For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people
it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. (2 Corinthians 4:15)
In 1958, Dennis Price received a calling from God to plant a church in a newly planned community in Los Angeles County. After moving from location to location every few months, Hillside Baptist Church purchased property in La Mirada, CA and built the building, which is now our East Sanctuary. This congregation grew in attendance, and then it dwindled. Eventually, they sold the property. Meanwhile….
Grace Chapel Fellowship (now known as Grace Evangelical Free Church) was organized on January 6, 1969. It was founded with an emphasis on God’s grace to needy men and women, the authority of Scripture as the only trustworthy guide for life, and the centrality of Jesus Christ. On January 13, 1969, Pastor Lewis Hohenstein, the founding pastor led an enthusiastic group of believers in a worship service in a small building located on the property of the King’s Retreat Restaurant at 8818 Calmada Avenue in Whittier. Our congregation quickly outgrew this small building. On July 13, 1969, our congregation moved worship services to the Seventh Day Adventist Church at 8841 Calmada Avenue. This facility was rented every Sunday and Wednesday evening for services until we were eventually able to purchase the property.
Our congregation grew as many younger men and women were coming to the Lord and growing in their faith. This increased the desire to purchase a permanent church site. Even with increased attendance, this was a tremendous venture of faith. Much prayer, discussion and effort went into the plans, and God was faithful. After 5 years of meeting in other locations, a church site, which formerly housed the Hillside Baptist Church, was found in La Mirada. Acting on faith, with a sense of deep commitment, and an $8,000 cash down payment, the four-acre church property was purchased in February of 1973 for $235,000. A mortgage for $100,000 was secured through Security Pacific Bank and church members committed an additional $110,000 in personal notes. This was truly a benchmark event in the life of our church.
In October of 1972, we decided to affiliate with the Evangelical Free Church of America and were received into the Southwest District Conference.
Pastor Hohenstein resigned in October of 1979 after accepting the call to pastor in northern California. The Associate Pastor, Wayne Bahr, was his successor.
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To ENGAGE and EVANGELIZE our world,
and ESTABLISH and EQUIP our people.
On March 15, 1980 we voted to change the name of our church to Grace Evangelical Free Church of La Mirada.
Pastor Bahr served as pastor until February 1, 1982. After he resigned, he completed his doctoral studies and assumed a pastorate in Bakersfield, California.
Curtis Heffelfinger, who at the time was a seminary student, was called to be the pastor in April of 1982. He accepted and assumed his responsibilities on June 28, 1982. Curt’s powerful preaching and gifted music ministry revived us like water on thirsty soil. For the next 2½ years our body flourished with internal spiritual health and numerical growth. The average Sunday morning attendance in 1981 was 123; in 1982, it was 137; and in 1983, it was 190. God was on the move. In December of 1984 the mortgage with Security Pacific Bank was paid in full with a triumphant mortgage burning. At that point in 1984, most of the personal notes (all but $24,000) had been retired as well. Severe health problems took the Heffelfingers out of the state and away from Grace in 1985.
However, well before the Heffelfinger’s heart wrenching decision to leave, God brought a bright young seminary couple, Sid and Nancy Rogers, into the congregation. In June of 1983, Sid joined the pastoral staff in a part-time capacity, specifically to initiate Grace Groups. Six months later (January of 1984) Sid assumed a full time position as Pastor of Discipleship. When Grace once again needed a Senior Pastor, God’s wonderful love and care for this local body showed itself in Sid Roger’s growth and readiness to assume that position in July of 1985.
Sid brought many strengths to the role of Pastor, including excellent preaching, teaching, and sensitivity for people. During the years 1984 to 1989, our church continued to grow with attendance exceeding 200. Missions giving, which often reflects the spiritual vitality of a church, also began to increase.
In 1985, the church was committed to $15,800 in annual support of missions; in 1986, it was $17,700; in 1987, it increased to $27,000; and finally in 1988, it was $31,000. In March, 1988, Eric Bouilla announced that the final personal note from the original mortgage had been paid in full. Our church continued to flourish and God’s blessing was continually evident. Due to personal problems, Sid resigned in 1998.
