History of Westlake Lutheran Church, Westlake Village, CA
Westlake Lutheran Church began in January of 1970, when the Division of Missions in North America decided to conduct a survey of Westlake Village to determine if a new Lutheran church should be established in this area. Pastor Robert Lawson was appointed by the DMA to conduct the survey and report back to them on his findings. Pastor Lawson was to become the minister of the new church if it was to be.
Prior to this, Pastor Lawson established Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Thousand Oaks, California, in 1959, and remained there as Pastor until 1967. He then became Director of Admissions at California Lutheran College. He remained there until January, 1970.
The first planning meeting for Westlake Lutheran Church took place in May of 1970. Having received a positive response from his calls, the first church celebration was held at the Dean Homes Community Recreation Center of June 21, 1970. Pastors of the Westlake United Methodist Church and Westminster Presbyterian Church joined in that first celebration. From the very beginning, Westlake Lutheran welcomed an ecumenical and community outreach in this area.
That early church had its challenges, the first being space – space to meet, hold classes and set up Vacation Church School, as summer was just around the corner. That first Vacation Church School was held as a joint effort with the United Methodist Church and Westminster Presbyterian Church at the First Park Community Center. The turnout was great and growing friendships were made with fellow Christian groups that continued to grow.
In the summer of 1972, the American Hawaiian Land Company, the original developer of Westlake Village, sold their property to the Security Pacific National Bank. The building on the property was not suitable to serve as a bank, so Security Pacific offered the building to the United Methodist Church if they would move it to its present site. In the meantime, Pastor Lawson and Pastor Morrison of the United Methodist Church had developed a close working relationship. The second church celebration, on June 29, 1970, was a shared endeavor with the Methodist congregation. It was held outside on the south bank of lake. All that land was vacant at that time. This was the beginning of a long history of close cooperation between the two congregations, which included many shared activities: Vacation Bible School, Boy Scouts, youth group, boutique, etc. This became a rewarding and exciting way for both congregations to witness of their Christian faith in a positive way.
The church continued to meet and grow at the Dean Homes Recreation Center until August of 1972. It was then that the steering committee decided to apply to the Southwest Synod for papers to become a formal church congregation. The name of Westlake Lutheran Church was selected by the members of the congregation. The Southwest Synod helped the congregation with financial support.
The Southwest Synod purchased a 2 1/2 acre site on the southeast corner of Lindero Canyon and Agoura Roads as a future site for a church building. The steering committee continued reviewing growth patterns and progress. It became quite apparent that even though the congregation was showing growth, it was highly doubtful that it would become a large enough membership to support its own church building and underwrite the expense of construction. With seven Lutheran churches in the Conejo Valley area, growth would be dependent upon new move-in families in a relatively confined section of this community. By mid-1972, the steering committee advised the Southwest Synod that they should sell back the church site to the American Hawaiian Land Company and give Westlake Lutheran the option of future land acquisition as growth may indicate.
The Dean Homes Recreation Center served Westlake Lutheran very well as an initial location for church celebrations, but there were serious shortcomings in a lack of space and facilities to hold church school meetings, classrooms, etc. Since there wasn’t adequate space for classroom work at the church meeting place, the confirmation classes were taught in the homes of the students.
In May 1972 the steering committee applied to the Southwest Synod for formal organization and charter or incorporation as Westlake Lutheran Church. They also sent a formal call to Pastor Lawson to become the Pastor of Record. This was accomplished and Westlake Lutheran became a formally organized church and member of the Southwest Synod of the Lutheran Church in America.
The Covenant Relationship
About this same time, the United Methodist congregation asked if Westlake Lutheran would consider moving into their new building, renting space from them to hold church celebrations as well as other activities. A covenant agreement was drawn up between the two church bodies for the joint use of the present church buildings. The covenant agreement was the first such document for any congregation in the Southwest Synod. By sharing the use of the church buildings, Westlake Lutheran had a “church home” – adequate space for celebration, Christian education, meeting space, as well as storage and office space.
One of the most memorable goals set and met was becoming fully self-sustaining by mid 1975.
The United Methodist congregation also received important benefits from the covenant agreement, one of which was adding financial income generated from rental payments, helping them to sustain their budget requirements. In 1984, the Church Council signed an extension to the covenant agreement to continue until the year 2000. As a congregation, the Westlake Lutheran Church gave the United Methodist Church $100,000 to help in the Methodist’s new building program. The spirit of Christian love and cooperation between the two congregations continued.
