Betty Freedman came to Los Altos Lutheran Church for its Sunday school. Then she joined the choir. Now, 45 years later, she's still attending, still singing.
"The best thing about the church is the close relationships of the people," Freedman said, "but also the willingness to welcome new people."
Those close relationships and welcoming spirit helped build the church 50 years ago and continue today as members express their faith and look to the future.
This Sunday, Los Altos Lutheran Church will celebrate its 50th anniversary. The commemorative worship is scheduled for 10 a.m. followed with a barbecue catered by Armadillo Willy's. A program of music and memories, featuring the Peninsula Banjo Band, will begin at 1 p.m.
Los Altos Lutheran held its first congregational meeting exactly 50 years ago, June 6, 1954. That day 40 members were received and the first council elected. The first pastor and his family had arrived in town Feb. 15, 1954.
On March 14, 41 attended the first service, held in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church at 341 Second St. in Los Altos. There were 12 in the first Sunday school.
The church incorporated in July and by August there were 113 attending worship and 84 in the Sunday school. That same month the church made a deposit on the property at 460 S. El Monte Ave., its current location.
By the first anniversary of the first service, 192 were in worship and 233 in Sunday school.
The church was "spirit filled," said Mary Ellen Roselli of those early years. "It was a joy to be there." Roselli, 82, has been a member since 1955.
At a recent gathering, several members talked about the church today. When asked what they see for the future, in unison, they said: "Growth. A larger Sunday school."
They also mentioned the joy of intergenerational activities at the church and the range of ages.
"A lot of the older people are like grandparents to my kids," said Elizabeth Showecker, 46. Showecker led a team of volunteers who recently relandscaped the church grounds.
Many credit the current pastor, the Rev. David Bonde, for the current renaissance. There is talk of adding a second Sunday service.
Sandi Wilkening, 67, a member for 27 years, talked about new worship services at the church, the Easter Vigil held the Saturday night before Easter and the evening service for those who grieve on the last Sunday in Advent.
Bonde, who grew up in Palo Alto, came to Los Altos Lutheran following a ministry in the Detroit area.
He praises the church's participation in the Alpha Omega program, where, for one month each year, the church hosts about 16 homeless men who sleep in the Sunday school rooms at night. Church members bring dinners in each evening. "That works well here with a certain gracious hospitality. It's a chance to feed people. It is about who we are," he said.
When Bonde first arrived from Michigan, Alpha Omega happened to be at the church that month. Since there was no food yet in his apartment, he ate with Alpha Omega every night and experienced the giving for himself.
"We want to grow," Bonde said. "But we are really interested in sharing our lives and our faith. It is not just about wanting to be bigger but wanting to share the way God has blessed us."
For more information, call 948-3012.