Morning Star Lutheran Church started as an idea of one man, Reverend Gordon Mackensen. Pastor Mac, like Paul, was church planter. His vision was to grow churches throughout East County, not just have a mega church in El Cajon. Morning Star was part of that vision..
in 1972, Morning Star begun as a mission of First Lutheran Church in El Cajon. An announcement was made that church services would be held at the Lakeside VFW Hall. Every Sunday morning, chairs were lined up, an altar and pulpit set up and a minister from First Lutheran would preach. Sunday School was held outside on the picnic tables in Lindo Lake Park.
Like Abraham and the Israelites wandering the desert, Morning Star spent it’s first 10 years wandering around Lakeside looking for a home. First, we rented the large meeting room above the bar at the VFW Hall. There’s a story, which may or may not be true, that one Sunday the piano wouldn’t work. When they investigated, it was filled with beer cans from the party held in the room the night before.
After the VFW Hall, Morning Star moved the Seventh Day Adventist Church on Mapleview. Since the SDA held their services on Saturdays, we could have the building to ourselves on Sundays.
Our Own Property (Sort of)
In 1981, Morning Star decided that we’d had enough of renting other people’s facilities and moved onto our own property at 9011 Los Coches Road. This property consisted of an unheated warehouse, formerly a water bottling plant. However, we opted to meet behind the warehouse. The altar was a large boulder and an altar cloth was laid with communion set out on this rock. The congregation brought their own lawn chairs. You could hear the waterfall from the dam on the creek and we sang with he guitar. When it got colder, we lit a campfire. Those were some of the most spiritual services we ever attended.
Eventually it was too cold and rainy to meet outside and we moved into the unheated warehouse for the winter. The warehouse had a tin roof and the rain was so loud that you could barely hear the sermon. Of course, you couldn’t sleep during the sermon either. One of the Sunday School classes was held in an old, moldy-smelling bathroom. The kids sat on carpet squares and the roof leaked. Buckets were set up everywhere to catch the water.
A “New” Building
By 1982, the congregation of Morning Star had been catching rain in buckets as we worshipped in the warehouse. Our spirits were enduring, but our flesh was damp, cold and weak. Something had to change. But building a church? That seemed overwhelming for this little church in a little town. Of course, God had a plan. How about a recycled building?
Calvary Lutheran Church located at 54th Street and Euclid was selling their buildings. All we needed was a giant loan and a way to move them. Move a church? Yes, move a church. If Moses could move the Lord’s Tabernacle, we could move a church.
Permits had to be obtained. The ground had to be graded and prepped. The hill had to be blown apart with dynamite to make room for the buildings. You can still see the holes that were drilled for the dynamite on the rock face behind the church. In the spring of 1982, the buildings were split into in three sections (Sanctuary, Classrooms, Fellowship/Kitchen/Office) and moved down Highways 94, 125, 8 onto Los Coches Road and finally onto our property on Ha Hana. A contractor did the major construction, but the members did the cosmetic work.
Our first service was on Easter. We assembled at the warehouse and Pastor Spilker led us out of the wilderness, across the creek and into our our church. It was a glorious and special day for Morning Star.
Shepherds of Morning Star
Morning Star has been blessed with several pastors who’ve guided us during our 50 years.
Pastor Gordon MacKenson from First Lutheran Church in El Cajon “planted” Morning Star. He and his associates led many services until our first pastor was called.
Pastor David Grauer was a “worker-priest” who not only led Morning Star, but also worked as a chaplain/counselor for Home of Guiding Hands, a facility for Developmentally Disabled adults. He was a dynamic pastor who once shot an arrow down the center aisle during a church service. Pastor Grauer also started Morning Star’s love of guitar music as he was a accomplished guitarist.
Pastor Tim Spilker was called to Morning Star in 1980 as a full-time pastor. Also an outstanding guitarist, Pastor Tim was a composer who created entire liturgies written for guitar only. You haven’t worshipped until you’ve sung the benediction to the tune of “Puff, the Magic Dragon.” His sermons emphasized love – God’s love and how we as Christians can bring God’s love to all around us. Pastor Tim helped start the Lakeside Ministerial Association and brought Morning Star into the community by including us as one of the first participants in the SHARE program. It was under Pastor Tim’s guidance that we moved into our own buildings.
Pastor Art Maynard was called in 1993 as a part-time pastor whom we shared with Inter-Mountain Lutheran Church in Pine Valley. We attended his ordination at Christ the King. You can imagine our reaction when he asked if we would mind a little guitar music during our services as he played the guitar! Pastor Art was a “Bible Teacher/Preacher.” He told us to open our Bibles on Sunday morning and study the Bible with him. His focus was on examining the foundation of our beliefs and understanding the Law and the Gospel. His favorite phrase was, “There’s a scripture for that!”
Pastor Justin Laughridge took us in new direction after Pastor Art’s retirement in 2010. A mission planter with a second congregation, it’s not easy for a church to continue with a part-time pastor but the members of Morning Star dug in and volunteered to do many of the jobs that need to be done to keep us active.
With Pastor Laughridge’s departure in 2018, Morning Star is once again without a permanent pastor. The COVID-19 pandemic has delayed our search for a new pastor. However, Morning Star has been in this position before. It is this perseverance and the Holy Spirit’s presence among us that have kept us going for these 50 years and will keep us going into the future.