“The people here are phenomenal, it’s just a neat church to be a part of,” said James. D. (Pastor Jim) Henkell of St. Paul’s, a baby-boomer congregation founded in 1943 with the influx of people coming to San Diego in the middle of World War II. The church’s one-room K-8 school was founded four years later. It has since expanded.
The church was moved from its original location at 1570 Garnet Ave. to its present site at 1376 Felspar St. across the street from a baseball diamond and near Pacific Beach Recreation Center.
“The original location is now a CBD smoke shop,” said Henkell, who came to the congregation 15 years ago to help it transition from a traditional church with a retiring pastor into an “outreach-driven ministry.”
When he first came to St. Paul’s, Henkell met one of the church’s charter couples, Harold and Evangeline Nelson. “They were a great couple who would share some of their memories with me about those early years,” he said. “I would visit with them in their home and pray with them.”
The head pastor said the Nelsons were typical of “the handful of people” who built and promoted St. Paul’s. “There definitely were some leaps of faith,” Henkell added about the church’s origin.
Lutheranism is a major branch of Protestant Christianity identifying with reform theologian Martin Luther (1483-1546), a German friar whose 95 theses criticizing Roman Catholic policies triggered the Protestant reformation in the German-speaking territories of the Holy Roman Empire.
Lutheranism advocates a doctrine of justification “by grace alone through faith alone on the basis of the Scripture alone,” the doctrine that Scripture is the final authority on all faith matters. Today, Lutheranism is one of the largest denominations of Protestantism with approximately 80 million adherents.
Sitting in his office with his collection of more than 70 crosses from around the world tacked on the walls, Henkell noted the church’s 75th anniversary is a year-long celebration with the theme, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
Asked if he thought being head of a church parish was any different today than it has ever been, Henkell replied, “You would think it is just because the culture, and the country are different … but it’s not as much as people think … no matter what era in which people are born, they still need a sense of identity and purpose, the sense that God loves them and is working in their lives.”
Henkell noted the battle between good and evil is eternal.
“The reality is, no matter what era you’re in, we all mess up, we all struggle,” he said. “There is sin. They need God to forgive them and be at work in their lives. Jesus was as meaningful and active then as he is now.”
Henkell said St. Paul’s is sponsoring an “old-time carnival” to which the public is invited on Saturday, Feb. 17 from 2 to 5 p.m. at Nobel Park, 8810 Judicial Drive.
Concerning problematic homelessness in PB, Henkell said St. Paul’s strives to “do the things most helpful for them, not just an individual meal, but really help with job searching or housing or whatever.”
The pastor noted St. Paul’s is “not a drive-by service” for the needy, but rather is interested in “developing a relationship with them, getting to know them.”
Henkell said St. Paul’s ministry has parishioners who come from all over, from as far north as Carlsbad, to as far east as Alpine.
What draws them?
“We would like to think it’s definitely the relationships that exist here,” said Henkell. “There definitely is just a love of each other. You definitely have a sense of that.”