In 1961, there were two Lutheran Church in America (LCA) congregations (now Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) on the Lower Peninsula: Trinity, downtown Newport News and St. Paul, Hampton.
In March, the LCA’s Board of American Missions sent a mission developer, the Rev. Jesse Hangen to midtown, Denbigh Section, Newport News. The young pastor arrived from Luther Memorial Church, Blacksburg, Virginia, where he served as Chaplain to Lutheran students at Virginia Polytechnic Institute (Virginia Tech). Hangen, his wife, Shirley and their three sons, David, Peter and Christopher settled into the home provided by the church.
Pastor Hangen began a door-to-door survey to invite families to form a new congregation. He was assisted by a few persons interested in beginning a new Lutheran mission in the Denbigh area. Most were members of either Trinity Lutheran Church or St. Paul Lutheran Church, although some persons had no affiliation. By June, a steering committee was formed to handle the preliminary planning. The first meeting, which formed the charter membership, was held in the Denbigh Community Center in the Old Courthouse on August 25, 1961.
With the permission of Newport News School Board, and the support of Mrs. James Pharr, Denbigh’s Elementary School’s principal, the congregation met in the school's cafeteria for its first service on Sunday, September 10, 1961. The mission congregation managed to acquire an Army portable field altar and pulpit. Each Sunday, the altar and pulpit were set up and taken down. The service was supported by a piano, donated to the mission congregation.
On November 6, 1961, a service of dedication was officiated by Dr. J. Luther Mauney, president of the Virginia Synod. Dr. Mauney was assisted by the Rev. Neil R. Cline, dean of the Tidewater District, and Chaplain Carl S. King, assistant post chaplain, Ft. Eustis. Reformation was later the setting for an ordination.
On September 22, 1968. Clyde J. Christmas, III, son of Mr. and Mr. Clyde J. Christmas, Jr. chose his parent’s home church for his ordination. Dr. Mauney preached the sermon and performed the ordination; the ordinand was presented by the Rev. Charles G. Tussig, D.D., secretary of the Virginia Synod. Hangen served as sponsor of the ordinand. Assisting in the service was the Rev. John F. Byerly, Jr., dean of the Tidewater District and Mr. John J. Scherer, IV, intern at First Lutheran Church, Norfolk.
After 11 years as Reformation’s pastor, Hangen resigned on August 15, 1972 to accept call as mission developer in Virginia Beach.
In December 1972, the Rev. Karl A. Grieshaber accepted the call to Reformation from a congregation he served for six years in Erie, Pennsylvania. He began his ministry on January 3, 1973. Grieshaber, with his wife Shirley and their two-and-a-half year old daughter, began his ministry on January 3, 1973. Grieshaber was installed as pastor on February 11, 1973.
The congregation decided to expand its building to include more classroom space and to raise the funds without the aid of professional fundraisers. More than a year's planning was involved before the groundbreaking took place on March 7, 1976. Six classrooms, the secretary's suite, the pastor's study and the library-reception room were added. Later, an enlarged kitchen was created in the original part of the church. The north wing addition was dedicated January 30, 1977. On March 26, 1978, Reverend Grieshaber resigned.
The Rev. Myron Eichner, a retired clergy, began his ministry as in interim pastor on May 3, 1978 – facilitated by the Virginia Synod. Eichner and his wife resided in Richmond, and Eichner commuted weekly. Under terms of the arrangement, Eichner was to conduct Sunday services and any weddings or funerals as required. In addition, he was to spend one to two days per week making himself available in the church for counseling or other Pastoral duties. Eichner served as Reformation’s interim pastor for a single year.
Reformation's third pastor, the Rev. Curtis H. Brandt, arrived in Newport News on Easter Sunday, April 15, 1978 from Linden, North Dakota where he had been pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church. He gave his first sermon the following Sunday and was installed on April 29, 1978. The Rev. “Buck” Moyer, Virginia Synod president presided and was assisted by The Rev. Donald Stonesifer, dean of the Peninsula Area Council and Howard Anby, lay chairman of the area.
Brandt was a widower, his wife of 25 years having passed the previous summer. The church did not own a residence for the pastor, so a housing allowance was paid the pastor in lieu of church-owned residence. Brandt purchased a home shortly after his arrival in Newport News. While making arrangements for phone service at C & P offices, Brandt dealt with Mrs. Sylvia Curling, widow of a Newport News Fire Department Captain. On Thanksgiving Day 1979, the two were married.
Brandt's tenure at Reformation was plagued by financial challenges. The new wing's heat pump system was inadequate to heat and cool the new wing. The costs to heat and cool the building were considerable more than originally expected. The heating and cooling system had to be replaced. To make matters worse, a severe leak was discovered around the dormers of the new wing. Brandt resigned February 1, 1988, taking early retirement.
