Morning Star Lutheran Church started in 1972 as a mission of First Lutheran Church in El Cajon, led by Pastor Gordon MacKensen. Pastor Mac was a modern day St. Paul, looking to plant churches throughout East County. Morning Star was part of that vision.
The first worship services were held at the Lakeside VFW Hall. Every Sunday morning, chairs were lined up, an altar and pulpit set up, and one of the pastors from First Lutheran would preach. Sunday School was held outside on picnic tables in Lindo Lake Park.
For its first 10 years Morning Star wandered around Lakeside looking for a home. First, we rented the large meeting room above the bar at the VFW Hall. There’s the story about how one Sunday the pianist couldn’t get the piano to play properly. Upon further investigation, however, she discovered it was full of beer cans from a party the night before!
Later, the church moved to the Seventh Day Adventist Church on Mapleview Street, which was a great arrangement since they worshipped on Saturdays.
Our Own Property (Sort of)
In 1981, Morning Star moved onto its own property on Los Coches Road. The property included an unheated warehouse, formerly a water bottling plant. Weather permitting, we met behind the warehouse. A large boulder set with an altar cloth and the Lord’s Supper was our altar. The people brought their own lawn chairs. One could hear the waterfall from a dam that was set on the creek as we sang with guitar accompaniment. When it got colder, we lit a campfire.
When it was too cold and rainy to meet outside, we moved into the unheated warehouse. It had a tin roof; the rain was so loud you could barely hear the sermon! One of the Sunday School classes was held in a old, moldy bathroom! The kids sat on carpet squares and the roof leaked. Buckets were set up everywhere to catch the water.
A “New” Building
After that first wet winter, we decided things had to change. But build a church? That was an overwhelming thought for our little congregation. But God had a plan: a recycled building. Calvary Lutheran Church on 54th Street and Euclid in San Diego was selling its buildings. All we needed was a giant loan and a way to move them! But God promises that with faith we will move mountains with our prayers (Matthew 17:20-21). Church buildings? Piece of cake!
Permits were obtained. The hill was 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.) The ground was graded and prepped. And in the spring of 1982, Calvary’s buildings were split into in three sections: Sanctuary, Classrooms, and Fellowship/Kitchen/Office. They were put on wheels and trucked down Highways 94, 125, and 8. Finally reaching Los Coches Road, the buildings were hauled onto their final resting place on Ha Hana Road. A contractor did the major installation work, and members of the church did the cosmetic work.
Our first service in our new sanctuary was on Easter 1982. We assembled at the warehouse and Pastor Spilker led us out of the wilderness, across the creek and into our our new church. That was a glorious and special day for Morning Star Lutheran Church!
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 associate pastors led our worship services until our first pastor was called.
Pastor David Grauer was a “worker-priest,” which means that while he led Morning Star he had a second job. In his case, he worked as a chaplain/counselor for Home of Guiding Hands, a program for developmentally disabled adults. He was a dynamic pastor who once illustrated a sermon by shooting an arrow down the aisle! He was also an 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 loves us and blesses us to bring his love to the people all around us. Pastor Tim helped start the Lakeside Ministerial Association and made Morning Star one of the first participants in the SHARE program. It was under Pastor Tim’s guidance that we moved into our own buildings on Ha Hana Road.
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, he helped us to think about how we might embrace the future. However, he had another congregation. Nonetheless, the members of the church came forward, volunteering to do the many jobs that needed to be done. With Pastor Laughridge’s departure in 2018, Morning Star began its search for a new pastor. However, the COVID-19 pandemic delayed us as it did so many other congregations. But for 50 years the Lord preserved us, and we had no doubt that he would continue to do so.
Pastor Richard Ross joined us in 2022. Like Pastor Grauer, he too is a worker-priest, supplementing his income with his work as a novelist and a crew member at Trader Joe’s in La Mesa. He’s always thought of himself as more of a teacher than a preacher; his sermons are verse-by-verse explorations of the Gospel reading for a Sunday morning. His Sunday morning Bible studies include lively discussions about the sermon and that morning’s epistle reading. He believes God’s promise that His Word transforms people’s hearts (Hebrews 4:12), and he’s dedicated himself to do whatever he can to make that promise a reality in as many lives as possible.