St. John Lutheran began in 1952 as a mission of First Lutheran Church, in the Ghent neighborhood of Norfolk, when the Ocean View area was surveyed as a possible location of a new church in the northern area of the city. In May of 1953, Reverend C. J. Martin was called by the Board of American Missions of the United Lutheran Church (ULC) to be a mission developer. He began by visiting 71 members of First Lutheran who were living in Northside. That summer, Reverend Martin also visited another 2,400 families to gather support for a new Lutheran church.
As word spread, Pastor Martin, along with some of the new members, organized area meetings. At first, the progress was slow with only three families attending the first meeting. However, the following week, twelve families were invited and all attended. From then on, the mission began to grow. During the summer, more residents of Northside Norfolk were becoming interested in the mission and the first business meeting was held on August 27 at the Mary Calcott School with 37 adults present. From among the group, an organizational committee was formed. Their first order of business was to arrange the use of Mary Calcott School for worship services.
Next, they set the date for the first service and discussed possible names for the mission. Among the names suggested were: “St. Peter’s By The Sea,” “Zion,” “St. Paul’s,” Second Lutheran Church,” and “St. John’s.” The choice, by a large majority, was St. John’s.” The initial leadership appointments were made of a temporary secretary, a treasurer, and a building treasurer. Excitement grew, as St. John Lutheran was becoming a reality.
The first service was held at 3:30 p.m., on September 13, 1953, and was attended by 206 people from the local area as well as visitors from other area Lutheran churches. In order to make the Mary Calcott School auditorium a suitable place for worship, the men of the Brotherhood of First Lutheran Church built a folding altar, a pulpit, and a lectern. The Business Women’s Unit also gave a set of offering plates, an altar service book, and a baptismal font. Conference rooms were provided for Sunday school and storage. Reverend Martin delivered the first sermon and greetings were offered by Dr. L.W. Strickler, Chairman of the Home Missions Committee; Reverend D.W. Taylor, President of the Conference, and other local Lutheran pastors. The first Sunday of St. John Lutheran also generated several generous gifts from the congregation of First Lutheran that helped to seed the new church in Norfolk.
Sunday School began on the first Sunday of October with 81 people present. Thereafter, the Women of the Church and the Luther League were organized. Without a formal meeting place, the groups met at the apartment of Pastor Martin with as many as 25-30 people attending. The newly formed choir practiced in a home and Adult Bible Classes were arranged and taught. December 13, 1953, was selected as Organization Sunday with 86 Confirmed and 129 Baptized worshipers who had signed for membership. After worship, the Church Council was organized and officers of the Congregation and Trustees were elected. It was decided that the charter membership roll would be left open until Easter 1954 when the congregation stood at 105 Confirmed and 161 Baptized members.
With an established congregation, the next step was the initiation of a building program. The leadership began looking for potential sites and selected a piece of property on Cottage Toll Road (now Tidewater Drive). The 2.75 acres were purchased for $20,000.
In April 1954, the Church Council met with the Director of Church Extension of the Board of American Mission to discuss the building of a church. Surprisingly, the congregation was expected to have at least 40 percent of the total cost in cash and pledges, therefore, discussion for the project was delayed, meanwhile, a study committee was formed to find an architect. Council met again with the Board of American Mission in the summer of 1956 and outlined the design. Once the Department of Church Architecture and the United Lutheran Church approved the plans, the construction was put out for bid. Eleven contractors submitted bids, and W.B. Meredith Construction was selected for the $57,000 contract.
Ground for St. John Lutheran Church was broken following morning worship on June 16, 1957, with Pastor Martin, officers of the Congregation, and representatives of the neighboring Lutheran churches participating. With construction well underway, the cornerstone was laid on October 27, 1957. Despite several delays due to bad weather, the chapel was completed and the first services were held therein on Easter Sunday, April 6, 1958, with an attendance of 276 faithful.
In 1968, East Norfolk Lutheran Church in America St. Matthias Lutheran was chartered under the spiritual guidance of the Reverend Frederick M. Ritter in part to expand the presence of the Lutheran Church in America (LCA) in the Norfolk area and to join with the other Lutheran congregations to assist with the increasing needs of social ministry appropriate to the turbulent social changes and issues of the time. Approximately twenty members from St. John chose to become charter members of St. Matthias. In September 1970 ground was broken and on March 7, 1971, the ministry of St. Matthias Lutheran Church was planted on Azalea Garden Road and Oleo Road with the first worship service in the new church building.
A few years later, a sense of unity between St. Matthias and St. John was evidenced further when the Reverend Haco Von Hacke was called to serve as Pastor of a special ministry that involved St. John Lutheran, St. Matthias Lutheran, and St. Timothy Lutheran for the purpose of providing a strong emphasis on social ministry, outreach and membership growth.
By the mid-1970’s it became apparent that the anticipated population growth of the Norfolk area did not materialize. On the contrary, there was a population decline during that time as Virginia Beach began to develop. This, along with the rather unsettled social climate that prevailed, made it particularly difficult for a newly formed congregation to grow and fulfill its anticipated potential. Nevertheless, the members of St. Matthias Lutheran, throughout the congregation’s fifteen-year history, were true, good, and faithful stewards of the ministry that had been entrusted to them in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
On March 1, 1983, St. Matthias Lutheran merged with St. John Lutheran. Together the congregation of St. John Lutheran was strengthened by the added fellowship and the good and faithful stewardship brought by the sisters and brothers of St. Matthias Lutheran. This was embodied in the plan to perpetuate the focus of the ministry of St. Matthias and St. John Lutheran by means of several designated monetary grants and endowment funds as set forth in the Memoranda of Understanding which governed the terms of the merger, providing funds for church-wide mission development, local benevolence and to enhance the special ministry needs of St. John Lutheran. This is a legacy worthy of special note. St. Matthias Hall is dedicated in honor and in memory of the life and ministry of St. Matthias Lutheran Church.
Since that time, St. John Lutheran has been a prominent part of the Northside Norfolk and Ocean View community, by serving the needy, spreading God’s word, and providing a place for all worshippers and guests to come and join together in fellowship, prayer, and celebration. We are focused on the future of the Church, the spiritual growth of the congregation, and the many needs of people throughout the world.
We freely share the gift of the “Good News,” proclaiming God’s saving Gospel. As a family in Christ, the congregation of St. John Lutheran respects from where we have come, joyfully serves in the present, while ever looking ahead as the Holy Spirit continually moves us to enrich our own spiritual lives and share the blessings of God with others.