“For all the promises of God find their Yes in Christ Jesus.”
-2 Corinthians 1:20

History of CHRIST LUTHERAN CHURCH

3451 – 30th Avenue North, St. Petersburg, Florida 33713

Christ Lutheran Church was founded in 1954 to serve the growing retirement community on the north side of St. Petersburg after the Florida Gulf Coast Highway was constructed nearby, now known as 34th Street North/US 19. We first met at the newly constructed Northeast High School in their music room, under the leadership of our founding Pastor Robert Walker who stayed until 1957. By 1958 were able to construct our first Sanctuary building on the property at 30th Avenue North and Hartford Street, under the leadership of our second Pastor H. Maxwell Walton. This building is now used for Fellowship and Community Events and known as Luther Hall. The original cornerstone is still visable. The first chancel area was simple and the congregation sat on folding chairs, but we had a large attendance. The photo above shows the completed first sanctuary from the the late 1950s and the photo below shows the outside of our first sanctuary. The building is concrete block, and although traditionally styled inside, has a modern rectangular exterior.  The photo below shows the original outside of Christ Lutheran Church as a long low one story building with a modern design and facade. Second photo below is our 1958 cornerstone.

ORIGINAL SANCTUARY NOW SERVES AS LUTHER HALL

This is our first Sanctuary, constructed in 1958. There were two entrances facing 30th Avenue North. Gradually the building was updated to look even more like a church with a large white cross on red in the center and the name of the church above.  Many of these improvements were made under the leadership of our third Pastor Henry Ellsworth Vensel. Wooden pews were purchased and bolted to the terrazzo floor. Beautiful stained glass windows telling the story of the Life of Christ were purchased for our larger windows and windows with many Christian symbols were purchased for our cerestory windows. The windows were custom designed for Christ Lutheran Church by an artist from Miami. These windows are now part of our newer sanctuary built in 1975, also under the leadership of Pastor Vensel, who retired in 1978. Please see our webpages Large Stained Glass Windows and Small Stained Glass Windows for more information about these beautiful works of art.

During the 1960s. Christ Lutheran Church had continued to grow, and we were served by Pastor Albert Keyser, Sr. Pastor Keyser was a strong believer in Education and insured that Christ Lutheran had a big Sunday School and a strong Vacation Bible School program. Pastor Keyser served from 1960 until 1969.  His son Albert W. Keyser, Jr. also became a Pastor of  another Lutheran parish, and returned to visit us for our 40th Celebration in 1995, after the passing of his father.                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Our original sanctuary was used until 1975. Below is a photo of this sanctuary decorated for the Christmas season once we had a more permanent altar.

Many of the improvements you see in this Christmas photo are the results of the leadership of Pastor Henry Vensel, who served as Pastor of Christ Lutheran Church from 1972 to 1980. The Chancel area was upgraded with a new altar and stone reredoes. Because of the rapid growth of the surrounding retirement neighborhood,  the church became crowded and a new Sanctuary was built facing 30th Avenue north in 1975, also under the leadership of Pastor Henry Vensel. The major feature of the new church is a large statue of Jesus Christ in our front window, welcoming all to “Come and Follow Me”. The beautiful stained glass windows were moved to the new sanctuary and placed on the east, north and west walls of the church.

 

Above: NEW SANCTUARY BUILT IN 1975 IS STILL IN USE TODAY

 

Once Christ Lutheran Church was able to use the new Sanctuary, the original Sanctuary was remodeled as Luther Hall for fellowship activities. A long dining area was incorporated into the north end of the building and a kitchen in the northeast corner. A meeting area and a storage area are also on the north side of Luther Hall.  The main area of the old sanctuary became a large hall which has been used over the years for many fellowship and fund raising activities, including meetings, church potlucks, Vacation Bible School, craft shows, rummage sales and even a train show. It was even used as a polling place for the local community for a number of years.

