, Glen Stelling, and John Titlow.

We met in the Thursday Club until the summer of 1947 when the Azure Vista Community Building became available without charge. We held Sunday School and Church services there until Beardsley Mortuary offered their chapel for our use. Sunday School at Azure Vista Community Center and church at Beardsleys continued for two years until our first facility and present site was built.

On December 8, 1946, the congregation was officially organized with 69 adult members and over 100 baptized children. A constitution and bylaws were adopted. Ned Titlow is the remaining charter member of this congregation.

The Rev. Earl Johnson resigned in September of 1947 to become a YMCA executive in Glendale, California. At his final sermon, he announced that St. Peters was closing and no longer would exist. This was a surprise to many members. That week John Titlow, the Nelsons, Rosines, and Hanzlicks decided it wouldn’t close, and arranged for a Navy chaplain to preach on Sundays. Doctor Beasom helped with this arrangement. After existing in this manner for a number of weeks, one Sunday Dr. Beasom appeared just as 100 or more children were leaving Sunday School and 40-plus people were coming for church services. He had a special council meeting after the church services with the remaining church council. Dr. Beasom told them he had come to close this mission church, but with all the children and persons attending, he would give the church another pastor. He recruited Dr. Howard Anspach to lead us. A wonderful pastor to repair a broken congregation. With a bad back he did a wonderful job with deep love to all of us.

In January 1948, the Rev. Dr. Howard A. Anspach, who had been supply pastor for three months, was chosen to serve as pastor for a term of one year. He and his wife resided at the parsonage, 4668 Tivoli Street, during their time in San Diego. Despite Pastor Anspach’s illness during summer months, he and supply pastors George H. Lovekamp and Eugene Vosseler made ready for the groundbreaking ceremony for the new chapel to be held on July 4, 1948.

The following month, St. Peter’s started on the $25,000 church building. Fall saw the church at 1371 Sunset Cliffs Boulevard being dedicated. The key to the church was presented to Pastor Anspach, who opened the doors to the waiting congregation. The honor of making the presentation was given to George Speer, volunteer building committee chairperson, who spearheaded the efforts that resulted in 450 hours of donated labor.

On Dedication Day, November 28, 1948, Sunday School was held in the new church for the first time. Almost immediately, it was recognized that the recently dedicated church would not be adequate for the growing congregation. Thus, on January 14, 1949, a building fund campaign was begun under the direction of the Rev. E. Dale Click, pastor from San Mateo, California.

Having accepted the Call to become pastor of St. Peter’s, Vlad Benko arrived on February 1, 1949, accompanied by his wife, Gale, and their children, Billy, aged three, and Barbara, one year old. He preached his first sermon on February 6.

The 27-year-old pastor came from Unity Lutheran Church in St. Louis, Missouri. He had attended Wittenburg College, Springfield, Ohio, and received his A.B. degree from the Chicago Lutheran Theological Seminary and did graduate work at the University of Chicago under the Rev. Dr. Oscar Carlson, president of Augustana College.

Pastor Benko’s installation at St. Peter’s was held at 8 p.m. on April 24, 1949, with two Synod presidents officiating. This was a rare event in the annals of Synod because one Synod president was the father of the installee, the Rev. Dr. M. F. Benko of the Slovak Zion Synod of Cleveland, the other a frequent visitor, Dr. James P. Beasom of Los Angeles, president of the California Synod of the United Lutheran Church. Local pastors Vosseler and Garman also participated.

After five years of struggle, St. Peters took off during the decade of the fifties--a time when the social milieu was favorable to traditional values. In the first year, under the tutelage of their young and energetic new pastor, Vlad Benko, 34 church leaders were installed, church membership, attendance, and facilities all doubled and the budget tripled. Before long two Sunday services were needed to handle the fourfold increase in worshippers, necessitating two choirs. Sunday School attendance climbed to over 100 enrollees, and Vacation Bible School drew 188.

For $39,000 the Parish Hall was completed in 1953. It included the kitchen, Fireside and Boy Scout Rooms, nursery, stage and dressing rooms, pastor’s study, and three classrooms. At the same time, the church underwent extensive remodeling to the tune of $28,000 to increase seating capacity to 175 persons, and additional chancel expansion to accommodate the chapel and youth choirs. Both choirs were directed by Dr. Morrow Stough, principal of the teacher training elementary school at San Diego State College. A stained-glass window and a new organ were added to enhance the chancel area. During the construction, the congregation met at the Masonic Temple at 1711 Sunset Cliffs Boulevard.

