Growing with the Suburbs West Covina-- in the San Gabriel Valley-- is the home of Immanuel First Lutheran Church. The church was founded nearly sixty years ago under Pastor W. H. Tensmeyer, when Dwight Eisenhower was president, Americans were driving big cars that had big tailfin lights, television was analog and black-and-white, and everyone was laughing at Lucy Ricardo " 'splaining " to her husband Ricky all her crazy housewife antics.
In the 1950's West Covina transformed from a farming community into a rapidly growing Los Angeles suburb due to the housing boom which followed the end of World War II. According to the official city website, it was at one time the fastest growing city in the United States. In fact, West Covina grew so fast that new homes often had to wait up to two years to be wired for landline telephone service because utilities couldn't keep up with the construction boom.
In 1954, amidst all this rapid change, 22 Lutherans gathered at a mortuary chapel on Glendora Avenue for the first services of what was to become Immanuel First Lutheran Church. The name of our church has a dual meaning: "Immanuel" in reference to one of the many names for Jesus given in the Bible, meaning "God is with us"; and "First" for being the first congregation of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in the city.
Eight months later, the young congregation purchased six acres of land on the corner of Walnut Grove on the banks of the Walnut Creek Wash, near the business center of the developing community. Construction of the original chapel began three months later with the laying of the first cornerstone.
Young families of the congregation wishing to provide Christian education for their children formed the first school in 1957, which later with a preschool served the community for over a half century.
In 1970 a second cornerstone was placed to begin construction of a beautiful 300-seat sanctuary. In 2002 it was renovated with new carpeting and amenities to further enhance the worship atmosphere. The original sanctuary was entirely renovated into a Fellowship Hall, with a 100 seat capacity meeting area, Sunday school rooms, kitchen, all internet capable. In 2006 the northwest corner of the church property was developed into a lighted, landscaped parking lot and leased to East Valley Community Health Center for daytime use on the weekdays. It earned the church a city beautification award in 2007 for its design and contribution to improving the quality of the community. In 2014, Immanuel First will be celebrating it 60th anniversary - 60 years of serving God's people and the community!
Recognizing the needs of a changing and diverse community, Immanuel First further established a Vietnamese mission church to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with the local Vietnamese families of the San Gabriel Valley. In 2002, Pastor An Thai was called to be pastor of IFL's newly planted Vietnamese church. The Vietnamese fellowship further reached out to the community with ESL (English as a Second Language) classes for Vietnamese-speaking residents and with Pastor An Thai's translation of Luther's Small Catechism and Friendship Evangelism into Vietnamese for use in Lutheran churches nationwide. Immanuel First's Vietnamese fellowship has a youth band, The Forgiven, praising our Lord with a modern worship sound that connects with the younger, second-generation members of the church. In 2012, the Vietnamese congregation celebrated their 10th anniversary with a huge celebration in the IFL Fellowship Hall and courtyard.
Sharing God's Unchanging Love in Changing Times
West Covina today has grown to be a prosperous, ethnically diverse city of 108,000 people covering 17 square miles. The 10 freeway runs through the heart of town and provides convenient access to our church at the Vincent Avenue exit.
West Covina now boasts a huge Edwards Theater by "The Lakes" office development, the Westfield regional shopping center, Queen of the Valley Hospital, the busy Auto Plaza and Restaurant Row, and the Little Manila shopping district at Azusa Avenue and Amar Road. Parks include the historic Hurst Ranch on Orange Avenue, Orangewood Park's popular roller hockey arena, Ridge Riders equestrian center, Galster Park wilderness area and Big League Dreams sports park.
And yet while the West Covina area has changed in so many ways, the spiritual needs and social concerns of our friends and neighbors remain the same. Traditional markers of success and well-being, such as a good education, respectable career, healthy family or strong moral principles, cannot fill the deep needs of the soul. Nor can they answer questions we all ask, such as "What is the meaning of life?", "Why do bad things happen to good people?", "What do you mean I am a sinful person?", "Does God really love me?". Like the title of a classic song by the rock band U2, our neighbors still haven't found what they are looking for.
What is needed is a relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus is the one who died that we might not be cut off from God. Rather, through faith in the saving work of Jesus we have eternal life. While the world is always changing, Jesus and His love are the same yesterday, today and forever. Immanuel First continues to share that never-changing Good News with the community just as we have since that first service at the mortuary on Glendora Avenue. This is best summed up in our mission and purpose, adopted by the congregation in 2004— "To share God's love, comfort and hope with all."