THIS IS NOT JUST OUR STORY... IT'S GOD'S STORY
Our church has been serving the Lord and the people of San Jose since 1892, but our latest adventure began a few years ago we came to believe that the Lord was calling us to sell our aging building and use the proceeds to help people in need, sponsor many new churches, and increase our effectiveness in Willow Glen and the city of San Jose.
We are followers of Jesus Christ, committed to using everything we are and everything we have, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to accomplish the most we can for the Kingdom of God. We gather to share together in the grace of God, and respond together to the call of God to share that grace with others.
How did we get to this place in our ministry?
That story begins with Swedish immigrants in San Jose…..
On September 21, 1892, a group of 8 people, under the leadership of Rev. N. P. Wallgren, met in San Jose, in a rented hall, and organized themselves into the Swedish Evangelical Mission Church of San Jose, California. By the turn of the century, the congregation was growing to the point that the building of a church was becoming a top priority. Rev. J. Osborn and his small band of enthusiastic people purchased a lot at 136 W. San Carlos Street for $1350, and by February, 1904, the church building was dedicated.
The immigrant Swedes who began our church had confidence in a great God. They knew that He wanted them to have a special role to play in leading people to Christ, and that He wanted them to be partners with other Covenant churches in a world wide mission.
With the passing of the years, there was ample evidence that God was blessing the church. In the 1930’s and 1940’s the Sunday School had a strong emphasis on outreach, and was largely responsible for the burgeoning numbers. The church was remodeled, adding more Sunday School rooms, a kitchen and fellowship hall.
The area around the church, which had been on the edge of the central business district, became downtown San Jose. Houses were taken down to provide space for the San Jose Civic Auditorium, and parking was a constant problem.
After several years of careful evaluation, in the late 1940’s, the congregation voted to purchase property at Riverside and Coe, for a new church building, and on February 8, 1954, the actual construction began, with Oscar Anderson serving as the general contractor. The building was dedicated on September 26, 1954.
Mindful of the tremendous growth of the whole area, First Covenant also took an active role in planting two new churches: Alum Rock Covenant Church, also in San Jose, and Foothill Covenant Church in Los Altos.
In 1967, the church celebrated its 75th anniversary with a series of events and speakers throughout the year.
Significant changes took place in the congregation through the 1970s and 1980s. Pastor Fred Neth led the congregation from 1976-1982. During his tenure, the church expanded its music program, producing its first musical in 1981. With several performances, more than 1500 people attended the musical and were inspired by the music and message of “Resurrection”. Pastor Neth was succeeded by Pastor Orville Sustad in 1983, who served until 1989.
Rev. Mark Orr was named Executive Pastor when Pastor Sustad retired in 1989. However, Pastor Orr left just a year later when he was called to other ministry.
First Covenant Church celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1992. At that time, the church was led by Rev. Richard Lindman. Throughout the anniversay year, First Covenant Church underwent a series of updates and renovations to the Coe building, and welcomed many former pastors and guests to help the congregation celebrate this important milestone.
In 1994, a Hispanic Congregation, Iglesia Belen de Juda, began worshipping at the Coe location. Iglesia Belen would stay with First Covenant until the Coe property was sold in 2007.
In the summer of 1997, Rev. Kevin Budd was called to lead First Covenant Church. A vibrant AWANA program began, and the congregation reached out to the community by starting the first indoor volleyball club for elementary and middle schoolers, hosting various special events for women and holiday musicals.
However, since the 1960s, Sunday morning church attendance had declined...more people retired and moved out of the Valley than joined the congregation. In 2005, First Covenant Church’s leadership and congregation determined to address this forty year trend, and in 2006 they made a bold decision to sell the Coe property and use the proceeds of that sale to advance God’s Kingdom by supporting the development and growth of new church plants and by serving those in need throughout San Jose and the world. Part of this process was rethinking the church’s name. After trying a few names, the church settled on New Life Covenant Church to reflect the rebirth and renewal of the church in a new location and with a new vision and ministry for the community. The sale was complete in 2007.
New Life currently meets weekly at Willow Glen Community Center. To date we have partnered with seven church planting projects overseen by the Pacific Southwest Conference of the Evangelical Church, which we have belonged to since the very beginning. For three years we sponsored a refugee transition house that provided an initial home for just over 100 arriving free case refugees from Congo, Central Africa Republic, Burma, Nepal, Iraq, and as well as other locations who were being resettled in San Jose by the United Nations. We are proud that some of these refugee families have chosen to join our church. The congregation hosted a large event for New Day for Children, raising awareness about human trafficking in the Bay Area and raising financial support for minors who had been rescued. Currently we serve our community in a variety of ways and encourage one another to be actively engaged in ministries that extend love, compassion and social justice.
After almost 125 years of history, we continue to thank God for this wonderful opportunity to reach out in the name of Jesus Christ to people who are looking for hope, for relationships, for meaning, for healing, and for community. We move forward committed to being the Body of Christ in a different day, a different culture, but with the same hope – that men and women, boys and girls, might come to know Jesus Christ and follow Him as Lord of their lives.