History of Bethel Lutheran Church

Bethel Lutheran Church

The first settlers that came to the Danvers region was an Englishman named Joe Tales. Subsequent immigrants were Scandinavian who made their homes near the river and their homes were of logs as there was a saw mill in Scandinavia. While there was a post office in Scandinavia, Minnedosa was the nearest source of supplies. Roads were mere trails through the woods.

Bethel Church associates it origins with a lay minister, P. Miller from Denmark who organized the Bethania congregation in 1893 from these settlers. The little log church was build near Tales School. A year later he died and he was laid to rest in the little cemetery.

While the Bethania congregation dissolved after his death, some of the members of the Bethania congregation had transferred to Bethlehem congregation. Pastor Berg purchased and donated the land and Bethania church to the Bethlehem Scandinavia congregation. A deacon was appointed for the Danvers (Bethania) location and Pastor Berg served both the Scandinavia and Danvers congregations. On April 22, 1901, the “Norska roten” (Norwegian route) membership in Danvers voted to become a separate congregation with them paying $100.00 towards the Pastor’s salary.

The turn of the century saw many new settlers arrive and these formed the nucleus of the Bethel Church. Many of these were members of the Lutheran Free Church (“LFC”) in Minnesota and when the president of the Board of Home Missions of the LFC, Rev P. Winther came to the region, he felt that with the Norwegian families that had settled near Clanwilliam it would be possible to create a Lutheran Free Church. As well, Pastor Rosenthal of Bethlehem Lutheran Church had resigned and there was no pastor left to service the entire region leaving Lutherans looking for solutions.

In 1906, Rev S.O. Vangstad was called and the first service of the Bethel Church was held in the Bethania log church in September of 30, 1906 and on October 27th he organized the first confirmation class. On January 24, 1907 Bethel Lutheran Congregation was organized by Mr. And Mrs. Abel Hjelmeland, Mr. And Mrs. P.O. Berg and family, Mr. And Mrs. John T. Lee and family, Miss Marianne Stone, Mrs. Katherine Stone, Mr. and Mrs. Hans Danielson and family, Mr. And Mrs. Olaj Strand and family, Mr. and Mrs. P. Gronbeck and family, Mr. and Mrs. Albert Rognan and family, Ole O. Lee, Theo Lee and L.B. Gusdal who were later joined by Mr. and Mrs. P.A. Paulsen and family, Mr. and Mrs. R. Hjelmeland and family, and Mr. and Mrs. E.A. Hall and family.

The Bethel and Immanuel congregations shared the services of one pastor as a Lutheran Free Church Parish. Services were alternated between Bethel and Immanuel Church but given the resignation of Pastor Rosenthal of Bethlehem congregation, Rev. S. O. Vangstad served not only the Bethel and Immanuel but the Bethlehem congregation as well. Because of his steadfast and unselfish devotion, he made many friends outside his congregation.

As with all congregations during this time, social functions raised funds but also served as a means of fellowship not only within a congregation but with sister congregations in the regions. The highlights of the summer were the annual picnics. They were originally held in the spruce groves and pines of the Bergs, Lees or Strands homesteads. In 1915 annual picnic at the Strands was so cold that snowflakes fell and “hot” lemonade was served. Ditch Lake was also a favourite spot and then the “Baird Place (later Wetteland Place)” east of the church became the picnic ground. There was room at these sites for baseball games between Danvers, Erickson, Clanwilliam or Smoland as well as food and fellowship.

The little Bethania log cabin soon could no longer serve the needs of the Bethel congregation and during the winter of 1909 logs were cut and sawed by volunteer labour of a new church. Mr. P.O. Berg donated two acres of land in 1910 and funds raised through subscription lists and social events. The new church was dedicated on July 26, 1914. Embedded in the cornerstone was a Bible, a catechism, an issue of Fokebladet (the Lutheran Free Newspaper), a copy of the constitution and a Landstad’s Salmebog. The church still stands today with little change from the time of its completion.