The end of the first era of leadership and a time of long transition…
In September of 1989, Pastor Lawson resigned, moving on to become Westlake Hospital’s Chaplain. Pastor Lawson remained active at Westlake Lutheran and in the community until his health necessitated a move to University Village in Thousand Oaks (he and Joyce officially moved their membership to Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Thousand Oaks in 2008. Pastor Bob died in November 2009. Among his many legacy gift is the lasting gift of himself that will live on within this congregation). After Pastor Lawson’s retirement, Pastor John Kuethe became the supply pastor. He had been a professor of philosophy at California Lutheran University. Pastor Luther Olmon began the job of interim pastor, serving the needs of the congregation. He had been Chaplain at UCLA a number of years counseling students, and continued in that job during this time. Both Pastor Kuethe and Pastor Olmon continued serving this church until April 1990.
It was then that Pastor Thomas C. Cooper came to Westlake Lutheran as its new pastor. He had been pastor at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Palos Verdes for 17 years, prior to coming to Westlake Lutheran. He served as pastor until July, 1991.
The congregation was blessed by other significant interim pastoral leadership when Pastor Erling Wold served as supply pastor and Dr. Richard Solberg served as interim pastor. Pastor Wold had been pastor at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in North Hollywood. Although technically retired, he came to serve. He also was a “senior mentor” at California Lutheran University. Pastor Richard Solberg came to serve as interim pastor, meeting congregational needs. He had done much mission work, as well as writing. He was also retired at the time. Both pastors extended their stay until January, 1993.
It was then that Pastor Craig Beeker responded to the call at Westlake Lutheran. He had been Associate Pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Manhattan Beach for three years before coming to Westlake Lutheran. His first Sunday was January 3, 1993 with the Service of Installation being held on February 21, 1993. There were 114 people worship each Sunday (average) and the budget of the congregation was $125,000. In the Spring of 1993 the Council initiated a “visioning’ process to assess the future ministry of Westlake Lutheran Congregation. Also in 1993, after a painful and long discussion, the United Methodist Church made the difficult decision to close the Covenant Relationship with our congregation to be effective in August of 1994. We were grieved at the loss of this relationship but looked forward to some shared ministry between our congregations (e.g. VBS).
The leadership of the congregation looked at our options as the following: a continued relationship with the United Methodist Church of Westlake with worship times on the outside edge of Sunday morning, a covenant relationship with another congregation, or leasing space in a local industrial/business area or community center. Much work was done in search for a facility that would meet our needs.
In February 1994, the congregation rented and began renovating the facility at 2630 Townsgate Road, Unit A. After nearly $145,000 in renovations the facility was complete. On August 14, 1994 we entered our new facility for our first time of worship with our United Methodist friends. This move was challenging to us as a church on our own, renting space, utilizing an industrial building, yet the congregation met the challenges and began to grow. In fact, the move to Townsgate Road has bad been a very important first step in our journey after the Covenant Relationship.
Today we grow into the future God has in store for us…
In the February of 1999 the church renewed its lease for the Townsgate Road facility, embarked upon its first major capital stewardship drive with a goal of $600,000. The congregation council is continuing to work toward a long range vision and strategy. On September 21, 1999 with the assistance of Resource Services, Inc. (RSI) and George Golden (our campaign consultant) the congregation kicked off the successful campaign, under the congregational leadership of Pastor Beeker, Terry Paulson (Campaign Chairperson) and Stan Fisher (Congregational President). The campaign exceeded expectations, receiving $640,000 in pledges. By 2002 we had received $600,000 and growing (Post-script: in 2008 the congregation held $795,000 in its capital stewardship fund).
In 2003 the congregation began its first ALPHA program under the leadership of Terry and Lorie Paulson, resulting in introductions to, and deepened commitments to Christ and the church. To date dozens of members and community participants have gone through an ALPHA Course at Westlake Lutheran.
In the Fall of 2003 the Council secured the members’ approval for expanding space at the Townsgate location. The added space allows for expanded service. A search for additional staff to drive our youth ministry was also approved. The church building has been opened to many community groups, especially 12-step recovery groups, and this congregation has begun a fruitful partnership with a growing Korean language ministry, Westlake Korean Community Church. Westlake Lutheran continues to have a positive relationship with the Interfaith Community and with our brothers and sisters in the Westlake United Methodist Church with whom we share history, and today continue to share in special worship services and educational events.
