It all started when…
New Hope Lutheran Church, Foresthill, California, traces its beginning to 1982, when three families who were attending worship services at Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Auburn, asked Pastor Bruce Lundberg of Bethlehem if worship might be held in Foresthill. Pastor Lundberg volunteered to go to Foresthill on Sunday afternoons to conduct services in members’ homes. He alternated weeks with Doug Haugen, a lay minister at Bethlehem. A mass mailing announcing the new congregation was sent to 3,000 homes in Foresthill.
On Palm Sunday, April 12, 1982, services were moved to the Community Chapel. Ten people were in attendance. Lundberg and Haugen continued to hold Sunday afternoon services in the Community Chapel for two years, while offerings from the services were kept in a special account at Bethlehem.
In 1984, seminary intern Randy Bender arrived at Bethlehem and was given responsibility for holding Sunday morning services in Foresthill. The small congregation began to grow. When Bender returned to seminary, he was replaced by a second intern, Steve Brown. Services were moved to Foresthill Elementary School. Members began to search for a building site.
In 1986, Pastor Audrey LaPore was called by Bethlehem to serve part time in Foresthill. In 1987, Bethlehem purchased a little over five acres in Foresthill as the new congregation’s building site. The land was eventually gifted to New Hope. Congregational member Harry Pieper designed the building and secured the necessary permits. Every congregation in the newly-formed Sierra Pacific Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America was asked to become a Mission Partner by giving the congregation a special gift so that construction could begin. About $100,000 was raised for the building fund.
The first services on the new property were in a small clearing near where the outdoor chapel is now located. Worshipers brought their own chairs, and a parachute was used for shade. A tapestry hanging on the wall of one of the education rooms was the backdrop for an altar. Pastor LaPore left in 1991, and visiting pastors conducted worship until Pastor Gene Winterfield arrived in 1992. Groundbreaking for the new building was July 15, 1993. Members assisted volunteers from congregations across the country (called MMAPers, for “Mobile Missionary Assistance Program”) in constructing the building, which was dedicated on October 30, 1994. Peace Lutheran Church in Grass Valley gave the altar, lectern, baptismal font, and most of the paraments. Many other gifts were received from Bethlehem in Auburn.
New Hope was organized as a congregation independent of Bethlehem on October 31, 1993. Forty-two people signed the charter. In May of 1994, New Hope was received by the Sierra Pacific Synod as a congregation of the ELCA. It was legally incorporated the same year.
Pastor Winterfield retired in 1997 and was replaced by Pastor Russ Paulson. Pastor Paulson retired in 2000 but stayed on for two years as the congregation’s interim. He encouraged the congregation to apply for a grant from the ELCA that would enable it to call a full-time pastor. Pastor Michael Mechsner came to New Hope in 2002. Even with help from the ELCA, the congregation was unable to pay his full-time salary; so he left in November of 2003. Several disappointed members left at the same time.
The Sunday School rooms were added in 2002 and dedicated December 22 of that year. In early 2004, New Hope voted to lease use of its facility to St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church. Other groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, a charter school, and the Boy Scouts followed. Outreach activities included support of Elijah’s Jar food pantry and participation in the town picnic and 4th of July parade.
A part-time interim, Jim Munson, followed Mechsner and attempted to rebuild the congregation. In 2006, Pastor Holly Feather was called to a part-time position leading New Hope. The 25th anniversary of the first worship service was celebrated with a special service on April 14, 2007. Pastor Feather presided, and Pastor Lundberg preached.
Pastor Feather left in 2010, and the congregation used supply pastors for a while. Pastor Russ Paulson came back as an interim to lead the congregation until his second retirement in 2014. Pastor Virginia Ward was called to part-time service in 2014. She resigned in 2016. Pastor Tom Miller served as part-time interim from early 2016 through the summer of 2017, when Pastor Mark Vance became the part-time interim.
Throughout its many ups and downs, New Hope has been guided and sustained by God’s Holy Spirit working through a dedicated core group of congregational members. It remains committed to proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ on the Great Divide and throughout the world.