Before the organization of Bethlehem, the people of the Lutheran faith were meeting in various homes, District #45 school and the town hall in Pleasant Dale. The first services were held at the home of Martin Pascha. A brief constitution was adopted and signed. During the 1890’s Bethlehem was a dual parish with Immanual at Ruby. The first communion service was held at Bethlehem in 1896.
Already in 1900 the congregation was ready to erect a building. Although a town site was preferred, because of our church’s stand on the Lodge issue, the owners of the property would not sell. A site one mile west and a half mile north of town was then leased free of charge from Mr. D. Dankers. The congregation in Seward and the F.W. Brown Lumber Co. helped the new congregation pay for the building. $650. worth of materials was used at the cost of $450. The building was dedicated in June, 1900. In 1909 it was moved to a lot donated by Mr. Louis Finke at the west edge of Pleasant Dale. It was felt more members would be willing to join our congregation if the church was located in town. In 1910, a narthex was added to the building.
The first World War caused a great deal of trouble in regard to the language question. The congregations in which the pastors were not so well versed in English had the greatest difficulty. The change-over was gradual, but the congregations which did not follow the change suffered losses. Bethlehem’s early adjustment brought her new members in the early twenties. In 1922 half of the services were conducted in English and in 1928 only one Sunday was in German. In 1937 there was only German Communion services for those wishing to partake.
The decision to build a new church was made at a meeting of April 3, 1921. Two lots on the east edge of town were purchased and the old church building was sold to the town. July 24, 1921 the cornerstone was layed. Items placed in the cornerstone were a Bible, Catechism, Lutheraner, Lutheran Witness, Church constitution, Names of the charter members, present members, officers, building committee, and state and government officials: a daily paper, and local county paper.
On the day of the new church dedication, October 16, 1921 the congregation assembled at the old church and there was a procession to the new building where the Elders and the Pastor opened the door. A special prayer was read. The cost of the new building was $4,800. In 1930, our congregation joined the Lutheran church Missouri Synod. In 1935 bulletins were printed and mimeographed to use in the congregation. Also, Bethlehem used “God’s Acre Plan” to cancel the debts which accumulated during the Great Depression era of the 1930’s.
During the 1940’s the church was enlarged with the addition of a mother’s room and cloak room. The new chancel and pulpit were built, fluorescent lights were installed, new carpet was laid and the entire interior was redecorated.
In 1954 the membership of our congregation increased when several families from St. John’s congregation, rural Emerald, discontinued the congregation in Emerald.
Kitchen facilities were installed in the church basement in 1955. In 1957 water facilities were also put into the church basement. 1965 an educational wing was added to the church in order to facilitate a better learning atmosphere for the Sunday School Classes. Telephones were installed in the church.
The fall of 1973 found a much needed face-lift going on to both and inside and out side of the church. Stained glass windows were added to the church in 1974. 1977 drywall and paneling were added to the church proper and fresh paint o the inside and outside of the church. The church was also insulated at this time. In 1979 a new roof was put on the church.
On September 14, 1998, the basement digging began for a new addition of the church along the south side of the church. Six Sunday school rooms, a utility/furnace room and large hall was constructed in this area. The larger fellowship hall, kitchen, storage room and two restrooms were added on ground level. A much larger entrance hall and new stairwell were also added. The two existing Sunday school rooms to the south-east end of the church were made into a new office for the church and pastor. The third room is used for the music department. The beautiful stained glass windows on the south side of the church have been placed on the east wall of the new addition and at the sides of the new entrance doors of the church. Large windows between the new fellowship hall and sanctuary enables us to have overflow seating for larger gatherings.
Current view from the east parking lot.