The sixties began with liabilities of $42,239 but with an increased congregational equity of over $200,000. Communing member numbers reached a high of 405. A two-story, 4300 square-foot educational building, was built for $60,735. The complex provided an office, boy’s and girl’s bathrooms, and eleven classrooms for up to 300 pupils. The lot on the corner of Sunset Cliffs and Point Loma Avenue was purchased and paved for parking. The lot across the alley, also on Point Loma, was bought for future parking.

No longer a Mission Church, St. Peter’s now became self-supporting. With new educational facilities, teachers and students came in increasing numbers. The staff was at an all-time high of 63 (up from 39) and enrollment in 1962 was 261. Church Vacation School with 146 pupils was up 13 percent.

During Pastor Benko’s 21-plus years at St. Peter’s membership grew from a handful of Lutherans meeting in rented quarters to a sizeable membership of over 600, worshipping and meeting in ample facilities. Pastor Benko and family left in June 1970 to become the pastor at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Monterey Park, California.

We called a new pastor, Kenneth E. Linton, from his church in Arizona in 1970. Pastor Linton and his wife Betty shepherded the congregation through the turbulent seventies as the church struggled to be relevant. New liturgies were introduced. A whole new approach was provided for younger children leading to Holy Communion. Young vicar interns were called into service, and the congregation provided therapy session leaders in an attempt to tune into an alienated generation. Youth were given Room 8 to use as their own space and to decorate as they chose. The congregation cooperated as various worship styles were tried.

Despite a decline in membership, benevolences reached 100 percent goals for eight consecutive years. 1975 saw a mortgage-burning ceremony as the church reached debt-free status.

Some traditions stemming from this decade have lingered: a prayer chain, roses on the altar for babies born to parish families, and girls serving as acolytes. Prior to this there were no women pastors, nor were women participants in altar ceremonies, members of the church council, or ushers. Only boys served as acolytes.

Another sign of the times was that the church was vandalized and burglarized on four occasions. The worst loss was damage to historic photo albums which vandals used to start a fire in the pastor’s study.

Nevertheless a new organ fund was started, and a committee to pay for remodeling, although beset by obstacles, rushed on. The architect’s year-long illness and bureaucratic red tape delayed permits. Rising costs caused frustrations, but finally the time came for the Building Fund Drive, headed by Vi Matson, to raise $65,000 in pledges in early 1980. Two stalwarts, Vi Matson for 14 years of meticulous church care and Pat Morgan for 10 years of faithful and efficient service as secretary, were honored with accolades and gifts.

Lutheran Church Women (LCW) were the stars of the seventies. Behind the quiet leadership of Helen Little, with the energetic support of Ida Edwards, Mona Roberts, and a faithful following, they performed Trojan deeds to benefit the church, community, and Synod.

The Annual International Bazaars, complete with meals served and cooked by the men of the church, were appreciated throughout the area. Their efforts balanced the budget.

The Lintons left in June 1980 making way for the arrival of Dale and Mary Bringman from Grace Lutheran Church in the town of State College, Pennsylvania. The Bringmans moved into 835 Silvergate on September 1. Their son, David J. Bringman, came from his church in Pennsylvania to preach the sermon at his father’s formal installation on September 24.

Dale Bringman served with the Air Force during World War II as a radio operator in the Pacific Theater of Operation. He was born and raised in Honover, Pennsylvania. He attended Susquehanna University and Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg prior to receiving his Doctor of Divinity degree from Susquehanna, and later became a member of this university’s Board of Directors. He also did post-graduate work at Pennsylvania State University.

Pastor Bringman served two churches in Pennsylvania before coming to San Diego--Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Harrisburg from 1951-1957 and Grace Lutheran Church in State College from 1957 to 1980. For a period of time, he substituted as chaplain for the Pennsylvania State House of Representatives.

For over twenty years in State College, he had a weekly radio broadcast and when in Harrisburg appeared on TV in its early days. He has written two books, Prayer and the Devotional Life and A Star is Born and in 1990 was published in Harper & Row’s Best Sermons of the Year.

In spite of a lifelong demanding schedule, he has found time to enjoy sports, drama, square dancing, wood working and trout fishing. He is proud to add that he and his wife Mary have four children and seven grandchildren.

