PAUL KEMPTON SEGERHAMMAR, 1988-2003, 2008-2013
Pastor Segerhammar served longer at First Lutheran Church than any other pastor in the church’s first one hundred years. But he did it in two separate pastorates.
Paul Kempton Segerhammar was born on January 19, 1945 in Longmont, Colorado. He was the youngest child and only son of Carl William Segerhammar and Alva Ruth Elizabeth Gustafson. Kemp, as he was called, grew up with three older sisters: twins, Kathleen and Kathryn; and Karen.
The family moved from Longmont to Los Angeles in 1947 where his father accepted the pastorate at Angelica Lutheran. In 1950, Pastor Carl Segerhammar was elected President of the California Conference of the Augustana Lutheran Church. In 1955 the family moved to Windsor Hills area of Los Angeles and joined Our Redeemer Lutheran where Kemp was confirmed in 1958.
Although the extended family was liberally sprinkled with Lutheran pastors, Kemp decided that his talents and interests led to teaching. In 1967 he earned a B.A in sociology and a teaching certificate from California Lutheran University, Thousand Oaks, California. That summer, he married Christine Ann Hoffman at Angelica Lutheran. They had met in 1962 at a Luther League retreat held at Forest Home Camp in the Southern California mountains. After teaching at the elementary level in Inglewood, California, Kemp decided to enter the ministry. Looking back in an interview by the Palo Alto Times Tribune, published after his first Sunday in Palo Alto, he said, “Becoming a pastor wasn’t due to any cataclysmic call, just a subtle, gentle development and realization of my gifts. I tried it and it fit, and I’ve enjoyed it ever since.”
To achieve his goal, Kemp needed another four years of education at the Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, California, and a stint as an intern at Holy Cross Lutheran in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. In 1972, Kemp Segerhammar was granted an M.Div. and was ordained at Angelica Lutheran Church in Los Angeles, where his father had served. He and Christine began a pastorate at Epiphany Lutheran in Denver. During their seven years there, Brita Johanna was born in 1972 and Jacob John arrived in 1976.
In 1979, Kemp was selected by the Division of World Mission and Ecumenism of the Lutheran Church in America to serve the English-speaking members of the United Christian Congregation in Stockholm, Sweden. During his year there, the congregation moved from a small chapel on Gamla Stan to Klara Kyrka. The Segerhammar family also used this opportunity to find out more about the Segerhammar ancestors who had emigrated from Sweden to the United States.
After their year in Sweden, the Segerhammars returned to the United States, where in 1980 Kemp accepted a call to First Lutheran Church in Glendale, California. After eight years there, he was called to First Lutheran, Palo Alto.
Pastor Segerhammar preached his first sermon in Palo Alto on August 7, 1988, and he was officially installed on September 25, 1988. Earlier that year, three branches of the Lutheran Church had merged into the ELCA, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The merger had followed a liturgical renewal, marked in 1978 with the publication of a new hymnal and liturgy book, the Lutheran Book of Worship. The new liturgy encouraged more lay leadership in worship, inclusive language, and an emphasis on the meaning of Easter.
In 1989, following the practices suggested by the new liturgies, Pastor Segerhammar introduced the celebration of the Easter Vigil at First Lutheran. He also recruited and trained lay leaders to take part in the worship service by reading the lessons, by assisting in the distribution of the Eucharist, and by helping in other ways. The Children’s Christmas Eve service was begun in 1992, and a Wednesday morning prayer service followed by Bible study was introduced in 1994.
In 1993, the old model of Vacation Bible School for children was replaced by Summer Nights, a week of suppers, Bible classes for all ages, and intergenerational projects where even pre-schoolers could interact with senior citizens. In 1996, First Lutheran established a sister-parish relationship with Rios de Agua Viva, San Mauricio, El Salvador. The flcpa.org website was launched in 1998.
