A Detailed History of SOTH
In September 1951, shortly after the United Lutheran Church in America (ULCA) had purchased two estates at the top of Marin Avenue to found a new seminary in the west, discussions about the feasibility of starting a new mission congregation in the Berkeley hills began. A month later, 24 people attended the first worship service in the then Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary Chapel, now Sawyer Hall. A year later, September 14, 1952, a group of 65 charter members under the leadership of John Steinhaus officially organized Shepherd of the Hills as a congregation of the United Lutheran Church in America.
For the next eight years, the congregation continued to worship at the seminary until the current sanctuary was designed by Carleton A. Steiner, built by A.B. Lahti, and dedicated on May 24, 1960 with Dr. Carl Tambert, President of the Pacific Southwest Synod of the ULCA. Pr. Harjunpaa, Professor Harry Mumm, and Professor Victor Gould made significant contributions to the arrangement and designs of the altar, baptismal font and sanctuary furnishings. Robert Pinart created the stained glass windows representing the biblical themes and Jean Nison designed the ceramic tiles on the altar and baptismal font.
In 1966, a merger of four national Lutheran Church bodies (ULCA, Augustana Synod, Suomi Synod and the United Evangelical Lutheran Church) prompted a merger of the four congregations in Berkeley to become Lutheran Church of the Cross headquartered on University Ave. with four separate worship locations. The dream of the merger was to provide a more effective and efficient ministry to an increasingly diverse community. Unfortunately, the merger encountered multiple complex problems. Within the next ten years, two locations were sold to meet the financial needs of the church.
During these ensuing years of turmoil, many changes happened. Three national Lutheran bodies (Lutheran Church in America, American Lutheran Church, and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches) merged in 1988 to form the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Also, the two Berkeley locations of Lutheran Church of the Cross became more independent, separate congregations, but maintained a partnership. Shepherd of the Hills was committed to outreach to the hill community by opening its doors to an Early Childhood Center as well as a health and healing center, both of which were not self-sustaining. Then in 1997, the congregation voted to dissolve the merger.
Effective January 1998, Shepherd of the Hills began renewed life as an independent congregation. In the following years, the sanctuary was re-carpeted, a new digital electric organ replaced the aging pipe organ, and the congregation became a Reconciling in Christ congregation out of concern for sexual minorities. In 2004, the congregation called a new young pastor, Rev. Katie Hines-Shah, became enlivened with enthusiasm and hope, and has grown to include many more children, younger adults and families.
We started a new chapter in the church's history with the call of Reverend Kim Swenson in the fall of 2011. Grounded in the promise of our past, with a vision for welcome in the future, Shepherd of the Hills will be guided by the Spirit into new ministry, light, and life.
In the past years, we have added new elements to our worship practice including purchasing the new ELW hymnals and using all ten liturgies, constructing new banners and paraments, adopting our current welcome statement, as well as commissioning a green chasuble artistically representing our diverse congregation and beautiful Bay views. We have also made several significant improvements including a new inviting patio and native plant garden outside our entrance as well as an improved ramp, handrail, and wheelchair lift making our downstairs area more accessible to all.
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