Bethlehem's History 1878-1903

The first services were held in a little red school house which was located near the Emil Hoffman farm. Pastor Mende came from Albany, Minnesota in 1876 to conduct services in the school house in Albion Township once a month. The confirmation classes were held at St. James in Howard Lake. Pastor Mende was a brother-in-law to Otto and Fred Uecker.

Having gathered a number of people to worship, Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Church was organized on the 10th of February, 1878 by Pastor Carl Mende.

However, differences in doctrine soon caused dissension, but a few remained faithful to their pastor. These 14 were the charter members of Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Church: Ludwig Grothmann; Friedrich Uecker, Otto Uecker, J. Kamman, William Oletzke, Friedrich Adam, John Schmidt, Johann Marohn, Adam Koepke, Andreas Koepke, Christian Adam, Carl Pomerenke, Carl Mathan and Andreas Bobrowske. As you can see from the last names, many of their families remain in the church today - a tribute to the church's ability to create a loving, caring, and long-lasting family.

The first elders and trustees were Ludwig Grothmann, Friedrich Uecker, and John Marohn.

In 1879 Pastor Mende accepted a call to Illinois. The Bethlehem parish united with the congregation in Howard Lake to call Pastor F. Kolbe. Upon Pastor Kolbe's arrival in 1879 the congregation resolved to build its first church, a log structure 20 by 30 feet. It was built of hewn logs. A small table covered with a plain black cloth stood in the sanctuary. There was a chair for the pastor to sit on. When the church was well attended the people sat on a small platform right around the Pastor. In a congregational meeting on January 14, 1883 a resolution was passed that in each service the "klingelbeutel" was to be passed around. A klingelbeutel is a cloth bag attached to a long handle into which voluntary money donations are collected during the service. Sometimes a little bell is fastened to the bag; this is the reason for its German name. When it is used nowadays, the 'klingelbeutel' is passed through the rows in the church during the singing of a hymn. In this way the offertory is collected.

In the year 1886 the first benches were put into the church. They were made of basswood boards and basswood blocks. Hitching posts were also put up for the horses and other improvements were made to the church property.

Pastor Kolbe began teaching school in 1887 between Easter and Pentecost after six long benches had been made for the children to sit on. Friedrich Adam boarded Pastor Kolbe and his horse for $3.00 a week. This included room and meals for him and his horse.

Although Pastor Kolbe had been preaching services and teaching school at Bethlehem for 11 years he was not a full time Pastor. On January 3, 1890 it was the congregation's decision to call their first resident pastor, Rev. E.J. Stahlke of Lodge Pole, Nebraska. He accepted the call, and was ordained in the fall of 1890, and stayed at the home of Otto Uecker. Pastor Stahlke's tenure of office was very short. After hardly a year's service ill forced him to resign and shortly after that he passed to his reward.

Little is known about our first resident pastor except what was provided by his brother Mr. O. L. Stahlke for our Diamond Jubilee celebration book. At that time Mr. Stahlke, a retired parochial teacher, was residing in Glencoe, Minnesota. He tells us this of his brother. Rev. Earnst Jr. Stahlke was born September 27, 1865 near Waconia, Minnesota. After his graduation from Seminary in Springfield, Illinois in 1888 he was assigned to a missionary field in western Nebraska, which was just opened for settlement shortly before. He served eight stations located a distance of about 100 miles along the Union Pacific railroad.

On October 12, 1890 a meeting was called to decide on the purchase of 1/2 acre of land for $25.00 and to build a new parsonage. It was decided to do so and Otto Uecker, William Oletzke and Chas. Mistelske were assigned the building committee. The dimensions of the house were 18 x 26 x 14 ft. high. The kitchen was 18' x 26'. The building was made of brick veneer.

In July 1891 Rev. J. S. Hertich was called. During Pastor Hertrich's pastorate the congregation experienced a remarkable growth. The congregation resolved to erect a new church. The building committee met with a company in St. Paul, Minnesota. It was decided that the building would be 34 x 56 and be made of bricks. The congregation agreed to the price of $2,500. Pastor Hertich had the daunting task of collecting the money from individual members of the congregation. After collecting most of the money needed, the building committee heard from the St. Paul architect. It was not good news. The actual cost to build the church would be $3,000, not the $2,500 originally quoted. Due to the hard times of 1893 this resolution to build was not carried out. What money was collected was returned to the donors by Pastor Hertich. In 1896 Pastor Hertich accepted a call to Plato, Minnesota.

In 1896 Pastor Klingbeil was called and installed later in the fall of that year. In 1899 it was again resolved to erect a new church. This new resolution was for a church smaller than the one planned in 1892 and it was to be made of wood instead of bricks. It was noted that the church would cost $3,000 to build, the same as it would have a few year earlier. The resolution passed, the building committee was formed, and the money was collected. The current church was built. Members of the building committee were William Oletzke, Ed Vogel, John Marohn, Otto Uecker and Fred Adam. One can only imagine what was the cost to build the same church today would be with the hard wood floors and the real stained glass windows.

Mrs. Caroline Uecker donated the bell which still serves the congregation today. Little is known about the instillation of the bell. The bell rand early on Sunday mornings for those in hearing distance to know church was going to start shortly. It was pulled by the rope that is still in use today. To motorize the bell with an electric motor has never been brought up. Some things are well enough left alone. As far as anyone knows and records show the bell has worked well since the day it was installed.

On February 26, 1901 Pastor Klingbeil left the congregation.

On April 28, 1901 Pastor William Meyer of Mellard, South Dakota was called. During his pastorate at the school house was built.

In June 1902 the pipe organ was bought. Other non-noted improvements were made. It is worthy to note that Herman Benecke was the organist for thirty years. During Pastor Meyer's pastorate the congregation again experienced another remarkable growth. On August 29, 1909 Pastor Meyer was released to Afton. It should be noted that Pastor Meyer was still living at the time of the 75th anniversary and at the age of 80 was able to attend the celebration.