Mt. Olive Lutheran Church brings European tradition to the Crescenta Valley

Pastor Gary Heltsley of Mt. Olive Lutheran Church stands in front of the church’s signature pipe organ.  Photo by Shana LiVIGNI
Pastor Gary Heltsley of Mt. Olive Lutheran Church stands in front of the church’s signature pipe organ. Photo by Shana LiVIGNI

By Shana LiVIGNI

Mission statement: “Mt. Olive is a church family dedicated to growing as disciples of Jesus Christ through worship, fellowship, and acts of charity. We would love to have you join with us.”

The church has a long standing presence in the Crescenta Valley community. “Mt. Olive Lutheran Church has been serving Christ and the La Crescenta community for over 72 years. Ours is a warm and friendly church family made up of young families, working folks, and retired seniors,” explained Pastor Gary Heltsley. “Our goal is simple: to make the love of Christ known through our words and our deeds. We are a traditional Lutheran church that focuses on God’s word, the power of prayer, and lifting up the Lord’s gifts of baptism and Holy Communion. Our worship blends centuries old tradition with modern praise. We believe that the goal of all worship should be to glorify and praise our almighty God.”

The historic Mt. Olive Lutheran church was started by Swedish Lutheran immigrants who moved to this area and wanted a place to worship. They bought the property in 1935 and two years later, the Mt. Olive Lutheran church was built.

The architecture reflects the building designs of their native land with its tall A-frame shape and giant wooden beams criss-crossing the ceiling. Even the handmade banners, communion pillows and Christmas tree ornaments (Christ Mons) are handed down from Scandinavian tradition. In the early 70s the entire wall behind the stage became a pipe organ, with hundreds of various sized metal and wooden chimes ranging from just a few inches (behind the wall) to the spectacular visible “show pipes” standing over 10 feet high – many which were purchased from other local churches. There are two highly-trained organists who provide the magnificent sounds of music at every Sunday service. The vocal choir and bell choir also add special music to the worship.

On a typical Sunday, there are two worship services – 8:00 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., with Holy Communion open to everyone who trusts in Christ as their Savior. Their children’s Sunday school takes place during the sermon time at each service. An adult bible study is offered at 9:20 a.m. between services and later Sunday evening at 7 p.m. There are also several other home-based bible study groups that meet regularly. Middle school young people are encouraged to join the confirmation class – a two-year program that teaches the basics of the Christian faith and how to apply it to their daily lives. The church offers programs to all ages, not only for the congregation, but for many different humane causes.

“Mt. Olive has owned and operated a pre-school that has been a blessing to families in our community for over 40 years. Our women’s group has a long tradition of offering a monthly senior luncheon that is well attended by seniors throughout the area,” said Pastor Gary. “The people of Mt. Olive are always looking for new ways to show the love of Christ through acts of service. Over the years we have served meals at Union Rescue Mission and worked with Door of Hope ministries, Lutheran Social Services, Habitat for Humanity, the CROP Walk, Fred Jordan Mission, Walter Hoving Home, Operation Christmas Child, Samaritan’s Purse and many others. There is no shortage of ways for people to get involved in reaching out with the love of God.”

For a modest-sized congregation, Mt. Olive has produced a number of pastors that have gone on to serve in various areas of the country. Gary Heltsley has been the pastor at Mt. Olive for almost 10 years now. He met his wife Diane at John Marshall High School in the Los Feliz district and eventually moved to Tujunga where they became members of Mt. Olive for 15 years before Gary graduated from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley. in 2000. Their two children, Emily (25) and Roy (22), were baptized at the church and attended school in the area.

“On Christmas Eve at 11 p.m. we invite all to come enjoy our candlelight service, combining much loved Christmas carols with readings from scripture. For those who prefer to worship on Christmas morning, the same service is offered at 9:30 a.m. In February, couples will be invited to participate in the ‘Fireproof Your Marriage’  program, to strengthen and encourage their marriages,” offered Pastor Gary.

Mt. Olive Lutheran Church is located at 3561 Foothill Blvd. (the entrance is the street just west of Burger King) in La Crescenta. For more information, call 818-248-4253 or visit