Norwegian was the “heavenly language” of the Bethel congregation until the early 1920s when English began to be used on Rev. Sather’s arrival. The morning service was held in Norwegian and the evening service was in English. The morning service continued to be in Norwegian until 1940 at which time it was impossible to find a pastor to conduct the service in Norwegian and with Rev. Amundsen arrival the Norwegian language was no longer used in services. As the Landstad’s Solmebog and the Psalmebog disappeared and the transition was made to the Concordia hymnal.

Initially Bethel held from four to six weeks of parochial school each summer but in 1924 this gave way to regular Sunday School program except during the winter. Daily Vacation Bible School was held for a week or two in the summer in later years. On February 14, 1943, the first Sunday school was organized in Erickson by Rev. Sevig.

As Immanuel, initially, was the larger congregation the original parsonage was built in Clanwilliam near their church. By the 1930s, Bethel became the larger congregation and during Rev. Lee’s service, it was decided that the parsonage should be moved to Erickson. A parsonage was built in Erickson during 1941-1942, followed by a chapel during 1944-1945 on the same property that was chiefly used for Sunday School. Rev. And Mrs. Sevig were the first to make their home in the parsonage. The said parsonage and chapel were later used by the Federated Parish as the parsonage for their shared pastor and the Chapel for the shared Bethlehem and Bethel Sunday School. The parsonage and Chapel were sold in 1977 to Lance and Islay Shellborn who lovingly maintained the property at the corner of northeast corner of 3Rd Street South and 1st Avenue SW.

Originally, the Parish was part of the Lutheran Free Church Synod located in Minneapolis, Minnesota with sister parishes in western Saskatchewan. In 1939 a transfer was made to the Rugby District of North Dakota. This association lasted until 1963 when the Lutheran Free Church merged with other Lutheran bodies to become the American Lutheran Church and Bethel and Immanuel Parish became part of the Manitoba conference of Canadian District of the A.L.C. (much of which had a German origin).

Bethel Mission Society was organized in 1904-05 with Mrs. Kathrine Stone, Mrs. Isabella Gronbeck, Mrs. Elisa Strand, Mrs. Anna Hansen, Mrs. Anna Landstrom as founding members. When Bethel Congregation was formed in 1907, the group became known as the Bethel Congregation Mission Society. From the beginning the Society raised funds which was shared for both local needs and mission program of the Lutheran Free Church. During the early years (like all congregations) both women and men participated as men usually provided the transportation to these meetings. Eventually the Bethel Mission Society affiliated with the Lutheran Free Church Women’s Missionary Federation in 1922-23 when it received its charter as the Women Mission Society and became exclusively a women’s group. Bible Studies became a part of the Bethel Mission Society at that time.

Minutes of the Bethel Mission Society were kept in Norwegian until 1937. It is said women organizations can create more ways to raise funds than any other groups by way of Box, Cushion, Ragball, Ice Cream and Basket parties, Bazaars and teas became annual events, and a variety of suppers were held – Lute Fisk, Romme Grot, Tacksäglese Fest (Thanksgiving) and Smorgasbord. Monies raised were expended for various causes but the two main items were Missions and the Church Building Fund as well as the Parsonage and the Chapel in Erickson. Not to be outdone, in 1920 the men of the Bethel congregation sponsored a program and supper (“gubbefest”) with Erik Hall as convenor. No further effort of this kind took place by the men until in 1956 and 1957 when they successfully fried pancakes and served a Shrove Tuesday supper in Wally’s Coffee Shop in Erickson.