On April 2, 1995, Christ Lutheran Church celebrated our 40th Anniversary with a Liturgical Worship Service attended by the then ELCA bishop and eleven pastors. A photo was taken of these 12 servants of God, but we do not have all of their names. If anyone recognizes any of these pastors,  please notify us at: [email protected]

Our Pastor for Christ Lutheran Church in 1995 was Pastor Richard Hans. In this photo, he is standing next to the bishop and has dark hair. The short pastor on the other side of the bishop is our former Assistant Pastor Timmerman. In the rear on the right is Pastor Strandlund, who served at Christ Lutheran in the 1980s.                                  Other pastors in this photo may be from other ELCA churches in the area who were serving in 1995 under ELCA Bishop Lavern G. Franzen, front and center, who served until August 1995 as head of the Florida-Bahama Synod. It is likely that the Pastors of Trinity Lutheran, Bethel Lutheran, St. Andrew’s Lutheran, Prince of Peace Lutheran, and possibly St. Stephen’s Lutheran are pictured, attending as invited guests.

  Note: We are now in a different district for the NALC entitled the Sonshine District, encompassing the State of Florida.

 

 

 

This photo above hangs on the wall in our conference room:

  • Former Pastor Albert Keyser, Sr. is not in this photo as he passed away in 1994. However, his son Pastor Albert William Keyser, Jr. is pictured here on the right wearing the colorful stole.
  • Former Pastor H. Maxwell Walton may be in the photo as he did not pass away until 1998.
  • Former Pastor Fred Smith is not in this photo as he did not serve at Christ Lutheran Church until 2002. 

  

 

 

Ten years later, Christ Lutheran Church celebrated our 50th Anniversary: Year of Jubilee in 2005. This is the cover of the Order of Service booklet for the Divine Liturgy we used for celebration. Pastor Fred Smith was our Pastor and he led the celebration. The choir sang and wore their choir robes. A Photo Directory was compiled showing the photos of each church member, many who are now deceased. The photos below are from the photo booklet on the right. Photos by 

This is the Christ Church Choir that sang for the 50th Anniversary in 2005.  Sadly, most of these choir members are now deceased, including Pastor Fred, Bob Austin, Director Sandy West, Lois Hottenroth, Shirley Sapher, Betty Odegaard, Marian Steiner and Mildred Newton Pastor Fred’s wife Donna Smith is now Director of the Choir.

Christ Lutheran Church under the leadership of Pastor Fred Smith, S.T.S., and NALC Bishop Emeritis John Bradowsky, eventually decided to leave the ELCA due to theological differences and the congregaton voted to join the Lutheran Church in Mission to Christ and eventually the North American Lutheran Church, a more conservative church body when it was formed in 2010-2011. Christ Lutheran Church is still a member of both the LCMC and the NALC in 2023 under Pastor John Thompson who became Pastor in 2021.

Over the past few decades, Christ Lutheran Church has been involved in many Family Centered and Community Outreach events. We collect food and other items for the St. Petersburg Free Clinic, have been involved in helping the homeless and a few immigrant families. Deacon Robert V. “Bob” DePugh, our former Community Outreach Deacon who is now deceased, led much of our efforts to help the homeless and to hold fundraisers at Christ Lutheran. Deacon Donna Shoenburn leads our effort to collect items for the Free Clinic

We held Confirmation Classes for our Youth Group and held a Confirmation Service. We also involved the younger children in a Christmas Choir. Several of our youth serve as Acolytes and in the Bell Choir. At least two of our Youth Group have gone on to join the Armed Forces and one became an Eagle Scout in spring 2023. Several of our youth group have now gone on to college and one young man is working on his Master’s degree at USFSP.

Please see our Vacation Bible School page to see how Luther Hall has been used for VBS for many years.  Luther Hall has also been the site of several “Junque for Jesus” rummage sales and a Christmas Craft shows.

In June 2021, Christ Lutheran hosted a model train show for train modeling enthusiasts as a fund raiser for the church. Here is a photo of Luther Hall during that train show. Our now deceased Community Outreach Deacon Bob DePugh helped arrange this train show.