Historical Vignettes from Bethel's 100+ year existence

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 of the Northfield Arts Guild).  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 Trondhjem) conducted his first service for Bethania.  He conducted services every third Sunday.

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. Freegurg, 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.

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 pator, 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.

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 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 monring service.  Rev. Boral Bion (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, SE 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 Distric, 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.  The first service held in new Sanctuary was Christmas Eve, December 24, 1993 with Service of Dedication being held on February 20, 1994.  Pastor Paul H. Nelson presiding with Bishop Glenn Nycklemoe presenting the Sermon and the Act of Deciation.

Dedication Services were held on September 10, 2008 for the new education wing, the Youth Center and the Christian Life Center with Pastor Timothy P. McDermott presiding.

Bethel became a Reconciling in Christ congregation by congregational vote in January of 2021. We adopted the welcome statement of: "We celebrate all people as children of God. We unconditionally welcome diversity of age, race, citizenship, ethnicity, cultural identity, sexual orientation, gender identity, ability, education, relationship status, family structure, and life challenges. Your diversity and uniqueness are valued. Your questions and your doubts have a home here. You, your spouse, partner, children, family and friends are welcome to be full participants in the life of our church. You are welcome here!"

We adopted the following Land Acknowledgement statement in November of 2023: "Bethel Lutheran Church stands on land that is the home of the Wahpekute band of the Dakota nation, whose people have been stewarding this land for many generations. We regret the injustices  done to them: unkept promises, broken treaties, forced removal from homes, and genocide.  So, with the Holy Spirit’s help, we pledge to repair relationships with our Indigenous neighbors  by learning about their history, current stories, and public policies that have impacted  and continue to impact their lives. In doing so we commit ourselves to making inroads  to interrupt systemic racism and helping to promote healing and justice."