In the fall of 1892 the Rev. Elias Aas, who served Christiania (Lakeville) and Trondhjem (Lonsdale) congregations began holding evangelistic meetings in some of the homes of Northfield. After a period of time the assemblage became known as Bethania Scandinavian Evangelical Lutheran Church. Due to Rev. Aas’ duties at the other congregations the organization discontinued.
In July 1901 the congregation was reactivated and reorganized again as Bethania Scandinavian Evangelical Lutheran Church, calling Rev. Aas as their pastor. Meetings were held in the YMCA hall (now the home to the Northfield Arts Guild). In the organization notice in the Northfield News published October 5, 1901 the following statement was made:
Members of this church can only be those whom the Lord has added to his church or who have become living stones in his building as we read Acts 2:47 and I Peter 2:4 and other Scripture relative thereto, and who believe in the Lutheran doctrine.
The congregation continued meeting for some time and in 1904 Rev. Aas left Northfield for Northwood, North Dakota. In October of 1905 Rev. E.M. Hanson (who also served Christiania and Trondjem) conducted his first service for Bethania. He conducted services every third Sunday.
In his history of Bethel Rev. Hanson wrote:
The organization of this new congregation progressed with difficulty. …there was a wonderful power which gave wings to the spirit each time I preached to these people. Hence a congregation existed even before it was formally organized.
Between 1905 and 1908 several families had moved to the Northfield area from Iowa. They included Lars Lervik family, John T. Nystuen family, Iver Nystuen family, John J. Nystuen family, Eliam Nystuen family, Peter Sather family and Edward Solheim family. Larger meetings were held from time to time, conducted by such speakers as Rev. Peder Nilson, Pastor Gustav Oftedal, Missionary Boen, Evangelist O.M. Anderson and many others.
Two business meetings were held on January 13 and January 20, 1908 with the election of a committee to draft a constitution. On March 21, 1908 the constitution was adopted, being signed by Ole Shirley, Ole Carlson, N.E. Freeburg, Lars Lervik, Peter Sather, John T. Nystuen, and Edward Solheim. These seven with their families were therefore the Charter Members of Bethel. On March 22nd Rev. E.M. Hanson was called as the first pastor of Bethel.
In April of 1908 $675.00 had been pledged and other donations promised. The board was authorized to purchase land and proceed with the erection of a new church building. At the time in order to own property a congregation had to have a name and be incorporated. On July 14, 1908 the name was Bethel Lutheran Free Church. The first church, a wooden structure was 28 feet wide, 40 feet long, 14 feet high, extending north and south with the entrance and steeple in the center of the north side. The address was 501 West First Street. On Monday evening December 28, 1908 the congregation gathered at the new building for the first Christmas tree program.
Dedication services for the new church were held on March 22, 1910 by Rev. E.P. Harbo, and assisted by Rev. S. Rislov and Rev. E.M. Hanson. The congregation consisted of nine families or 57 members.
May 10, 1911 – Incorporation notice posted in the Northfield News.
November 13, 1911 – Incorporation papers filed at Rice County Recorder’s office.
In the summer of 1922 the church was enlarged and remodeled. New pews were installed and a full basement with the necessary equipment for social affairs. The cost of this work was $3,814.56.
Bethel Lutheran Free Church was the host of the annual Conference of the Lutheran Free Church at Carleton College in July 1925.
Regular services since the organization of the church were conducted in Norwegian. On January 19,1929 a motion was made and passed to conduct one service a month in English. In February 1931 it was voted by the congregation to increase the English services to two per month and in 1936 all services were conducted in English.
From Bethel’s earliest beginnings Bethel had shared their pastor with Christiania and Trondhjem, utilizing St. Olaf professors and student pastors to fill the gap. In January 1944, Bethel called their first full-time pastor, Rev. Obed W. Westphal, due to receiving aid from the Home Mission Board.
Bethel held a 40th anniversary festival in May 1948.
In January 1961 the congregation authorized the Board of Trustees to secure information on possible new locations for the growing church. In June of 1961 property at the corner of Cedar Avenue and North Avenue was purchased for the future home of Bethel. About this time the local architectural firm of Sovik, Mathre & Madson was engaged to design the new facility.
At 9:20 pm on Saturday May 19, 1962, Mr. Howard Nielson, a next door neighbor to Bethel, reported a fire at the church to the Northfield Fire Department. The fire department very quickly brought the blaze under control but there was still heavy damage to the church. The damage estimate was between $8,000 and $10,000. The fire seemed to originate in the entryway of the frame building or in the basement with the tower acting as a chimney. Damage included the entire inside of the tower, outside siding and extensive smoke and water damage to the worship space. Sunday May 20th services were held at the Minnesota Odd Fellows Home auditorium. It was determined that the cause of the fire was arson.
August 27 1962 – Congregation decides to build first unit of the building program.
February 1, 1963 – The Lutheran Free Church merged with the American Lutheran Church.
October 27, 1963 – First services are held in the new church facilities.
Dedication services were held on November 17, 1963 for the new building. Pastor Arvin Halvorson presided with Dr. John Stensvaag (Luther Theological Seminary) giving the Sermon at the morning service. Rev. Boral Biorn (St. John’s Lutheran Church, Northfield), Rev. Theodore Nystuen (Faith Lutheran Church, Madelia), Mr. David Solberg (Luther Theological Seminary), Miss Alma Shirley, Rev. Paul Ronning (Christiania and Trondhjem), Mr. Paul Nystuen, Rev. Russell Quanbeck (Roseville Lutheran Church) Rev. Melford S. Knutson (President, S.E. Minnesota District ALC) and Rev. Robert Hansen (St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, Northfield) participated in the Service of Dedication.
December 21, 1978 – Congregation votes to build education unit.
Dedication services were held on December 2, 1979 for the Education Unit. Dr. Luthard Gjerde (former student pastor at Bethel) and Dr. J. Elmo Agrimson (President, SE Minnesota District, ALC) assisted Pastor Ronald Goldberg with the service.
April 10, 1989 – Dedication of new organ and renovation of Sanctuary.
Ground breaking ceremony held on May 9, 1993 for new Sanctuary, Narthex and Kitchen.
First Service held in new Sanctuary, Christmas Eve, December 24, 1993.
Dedication Services were held on February 20, 1994 for the new Sanctuary. Pastor Paul H. Nelson presiding with Bishop Glenn Nycklemoe presenting the Sermon and the Act of Dedication.
Dedication Services were held on September 10, 2008, for the new education wing, the Youth Center and the Christian Life Center, Pastor Timothy P. McDermott presiding.