In 2004 the congregation began a Stephen Ministry program with ten Stephen Ministers. Lynn Bulock and Pastor Beeker were trained to serve as our first Stephen Ministry Leaders. The congregation also moved toward a second full time staff person in youth ministry with Lyndsey Coker serving for two years. In 2004 the congregation began a second contemporary praise worship service with Lyndsey’s musical leadership. The congregation has enjoyed the addition of worship alternatives and has invested in a significant video system for the sanctuary to aid in worship and educational opportunities. In 2007, the congregation hired Sam Campeau, a recent graduate of California Lutheran University and staff member at Lutheran Retreats Camps and Conferences in Southern California. His leadership has introduced annual youth mission trips to San Francisco, and Denver, Colorado, and Arizona.
In 2009, one of our initial Stephen Minister Leaders, Lynn Bulock, completed her seminary training and was consecrated a diaconal minister of the ELCA. Bishop Nelson was present for special consecration service held at our building. Lynn began serving at the Ventura County Homeless Coalition as their community education specialist.
In Fall 2009 the Christian Church of the Hills (CCH) in Agoura contacted Pastor Beeker (with whom they had acquaintance through the local YMCA National Day of Prayer). The Christian Church of the Hills was completing their ministry and closing by year end. They desired a church to purchase their building and continue doing ministry in the city of Agoura. The Westlake Lutheran Congregation voted unanimously in a special congregation meeting (with 105 voting members present) on November 1, 2009 to purchase the property at 29295 Agoura Road (one parcel West of the corner of Kanan Road) for $1.5 million dollars, with over $810,000 in capital stewardship reserve funds ready for this purchase. CCH included the fixtures and furnishings in the real estate arrangement so we received all chairs and tables, a baby-grand piano and keyboard, and other supplies.
The congregation held its final worship service on December 31, 2009 in the 2630-A Townsgate Road sanctuary. The Westlake Korean Community Church took over the remaining lease and continued to meet in the sanctuary building (and continue in their office and educational unit near our office space at 756-C Lakefield Road, Westlake Village) under the pastoral leadership of Rev. Dr. Jeong Oh. The first worship service in the new building was held on Sunday, January 3, 2010. The congregation spent the weekends of January moving the congregation into the space and redecorating the facility (under the leadership of Wayne Rickert, our transition chairperson, and Karen Orefice, as key decorator).
The congregation received a loan from Thrivent Financial for Lutherans in order to finance the purchase. In 2010 the Mission Investment Fund (MIF) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) contacted the congregation with an offer to fund the building at a discounted loan rate (because Westlake Lutheran Church has never had a loan as a mission congregation previously). The congregation received a loan from the MIF at a rate of 3% for a ten year period.
The congregation also undertook a new capital stewardship journey in 2010 with the title: “New Home, New Hope Capital Stewardship Journey.” The goal was $500,000 for three goals: “required, renovation, and repair.” The MIF required us to have $300,000 raised to secure our loan. The congregation also realized there were repairs necessary to the building and property in the near term (including repairs to the air conditioning and heating, asphalt pavement in the driveway and parking lot, and the large wooden patio on the side of the building). The final component is renovation which includes items necessary to the continuing ministry of the congregation (perhaps including work on the kitchenette, renewal and updating of the bathrooms).
In the Fall of 2011, after nearly two years of conversation and leadership by a Name Change Committee, the congregation officially voted to change our corporate name from Westlake Lutheran Church to New Hope Lutheran Church, Agoura Hills.
We are so grateful you are a part of God’s vision for this church. You have chosen to become a part of a dynamic community of faith that seeks to treat one another as a gift from God to us – to love, care for, and challenge you to follow Christ with your whole life.
We thank God for weaving us together for nearly forty years to be a family of faith in the Conejo Valley. We look upon our past in gratitude and anticipate our future with eagerness. We thank God that you were brought here to be part of the future of Westlake Lutheran Congregation. Together, as God’s family, we will “Shine Christ’s Light, and Share God’s Love” in our worship, service, outreach, fellowship, care giving, and justice seeking. We will offer God’s living hope in Christ, and New Hope to those in need.
May God be glorified in and through our church family!