Reformation's next pastor, the Rev. Harold (Hal) Harter came to the church with his wife, Gloria on November 15, 1988 after serving as a supply pastor during the summer.
Pastor Harter was installed on December 11, 1988 by the Rev. Thomas Bosserman, Trinity Lutheran Church, Newport News and dean of the Peninsula Conference, Virginia Synod. Bosserman was assisted by Rev. Sidney Nelson, Dean of Tidewater Conference and Rev. Fritz Stegerman, Pastor of Open Door Chapel, Virginia Beach.
Among Harter’s accomplishments were the institution of a Healing Service, sponsorship of the youth group, and restoring a second worship service. Harter retired 1995.
In August 1996, the Rev. Darla Kincaid was installed at Reformation’s fifth pastor after serving in Shenandoah Valley. During Kincaid’s pastorate, she introduced mid-week Lenten dinners, drawing between 50 to 70 people; The Great Vigil of Easter (the service was featured in The Daily Press); Holy Communion at each Sunday service, guest columnist for The Daily Press’ Religion Section; and the inspiration behind the childcare ministry. After manifesting symptoms of a serious illness, Pastor Kincaid went on medical disability and resigned on December 31, 2000.
The pastoral vacancy lasted nearly four years. During the vacancy, a number of local retired clergy presided at worship services. There were two interim pastors, Donna Ruggles and Richard Olsen.
On Saturday, November 2, 2003, the Rev. James P. Nickols was installed as Reformation’s sixth pastor under a tent where the future new “house of the church” will be located. The Rev. Dr. John S. Damm, pastor emeritus of St. Peter's Lutheran Church, Manhattan, New York, preached. The Rev. Jean Bozeman, the assistant to the Bishop for the Eastern region of Virginia, participated. Also, the Rev. Larry Shoberg, the dean of the Peninsula Conference, Virginia Synod, officiated at the installation. The Rev. Gary Erdos, the pastor of St. Mark Lutheran Church, Yorktown, served as Master of Ceremonies.
Since Pastor Nickols’ installation, Reformation has renovated the worship space, added a third worship service, developed the Mildred McDaniel Concert series, and other ministries. In addition, after more than 40 years, Reformation installed a paved parking area and drive way. The Childcare ministry installed new playground equipment and purchased a bus to replace the aged van.
On September 10, 2005, the Rev. Candidate Cheryl Ann Griffin was ordained at St. Stephen Lutheran Church, Williamsburg, Va., her home congregation. Bishop James F. Mauney presided and preached. The Reverends Chip Gunsten and Jean Bozeman, both assistants to the Bishop, participated; along with local and Virginia Synod clergy and clergy from the Presbyterian and Episcopal Churches. The following day, Sunday, September 11, the Rev. Griffin was installed as Reformation’s associate pastor. The Rev. Larry Shoberg, the Peninsula Conference dean, presided at the installation rite.
The Rev. David P. Gunderlach, a clergy of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, who retired from the United States Navy’s Chaplain Corps, relocated to Newport News, Va. with his wife Joyce and son Ryan in August 2005.
Shortly after his arrival, Pastor Gunderlach initiated the process with Bishop James F. Mauney, Virginia Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), to affiliate with the ELCA
In September 2006, Pastor Gunderlach became a rostered clergy of the Virginia Synod, ELCA. In September 2006, Reformation called Pastor Gunderlach as associate pastor (non-stipendiary) serving as a pastoral counselor on the staff of the Peninsula Pastor Counseling Center, Newport News. Pastor Gunderlach’s call to specialized ministry was affirmed by the Virginia Synod Council on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 2008. Pastor Gunderlach is a frequent preacher and presides regularly at worship. He and his wife Joyce are involved in many of the weekly activities of the parish.
After nearly three years serving as Reformation’s associate pastor, Pastor Cheryl Ann Griffin resigned. The resignation was precipitated because of insufficient income. Pastor Griffin’s ended her ministry at Reformation on Sunday, June 15. Following the 11 a.m. mass, the congregation gathered for lunch, celebrated her nearly three years of ministry, and presented her with a set of chasubles and stoles to complete the set that Pastor Griffin received from Reformation at her ordination. Pastor Griffin accepted a pastoral staff position at Trinity Lutheran Church, Newport News, Va.
Through this ministry the congregation seeks to live out Christ’s words in Matthew’s gospel, “whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” The practices and daily activities of the center are rooted squarely in the Christian understanding. Each child is recognized for his/her infinite worth as God’s creation. In all areas, the center operates as an extension of Christ’s love.