A Brief History of the Ebenezer Reformed Church in Shafter California
Ebenezer Reformed Church (Ebenezer) was organized on April 14, 1919, when a number of families of the Reformed faith from Lodi, California, came to Shafter to acquire new farm land. Initially, with a desire for fellowship and spiritual nurturing, these settlers met in the home of Mr. John Schnaidt. They soon decided to organize as a church. For the organizational meeting, Pastor F.A. Rittershaus, of Salem Church at Lodi, came to preside and presented a constitution for consideration which was wholly adopted. The name Ebenezer, “hitherto hath the Lord helped us“, was chosen, indicative of the faith and trust these early pioneers held in God.
The next step was to find a suitable meeting place for this newly formed congregation. It was decided to petition the Seventh Day Adventists, on Lerdo and Poplar, for the use of their church on Sunday mornings.
In the fall of 1920 the construction of a new church building was begun. It was completed early in 1921. The pulpit and communion table were donated by two Reformed congregations at Lodi. On May 28, 1921, this small congregation rejoiced to dedicate its own house of worship to the glory of the Triune God, with Pastor W.P. Thiel, of Salem Reformed Church at Lodi, California, officiating.
The congregation joined the Salem Reformed Church of Lodi in 1922 to form a joint charge. Thus, Pastor Thiel became the first regular Pastor of Ebenezer. In the fall of 1926 the congregation began to seek a pastor of its own. The congregation found a pastor in the person of Pastor G.J. Zenk. He and his family arrived in July 1927. This pastorate lasted only four years, when Pastor Zenk accepted a call to Zion Reformed Church at Lodi.
The congregation once more was in search of a pastor, and half a year later found one in Pastor Alfred Funck of Highmore, South Dakota. Pastor Funck ended his pastorate in June 1938. Pastor Robert Klaudt of Manitowoc, Wisconsin, accepted a call from the congregation and commenced his pastorate on January 2, 1939.
In 1942, the Ladies Society was organized.
Then, in 1943, the congregation opened a preaching station near Edison/East Bakersfield. Two years later, Grace Reformed Church (Grace) was organized and a building erected in Bakersfield under the leadership of Pastor Klaudt. He continued preaching services at both Ebenezer and Grace until 1949, when the formal relationship between these congregations ended, and each congregation has had its own pastor since.
In 1951, a decision was made to build an addition to the church to afford enough room for the Sunday School and to enlarge the church auditorium. On October 21, 1951, after construction was completed, the congregation rededicated the church. In 1952 Pastor Klaudt ended his pastorate at Ebenezer. During the vacancy, the congregation was served by Pastor Robert Stuebbe. The congregation sent a call to Pastor Walter Grossmann, and his pastorate at Ebenezer began in August 1952. The congregation was deeply saddened by the sudden death of Pastor Grossmann in September 1956.
Again, the congregation asked Pastor Robert Stuebbe to serve as pastoral supply which he did through August 1957, when a call was extended to Pastor Melvin Nonhof. He commenced his pastorate in September 1957.
In the later part of 1958, the congregation received an invitation from the Eureka Classis, R.C.U.S., to unite itself with that denomination. At the annual meeting in 1959, the congregation voted to accept the invitation and present a petition requesting membership. At the annual session of the Eureka Classis in the spring of that year, Ebenezer was placed on the roll of the Eureka Classis, R.C.U.S. In 1963 Ebenezer, along with Grace, had the privilege of hosting the ??? annual classis session.
The Men’s Christian Fellowship was organized in 1964.
Pastor Nonhof’s ministry at Ebenezer continued through March 1965. Pastor Robert Stuebbe was once again called upon for pulpit supply. This time, the supply continued until March 1966, when Pastor Calvin Stuebbe accepted a call to Ebenezer. In 1966 it was decided to build the fellowship hall for Sunday School and fellowship facilities. The fully completed building was dedicated to the glory of God on Sunday evening, June 12, 1967,
Due to ill health, Pastor Calvin Stuebbe resigned on July 31, 1976, and retired from the active ministry, He was elected to the position of pastor emeritus by the congregation in 1976 and continued serving the congregation on a limited basis until his death on November 3, 1983. Pastor Chester Ploeger from Grace served while Ebenezer sought a new pastor.
In February of 1977, the congregation extended a call to Mr. Maynard Koerner. He commenced his first pastorate at Ebenezer beginning September 11, 1977.
Pastor Koerner submitted his resignation, effective January 31, 1983, in order to accept a pastoral call to Hope Reformed Church, Sutton, NE. The church called Pastor Jim West who began his pastorate at Ebenezer on May 4, 1983.
A radio ministry, The Grace and Truth Broadcast was established in 1983, and continues to this day.