Wally Norling, a retired pastor in the area who was committed to assisting churches in need, provided interim leadership. He served our body for his requested salary: one box of golf balls per month. We experienced some difficulty as we waited nearly 3 years before we were to welcome a new pastor. At one point, attendance dropped to around 30, and there was discussion about merging with an area church or even selling the property and closing our doors. When the plans to merge or sell the property were abandoned, a new resolve emerged. Attendance slowly increased to around 70, and each one was committed to being a church that impacted La Mirada and the world for Jesus Christ. God was on the move.
In October of 2000, the church called an Elder Team composed of Colby Kinser, Dave Talley, and Erik Thoennes to fill the Senior Pastor vacancy. Cobly Kinser and Dave Talley assumed their positions in February of 2001, and Erik Thoennes joined the team in May of that same year. Responsibilities were divided into six major areas with each of the elders assuming two areas. Colby Kinser assumed the responsibilities of Educational Programs and Worship Services; Dave Talley assumed the responsibilities of Church Administration and Leadership Development; and Erik Thoennes assumed the responsibilities of Missions/Outreach and Discipleship. This movement to a Elder Team initiated a paradigm shift for our church. It brought a new emphasis on the plurality of elder leadership and the priesthood of all believers.
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To present everyone mature in Christ (Colossians 1:28).
In the next few years, Walt Harrah joined the team to provide oversight for worship, and Kenny Clark assumed the leadership of Student Ministries. Eventually, Jerrel Haugen was added to help us with discipleship. With a desire to reach the increasing Spanish speakers of our community, Angel Galan, who was already leading a small Spanish-speaking congregation, was invited to join us. La Gracia has been in partnership with us since July of 2006.
With increased growth, administrative responsibilities required more intentional oversight. As a result, Ralph Grant was hired as our first Church Administrator in order to assist with these growing pains, and he served us from 2004 to 2006. After his departure, Ric Rodeheaver assumed the role of Elder of Administration from 2008 to 2014.
Our rapid growth maxed out the capacities of the building constructed by Hillside Baptist in the 1960s. In 2003, a building project with hopes of expanding capacity was discussed and plans to move forward were created. After many years of prayer and growth, Grace saw the completion of this new building, our West Sanctuary, in 2009. Grace could extend to more and more.
As a result, Grace has experienced wonderful, God-glorifying growth. Four CDs, containing original songs by Grace, have been produced. Project Hope, an adoption and orphan care ministry was launched, encouraging our body to care for the fatherless. Many orphans have been adopted as a result of this ministry. In 2011 our Food Bank was created and now serves food to over one hundred families from the local area on a weekly basis. In 2012 we launched Grace Counseling Center to help members rivet the truths of the gospel to daily life.
In 2013, as stewards of God’s amazing grace, and so this grace could extend to more and more, we sent Kenny Clark, Jerrel Haugen, a team of elders, and 150 members of our congregation to downtown Fullerton to expand the reach of our church. To fill Kenny’s role as Elder of Student Ministries, we invited Jackson Randall, who had been serving in our Middle School Ministry, to lead our Student Ministries.
2015 was a year of significant staffing change at Grace. Jim Clark became our third Church Administrator in May. Jackson Randall was invited to become our Elder of Youth and Children adding oversight of our growing children’s ministry to his responsibilities. In the summer of 2015 after 15 years of service to Grace, Dave Talley decided it was time to step off the Elder team while remaining an active part of our congregation. A search for a new full-time elder began.
In March of 2016, Randall Gruendyke joined our Elder Team as our full-time Elder of Ministry Leadership.
In early 2017 after prayerfully seeking the Lord’s direction, our elders decided to reunite our Fullerton and La Mirada congregations at our La Mirada campus. Our first reunified Grace worship service was held on April 2, 2017.
The history of this local congregation is a wonderful example of God’s love for the local church and His ongoing desire to use it for His glory. With a full staff and committed body of believers, Grace is well situated for what God will continue to do with this one local church in the immediate future and beyond.