In 1960, the American Lutheran Church (now the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America), decided to establish a mission congregation in the growing community of Santa Maria. Rev. Ernest Zoerb was called to serve as the mission pastor.
Among the people visited by Rev. Zoerb were Mr. and Mrs. Raymond Duncan. They became charter members of the congregation, and when Ray, the survivor, passed away in 1983, Bethel became the benefactor of their entire estate. The current Library has been dedicated to Ray and Mabel Duncan.
The first worship service of the congregation was held on October 23, 1960 in an enclosed patio at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Clinton Cromwell, with Pastor Zoerb preaching from the Old Testament on the history of the word “Bethel”, which means “House of God”. There were 26 people present at that service.
On March 12, 1961, ground was broken on a 5-acre site at 624 E. Camino Colegio. The first building occupied was an educational and multi-purpose building that we now call Zoerb Hall. Formal dedication of the buildings, including the sanctuary, occurred on November 5, 1961.
Through the years, his knowledge and love of botany led Pastor Zoerb to plant almost 300 trees, including 38 species, on the acreage surrounding Bethel. In May of 1970, Pastor Zoerb concluded his service as Pastor of Bethel to go on to minister to God’s people through Holden Village at Lake Chelan, Washington.
Rev. Paul E. Johnson was installed as pastor on July 2, 1970. During the time he was pastor, the congregation began to make plans for construction of the education building. In June of 1973, Pastor Johnson concluded his service as pastor of Bethel.
Rev. Sig Sandrock was installed as pastor on August 19, 1973. During the time he was pastor, the education building was completed. In November of 1976, Pastor Sandrock concluded his service as pastor of Bethel.
Rev. Robert A. Rod was installed as pastor on January 1, 1977. During the time he was pastor, a long range planning and building committee was established, the chancel was furnished with a new altar, lecturn, pulpit and baptismal font crafted by Bethel member Morris Schaffert, and the stained glass windows in the front and back of the sanctuary were installed. In June of 1980, Pastor Rod concluded his service as pastor of Bethel.
Rev. Jerome C. Trelstad was installed as pastor on September 1, 1980. During the time he was pastor, a master development plan of the property was approved; the sanctuary was refurbished with new carpeting and pews; and in 1983, the current church offices, fireside room, and library were constructed.
The position of Lay Assistant was established in 1983. Carl Lee, followed by Kelly Nolan, served in this position until 1986, when the position of Director of Youth and Education was established. David Greenlee, followed by Steven Boxmeyer, served in this position until 1993.
The congregation also entered into missionary sponsorship of Ed and Karen Scott in Bangladesh, who served under the World Mission Prayer League. The relationship with the Scott family continues to the present time, as they serve through the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) Division for World Mission at LAMB Hospital (Lutheran Aid to Medicine in Bangladesh) near Dhaka, and LHCB (Lutheran Health Care Bangladesh) at Dumki.
On September 18, 1983, one of the sons of the congregation, Timothy Drom, son of charter members Lloyd and Helen Drom, was ordained.
After 38 years of dedicated service, Pastor Trelstad retired from parish ministry in August of 1996. He has continued to serve the Lord as a volunteer builder of homes for Habitat for Humanity in several locations around the country, as a short-term missionary at LAMB and LHCB in Bangladesh, as a vacancy pastor in New Zealand, and in many other ways. Pastor Trelstad and his wife, Mavis, remain members of Bethel.
Rev. Carl Nielsen was installed as pastor on July 1, 1997, and is our current pastor. During his tenure, Sunday morning worship attendance and service involvement have regularly increased; the Bethel Lutheran Church Mission Endowment Fund has been established; a new digital organ was installed on the 40th anniversary in 2001; a mission outreach to Hispanics in Santa Maria is being launched from our facilities in cooperation with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Central Coast Conference.
Pastor Nielsen has a love for international travel, especially to places that are associated with the roots of our Christian heritage, and he is also a gifted photographer. Those who have traveled with his tour group have come to understand and appreciate our heritage more intensely, and those who have not traveled with him receive the benefit of his video and still photography as he weaves international scenes into his preaching and teaching.
The position of volunteer Parish Assistant was established in 2000. LaVonne McGee has served in this position since February of 2000.
In 1961, Bethel was established with 82 charter members. The Holy Spirit has called many persons into membership at Bethel since that time. We have a great history, but we are not resting on it. As we look back we thank God for these 50+ years of ministering His grace in the Santa Maria area. We also look ahead with excitement and anticipation to what He has planned for us in the future.