Under Pastor Bringham’s leadership, the long-delayed plans for rebuilding the church were carried forward by a renewed call for bids which, when opened on December 9, 1980, showed Raymond Haas & Son of Lemon Grove the lowest bidder at $158,314--a sum $80,000 lower than the previous bid. Creative financing enabled the funds to be raised through the sale of bonds to church members. While construction was underway, the Parish Hall was transformed into a viable temporary chapel.

With Ned Titlow heading the Building Committee and George Bausch as Building Supervisor, work started on February 17, 1981. A date stone was put in place on August 17, and the sanctuary was dedicated October 11th.

In keeping with the name, St. Peter’s by the Sea, nautical decor was carried throughout in the form of ship lantern lights, portholes in doors, belaying pins on the altar rail, a ship’s prow pulpit, binnacle lectern, a ship’s anchor, and a large shell for a baptismal font. Local artist Charles Faust sandcasted a sea scene for the narthex, depicting Jesus on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

Highlights of this decade include the establishment of an Endowment Fund of over $200,000 with most of the money bequeathed by Edna Wold and William Krenning. The interest earned by the fund’s capital enables St. Peter’s to support many worthwhile programs within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Synod, the community, and the congregation.

The preschool has flourished since its inception in 1980, acquiring an expanded play yard and facilities. At the other end of the age scale, the Sunset Cliffs Senior Center was opened in 1986 to provide classes, entertainment, and hot lunches to those in their sunset years.

The Parish Hall and the Fireside Lounge were renovated and received new furnishings in the mid-eighties. A storage room was added in 1988. An initial gift by Henry Saleebey started these projects on their way. A complete set of exquisite paraments--the work of the skilled hands of Helen Little and Margaret Nesbitt--beautify the worship services.

The church built a handsome new sign identifying itself and its pastor.

In 1980 the annual income was $63,121; in 1990 it had climbed to $200,231. As important as buildings are and as necessary as money is to build them, the essential thing is what people do in them. Biblical characters dramatically presented by the pastor in costume at Christmas Eve candlelight services have included Joseph, a shepherd, a tax collector, Herod, Peter, and Paul. The faithful choir on special occasions features soloists and is accompanied by violinists, cellists, brass, and keyboard.

Rev. James Shimota was called as our pastor in the spring of 1995 and started serving May 1, 1995. He brought a Christian concern and love to our congregation. We moved to two Sunday services, the first, a contemporary service and the second a traditional. It has increased our appeal to a broader spectrum of people and increased attendance. We especially enjoyed many young families and their children attending and joining our church.

In 1997 we had an electrical fire in our parish hall, offices, and pre-school areas. It caused much damage, but under Pastor’s direction, it caused a minimum of dislocation. A new sound system was installed and $14,000 was sent to flood victims in North Dakota. Women of the Church sent thirty quilts.

In April 2000 Pastor Timothy C. Sims became our new pastor after Pastor Shimota retired. Pastor Sims came to us from retirement as Chaplain, Marine Corps Air Station, Miramar. His energy was boundless and he instituted several changes. He installed morning vespers and evening vespers during the week. He also trained and instituted a deacon program with seven members to assist him in his actual program. He brought a new vitality to the church services, and his enthusiasm was very motivating. He installed 42 members in his first year. Unfortunately, he died in a single-car accident in Utah, June 10, 2002.

Our first called woman pastor, Karen Marohn, joined St. Peter’s May 1, 2003. She had just graduated from Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary after her previous career in church work. Since that time, we reinvigorated the Evangelical Committee, hired a full time youth director, and emphasized spiritual development. We are currently reviewing our church facilities in view of making our church plan more useable and effective.

Pastor Marohn established a Health and Wellness Council with Jan Grahn, R.N., as the leader in this work. We have a Sunday Health Clinic, a blood drive, and are raising money to produce a defibrilater to have at St. Peters should its use in an emergency be necessary. Sandra Mack was our office administrator from 2000 to 2005, Katrina Pascale served from 2005 to 2007, and Janine Morrow is our current office administrator.

In November, 2011, Pastor emeritus Dale Bringman moved back to Pennsylvania to Gettysburg Lutheran Retirement Village.

We haven’t covered all who made St. Peters the fine church it is. But it would take pages to cover all of them. Thanks to everyone.

As we look back on sixty years of service to our Lord and our community here in San Diego, we must be considered a wonderful influence. From a broken church in 1947 with 35-40 members to our church today with about 300 members. We are a wonderful center of God’s power in our community. May the future continue and may the Lord continue to bless us and our mission here at St. Peters.