Historic St. John's Lutheran celebrates 100 years of outreach and invites community to sanctuary

10/05/2012 12:00 AM

10/04/2012 10:33 PM

For a century, St. John's Lutheran Church at 17th and L Streets has stood as one of the city's architectural jewels, and as home to a congregation that has ministered to the spiritual and physical needs of residents in Sacramento's midtown and beyond.

"Along with the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, it's one of the historic buildings every Sacramentan should see," said the Rev. Frank Espegren, St. John's pastor.

This weekend, members of St. John's invite the community to join in celebrating the centennial of its sanctuary and Espegren's installation as the congregation's senior pastor.

St. John's began as the German Lutheran Church in 1867, when a small group of German Lutherans met to worship in Graham's Hall on Seventh Street, between J and K streets.

In 1910, they purchased the lot at 17th and L streets for $27,000. In 1912, the sanctuary building was completed at a total cost of $107,656.79. This included the cost of land, a parsonage, 21 stained-glass windows and a pipe organ.

A multimillion-dollar refurbishing of the sanctuary was completed in 2008. "The goal was to bring it back to what it looked like in 1912," said Bea Favre, the church's records manager.

To mark its centennial, the sanctuary will be rededicated during services at 8, 9 and 11:30 a.m. Sunday.

At 3 p.m. Saturday, Espegren, St. John's associate pastor and director of outreach and service since 2007, will be installed as senior pastor. He previously served as an associate pastor at Advent Lutheran Church in Citrus Heights.

A Sacramento native, Espegren entered the ministry after 13 years as an attorney, working first for the firm of Diepenbrock, Wulff, Plant & Hannegan, and then with Marron, Reid and Sheehy.

At the age of 36, he began the four-year ordination process, enrolling at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley.

"I had already thought about it, all the way back in high school. Becoming a pastor was not a novel thought," Espegren said.

The disciplines of law and theology were closely related in the Middle Ages, he said, noting that Martin Luther's father had wanted his son to become a lawyer.

"I liked being a lawyer, but I love being a pastor," Espegren said.

The practice of law involves analytical thinking, research, public presentations and persuasion. Those skills are equally valuable for a pastor who "must work with the Bible and life experiences to try to make connections for people about what God is doing and how it relates to life," Espegren said.

Throughout its history, St. John's has focused on serving not only its members but the community at large.

St. John's Women's and Children Shelter began as a ministry of the church, said Favre. Although it is now an independent organization with its own board of directors, St. John's continues to contribute to its support, as well as to Habitat for Humanity, Safe Ground, Francis House, and Loaves & Fishes.

Despite its midtown location, St. John's draws members from throughout the Sacramento region. Many say they are attracted to the church because of the opportunities it offers to serve the community, Favre said.

About 500 people attend the four worship services each week, Espegren said, and they represent a cross-section of the community.

The congregation has seen an influx of young families — the church's Sunday School program is bursting at the seams, Favre said. According to a congregational profile, 25 percent are 19 years old or younger, and 20 percent are 65 or older.

As the congregation begins its second century at 17th and L streets, "we want to be part of the vibrant resurgence of midtown," Espegren said.

"St. John's is a congregation that really does not have an interest of being for our own selves," he said. "God calls us to be part of the Sacramento community and to be of service to people in need of assistance."

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