By Brad Dison
On April 28, 1956, Reverend Donald P. Schneider, a graduate of Northwestern Lutheran Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota, made it his mission to create a new church in North Hollywood, California. Building a church from scratch, even with the support of the United Lutheran Church, was an enormous task. Before constructing a dedicated building for worship, Schneider had to build a congregation. Before building a congregation, Schneider needed a building in which a congregation could gather. Reverend Schneider’s predicament was reminiscent of the old catch 22 in which you cannot get a credit card unless you have credit, but you need a credit card to establish credit. Schneider began searching for a place for his potential parishioners to meet. He needed a local space which was large enough for his congregation to grow. After a thorough search, Schneider located a company who had a spacious building and agreed to allow him to hold church services.
On September 9, a handful of curiosity-seekers gathered at the temporary church for the first time. They held Sunday school at 9:30 a.m., followed by a 10:45 a.m. worship service. At the worship service, Schneider explained his plans for the new church. The small congregation was enthusiastic. On the following Sunday, Schneider noticed that there were a few more people in the congregation. On each subsequent Sunday, the number of people in the congregation grew.
By December, the congregation had grown from just a handful of parishioners to over seventy. At the Sunday service held on December 2, the congregation took one more step towards becoming official. Seventy-one people signed the organizational charter as charter members of the Prince of Peace Lutheran Church. With help from the United Lutheran Church, the congregation had purchased four acres of land for the new church site. At the time the congregation signed the organizational charter, construction workers had already begun leveling the ground in preparation for the church’s building.
By January of 1957, leveling and grading of the building site was completed. The congregation formed several new church groups including an adult choir, Luther League for children between the ages of twelve and seventeen, adult instruction classes, and a committee to oversee the church building’s design, construction, and administration. By September, on the church’s first anniversary, the congregation numbered more than 200 members.
At a ceremony held on February 9, the congregation officially broke ground on the chapel. Construction on the building was slow because the congregation paid construction costs upfront when funds were available. When funds ran out, construction stopped. To speed up construction, the congregation held a banquet and started a fund drive to help pay for constructions costs. Most people in attendance donated generously. For over a year, construction started and stopped in a seemingly endless cycle.
In May of 1958, the Prince of Peace congregation had another unfortunate setback. Workers of the company where the congregation held their temporary worship services went on strike. The congregation searched unsuccessfully for another suitable place to hold their worship services while the strike was being negotiated. Construction on the church building had begun, but it was little more than a partially framed building. The congregation agreed to postpone Sunday school classes until the strike was over. They were determined not to postpone the worship services, however, and decided to gather in the open-air construction site. The Mother’s Day service was plagued with a light rain and large gusts of wind. Although the building site had no roof and the congregation’s clothing soaked up the rain, they were undeterred. They simply ignored the weather. Reverend Schneider fumbled only momentarily when a large gust of wind blew his prepared sermon away. Taking the situation in stride, the congregation chuckled. With a warm and gentle smile, Reverend Schneider continued his sermon from memory. The reverend expected the strike and the open-air services to lower attendance. To his surprise, attendance increased. Donations to the building fund drive increased as well. Within weeks, the strike ended and the congregation resumed having Sunday school and worship services inside in their previous venue. It seemed as though the congregation had passed some sort of divine test.
At 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, August 31, 1958, the congregation held a dedication service for the newly completed building. On the following Sunday morning, September 7, the congregation held its first regularly scheduled Sunday service in the new chapel. Reverend Schneider had succeeded in his mission of building a church from scratch.
For almost two years, Reverend Schneider and the congregation of the Prince of Peace Lutheran Church had held their worship and Sunday school services in the most unsuspecting of places. At their last worship service in the temporary venue, Reverend Schneider presented a plaque which bore an inscription of their gratitude to the company for allowing them a place to hold their worship services. In his sermon, Reverend Schneider said, “This morning we close a chapter on the history of our mission congregation. We have worshiped here and, through this experience, we have formed many new friends, and God has given to us many new joys and blessings… We have worshiped in a strange place. We have seen strange events. Let us be a strange people of whom others beholding us say ‘See how they love one another!’” The “strange place” in which the congregation worshiped was the Anheuser-Busch Corporation’s Budweiser Beer tap room and cafeteria.
- Valley Times (North Hollywood, California), August 29, 1956, p.7.
- Valley News (Van Nuys, California), November 15, 1956, p.36.
- Valley News (Van Nuys, California), December 6, 1956, p.56.
- Valley News (Van Nuys, California), January 31, 1957, p.78.
- Valley Times (North Hollywood, California), September 7, 1957, p.7.
- Valley Times (North Hollywood, California), February 8, 1958, p.9.
- Valley News (Van Nuys, California), May 8, 1958, p.93.
- Valley News (Van Nuys, California), May 22, 1958, p.53.
- The Van Nuys News (Van Nuys, California), August 28, 1958, p.88.
- The Los Angeles Times, September 1, 1958, p.67.