First Lutheran Church is unique in that it exists today because of the vision of a handful of individuals who wanted a Lutheran church in Longview. Augusta Williams was originally contacted by an LCMS pastor in 1931 about starting a church. Meetings followed and occasional services led by the pastor continued until 1934 when the LCMS decided to focus on starting a church in Tyler instead. The Longview group was not discouraged and continued to meet. Letters were written by Jake Jorgenson to the Mission Board of the Norwegian Church, but they did not have enough money and suggested that the American Lutheran Church was looking for a place to start a mission church. Jake was told by the ALC to contact Dr. A.E. Sagebiel. He was very excited about the prospect of starting a church in Longview and arrived in April of 1935. A meeting was held the same evening, and the group had the judge draw up the papers to apply for a charter. A charter from the State of Texas was issued on October 27, 1935, and First Lutheran Church was born with 20 charter members and 10 children. The first pastor called was Pastor Arthur E. Schardt.
The Early Years
The earliest years were dedicated to growing the church in Longview and managing to meet financial obligations during the depression. With the advent of WW II in 1941 came a need to minister to the service members. Harmon Hospital was opened in Longview to treat wounded and ill service members. To provide a place for the staff and ambulatory patients to gather, FLC opened and staffed a Service Center and provided a home away from home for these individuals.
Although there is not much information written about specific social outreach activities in the early years, we do know that the women sent clothing to New Guinea, provided cookies and Christmas gifts to the Orphan's home and Trinity Home in Round Rock, and participated in the India Lace program. In 1962, the women of the church began to deliver birthday cakes to Rusk State Hospital annually and continued to do so until the program was discontinued. By 1970, support was being sent to missionaries in South Africa and Ethiopia by the women's group.
1970s and 1980s
In the mid 70's, FLC took some Vietnamese refugee families under its wings to help them become accustomed to American life. The 1980s saw a surge in FLC social ministry. Our participation in Meals on Wheels began in 1982 by providing $100 a month to pay for the meals, and then in September of that year we began delivering. Initially 15 meals were delivered; today we deliver nearly 100 meals twice a month. Along with other local churches, FLC was instrumental in forming Longview Community Ministries, an organization that provides assistance to the needy in Longview. This organization opened its doors in 1985 and provides food through its food box program to which we contribute weekly, rent, and utility assistance, and coats for kids as well as numerous other kinds of assistance. We continue to have members that serve on the board and provide volunteers for LCM's various programs and fundraisers. In 1984, Boy Scout Troop 226 was chartered under our sponsorship. We now sponsor Troop 613, which meets in our facility, as well as Cub Scout Pack 613. It was also in the late 80s that a group of women, led by Martha Fleming, began making quilts for LWR. Initially about 35 were made; today, well over 100 are made annually, and the quilts go to local organizations as well as LWR.
During the 90's, FLC continued to expand its social outreach while planning a move from the sanctuary we had occupied since 1955 to a location on the north side of town. We held regular blood drives, participated in Operation Clean Sweep (cleaning properties and doing minor repair to blighted homes in Longview), provided space for our neighbor, Longview Child Development Center, for graduations and eventually nursery space. Subsequently, we sold our facility to them when we moved to our current building. We also began providing Christmas gifts to disadvantaged families each year with our Angel Tree program. Currently, the children we provide for are those served by Longview Child Development Center. We began serving twice a month at the local soup kitchen, initially run by the Salvation Army and now run by Newgate Mission.
After our move to our present location in 1999, we continued our active role in serving others. We did this globally through our relationship with the Church in Sierra Leone, hosting Bishop Barnett and Rev. Marie Barnett on many occasions, sponsoring Alfred Gorvie while he attended Kilgore College, sending supplies, and visiting Sierra Leone. Closer to home, we established a Stephens Ministry, participated in Habitat for Humanity, Heifer Project, and Crop Walk. After 9/11/2001, our congregation was instrumental in promoting unity, understanding, and cooperation among people of all faiths and participated in community prayer services. In 2008, we began participating in the Texas Ramps Project, and this eventually replaced Habitat for Humanity, as it was felt we could affect more lives this way. We also raise money for the Alzheimer's Association through a team for the annual Alzheimer's walk. In 2013, we began partnering with Longview Interfaith Hospitality Network, a program designed to assist homeless families obtain permanent housing and to teach them the skills to avoid future homelessness.
Today our congregation remains active in the longview community. Service has always been at the heart of the congregation of First Lutheran Church as we see ourselves as a means of accomplishing God's work in the world. With that in mind, we continue to look for new ways to serve. Our most recent project being the starting of an afterschool tutoring center, here at first, serving elementary aged students in the longview community.
Another aspect of mission for our church has been to nurture and sponsor one son and two daughters of the congregation through seminary. Each one grew up from childhood in this congregation and now serves the ELCA in churches throughout Texas:
- Pr. Phil Fenton
- Pr. Elizabeth Hanley
- Pr. Cheryl Walenta Gorvie