On May 2, 1984, the Eureka Classis of the R.C.U.S opened its 74th session at Ebenezer.
In April of 1986, Ebenezer became part of the Western Classis when the former Eureka Classis voted to divide into four separate classes and organize as a Synod of the R.C.U.S.
Pastor West resigned on September 15, 1986, in order to accept a call to the Covenant Reformed Church in Sacramento. On October 5, a call was extended to Pastor Vernon Pollema with the understanding that he wouldn’t assume pastoral duties until June 13, 1987. For the next 22 plus years, Ebenezer prospered under the faithful loving leadership of Rev. Pollema.
In 1989 Ebenezer hosted the 4th annual session of the Western Classis.
In September of 1989, in response to our radio broadcast being aired throughout Kern County, a letter was received from Chaplain E.L. Owens of the California State Prison at Corcoran, expressing interest in us participating in a Reformed ministry at the prison. Thus began Ebenezer’s prison ministry. This ministry continued until 2002. Another ministry in which Ebenezer participates, in turn with other churches in the community, is conducting worship services at the Shafter Golden West Rest Home. This ministry has been faithfully carried out for over 40 years.
In May of 1990, it was Ebenezer’s pleasure to serve as co-host with our sister church in Bakersfield, Grace Reformed Church, for the 244th annual session of the Synod of the R.C.U.S.
In July of 1993, Ebenezer took over the directorship, planning, and arranging of the Heidelberg West Youth Camp which is open to all the youth of the churches of the Western Classis.
In 1995, Ebenezer hosted the 10th annual session of the Western Classis.
In 1999, the Ebenezer consistory was asked by the Western Classis of the R.C.U.S. to assume responsibility for the spiritual and administrative oversight of Rehoboth Chapel – as a mission outreach to the Los Angeles area; This they did with joy and a willingness to see the Lord work in this major city; The pastor they decided to call was the Rev. Jay Fluck, who had served many years as this group’s minister, while they were still part of the O.P.C. Rev. Fluck served faithfully as our Home Missionary Pastor until 2011, when he accepted a call to a church in Pennsylvania. Thus, by God’s amazing grace and great faithfulness, this oversight continued for 14 years until Rehoboth Chapel became a self-governing church.
The Rev, Michael Voytek was called and installed as their new pastor, and the church there has been thriving under his love and zeal for the Lord and the gospel of Christ!
During these Missionary times, in 2007, the Consistory at Grace Reformed in Bakersfield approached the Ebenezer Consistory to explore the idea of merging the two congregations; But there was insufficient support from the Ebenezer congregation and Consistory seeing that it was not thought wise at this time to leave the city of Shafter without a true gospel witness, and also to cause undue hardship on those who had labored so faithfully to see this church established.
On July 12, 2009 Pastor Pollema retired from active ministry and was granted the honorary title of Pastor Emeritus of Ebenezer. While the search fort a new pastor took some time, in God’s good providence, Pastor Paul Henderson (a son of the congregation) was issued a call and accepted such call, assuming pastoral duties at Ebenezer in July of 2009. Though over the next few months, the Ebenezer congregation lost a considerable number of members, (30), who resided and worked in Bakersfield, as they transferred their membership to our sister church , Grace Reformed, our Lord was gracious and merciful to the Shafter congregation.
His grace and mercy were so evident that the congregation decided to host the 2010 Annual Synod Meeting of the R.C.U.S., which they did. It was a blessed time for all!
With the formation of Rehoboth into it’s own congregation, under their own oversight, Shafter decided to pursue other possible mission opportunities. For many years Shafter has thought about and discussed a possible Hispanic work in this area;
So as Ebenezer desired to continue serving Shafter faithfully with the gospel, the Consistory knew that we needed to find a way to reach the large Hispanic population residing in Shafter. Over a span of about 2 years, the Consistory was put in touch with a Hispanic Reformed pastor.
As God would have it, early in 2014, Ebenezer called Pastor Valentin Alpuche as Associate Pastor to begin a ministry to the Hispanic population in the Shafter area. Rev. Alpuche has been serving for the past 6 years in Chicago Heights, IL, as a missionary pastor of Faith United Reformed Church of Beecher, IL.
We shall see just what our Lord has in store for His little flock here in Shafter. Since coming, he has been installed, and the mission work approved by both the Western Classis and the RCUS Synod. We are looking forward to His blessings upon this work.
This is our history thus far, and all the saints here at Ebenezer can and do readily attest to confess, and affirm:
“Here ‘we’ raise our Ebenezer; Hither by thy help ‘we’ve’ come. And ‘we’ hope by thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home. Jesus sought ‘us’ when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God. He to rescue ‘us’ from danger, interposed His precious blood”. “Come, thou Fount of every blessing” The Blue Trinity Hymnal p. 400