There were improvements and changes to the physical facility, too. In 1991-92 the front of the sanctuary was re-oriented. The railing between the apse and the chancel was removed and the wall-mounted altar was moved toward the nave as a free-standing table. The pulpit was replaced by a modest ambo for both the reading of the lessons and the sermon. The choir was moved from its crowded corner and redistributed across both sides of the chancel. The construction of a ramp from the front sidewalk to the Parish Hall to create an entry for the handicapped fulfilled a long planned improvement. Campaign 2000 supported several improvements in the Children’s Center, the office, the Parish Hall and earthquake reinforcements to the building itself. A play structure was installed in the back patio for the youngest members of the congregation. In 2001, the congregation was gifted with a small, portable continuo pipe organ, and in 2002, a new Casavant pipe organ was installed with new openings to the chambers.
Pastor Segerhammar’s work was not restricted to the parish, but extended into the community. For example, First Lutheran was the only church member of the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce. Kemp served for ten years as the public member on the Human Subjects in Medical Research Panel, at the Stanford Medical Center. The congregation also supported several community organizations like Urban Ministry, South Bay Sanctuary Movement, Ecumenical Hunger Project, and others. Pastor Kemp also helped to train student pastors Gretchen Bingea and Eric Utto-Galarno by supervising their intern year of service to the congregation.
In 1997, the congregation celebrated the 25th anniversary of Pastor Segerhammar’s ordination by establishing the Segerhammar Scholarship Fund at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary.
By 2003, Kemp Segerhammar felt the need for a change and accepted a call to Gethsemene Lutheran in Seattle. That congregation is located in the center of the city and owned part of a city block that included a big parking lot, as well as the sanctuary and a building housing church offices. Gethsemene had a history of helping the hungry, unhoused, unemployed, and disabled who congregated in the bus depot across the street. There was a big opportunity for a significant project: a new community-service center. By selling the parking lot, tearing down the office building, and working in cooperation with other non-profit agencies, the congregation built a five-story complex that housed a shelter for homeless women and children, 50 units of low-income housing, and the Gethsemane Community Services facility.
By 2008, the Gethsemane project was well underway, and Kemp was looking forward to retirement. But there was another call. Was he willing to come back to First Lutheran to a term call of five years after which he would retire?
Pastor Bruce Johnson, a son of the First Lutheran congregation, had served as the interim pastor after Pastor Segerhammar left for Seattle. Pastor Sandra Dager was then called and served for a little over two years. She was followed by interim Pastor David Rohrer. During this time, the church had formulated a long-term ministry plan. The congregation at First Lutheran was happy to have Kemp back again after a period of changes, and he, in turn, found returning to a familiar place a comfortable transition to retirement. When he arrived, the congregation and the physical plant were familiar, but there were fresh faces, too, since all the staff had changed and there was a new Bishop at the head of the district.
One goal of the Plan of Ministry was to strengthen the congregation’s youth ministry, and the position of Youth Minister was established. The Children’s Choir was restarted, and a new Sunday School curriculum was introduced. A long-needed bathroom was installed in the basement Children’s Center. The kitchen was remodeled, completing the last project from Campaign 2000. Pastor Segerhammar re-instituted a weekday morning Bible study. The 8:30am Sunday morning service, previously held only in the summer, was made available all year as an alternative to the 10:30am service. Kathy McKee, the new choir director, spearheaded an annual concert series, Four at First. A grand piano was purchased. A Memorial Garden was created where the ashes of deceased members could be interred.
After several years of study and discussion, the Webster Project was finalized. The property next to the church on Webster Street had been purchased in 1995 with the strong encouragement of Pastor Segerhammer during his first pastorate. The plan was to demolish the old house that stood there, then build two new houses: one for the parsonage, and one as a rental property. The ground breaking did not take place until after Kemp’s retirement, but the completed project now stands as a monument to his foresight.
Kemp retired in June 2013. He, Christine, and daughter Brita now enjoy life in Sonoma, California. After the pandemic, they plan to resume frequent trips to Washington State to see their son, Jacob, and his family, including two grandchildren, Yoey and Silvia Ruth.