The young people of Bethel organized and in March 1906, the Danvers Young People Society (later known as Luther League) came into being with Theordore Lee, L.B. Gusdal, Ole O. Lee, Marianne Stone, Anne Tales, Sophie, Anna and Peter Lee, Jerry Strand and Ole Berg all being active in the group. English was used at that time. However, with the arrival of Rev. S.O. Vangstad and the Norwegian settlers, and the organization of the Bethel church, in 1907 this group became known as “Den Norske Lutherske Ungdoms Forening” (The Norwegian Lutheran Young Peoples Society) and the Norwegian language was used. This group undertook various projects in the building and furnishing of the church i.e. erection of fence around cemetery and church grounds. By 1920 it became increasingly clear that the Norwegian language was lost to the young and the group reverted back to the use of the English language back to the name of the Danvers Lutheran Young Peoples Society. In 1929 they began publishing the “Danvers Argus”. In 1953, the Society changed its name to the Bethel Luther League to coincide with other young people groups in the other Lutheran congregations. In 1959, the Bethel Luther League hosted the Riding Mountain Luther League Convention from June 2 to June 8th. Vernon Johnson, Judy Gusdal, Janet Johnson, Danny Gusdal, Grant Neilson, Marlenne Neilson, Wally Hall, Dolores Hall and Edith Strand worked with Pastor Oscar Johnson to plan this regional conference. Due to the changing times and the increasing demands on young people and the loss of rural families, the last recorded meeting of the Luther League took place on December 14, 1965 and in 1967 the books and funds were turned over to the Bethlehem Church Council.

Of note is the fact that one woman and 12 men of the Danvers Lutheran Young Peoples Society answered the call in 1939 to war and, regretfully, Maurice Neilson, Everett Rognan and Gordon Carlson did not return.

In 1914 the Cheerful Workers’s Society was organized by Miss Anna Weltzin on August 10, 1914 to give the young women of Bethel a project of their own as well as to help with the annual bazaar but it gradually changed to a program with more devotional emphasis which led to regular Bible Studies. The constitution was modeled after the Dorcas Society of the Scandinavia congregation but it was in Swedish and had to be translated into Norwegian. While the minutes were in Norwegian, because of the Tales School teachers were invited to join, it is thought that the meetings should be conducted in English. Like the Women’s Mission Society, their missions were both abroad and within the church. They supported the Cradle Roll as well as the Missionary for a Day fund. At home, they purchased the rug for the church which lasted 50 years and they laid the new one.

During the depression years, the Women’s Mission Society and the Cheerful Worker’s Society increasingly supported the needs of the Bethel congregation by assisting in the church finances. Once the depression was over, these groups again supported various projects at home and abroad. The Cheerful Worker’s Society was aimed at the younger wives and mothers while the Women’s Mission Society was geared towards the older women.

For 15 years from 1947, a girls society functioned as the “Little Sunbeams” to learn about the mission fields of the church and its needs. The leaders were Mrs. R.A. Hansen and Mrs. C.E. hall and the first officers were: President – Ruth Hansen, Vice-president – Evelyn Gusdal, Secretary – Norma Gusdal, Treasurer – Rhona Neilson. In 1957 the Boys’ Mission Band was organized with Mrs. J.I. Nystuen and Mrs. Clara Lee as leaders. The first officers were: President – Craig Lee, Vice-president – Winston Thoren, Secretary – Harold Gilleshammer, Treasurer – Darrel Anderson.

Because of this rich history of devotions and mission work, many members of Bethel have gone into full time ministry of the church: Sigurd Berg, Delmar Gusdal, Dolores Hall and Elgin Hall.

Over time, like the congregations of Bethlehem and Immanuel, membership began to fall and by 1957 the congregation could no longer adequately support a pastor and the work of the church. Discussions in 1958 resulted in Bethel and Immanuel Parish joining with the Bethlehem Lutheran Church to create the Federated Parish. Bethel officially voted to become part of the Federated Parish on July 1, 1968.

During the period of the Federated Parish there were numerous discussions within and between the congregations of Bethel, Immanuel and Bethlehem congregations about merging into one congregation. The Bethel and Immanuel congregations consistently voted to not merge. By 1963 the Lutheran Free Church had amalgamated with Augustana Lutheran Synod to form the American Lutheran Church and the theological barriers were removed from these discussions. With the creation of the only autonomous Lutheran church in Canada the Evangelical Luther Church of Canada (ELCC) in 1968, the Bethlehem congregation decided to become members. The ELCC later became Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) in 1986.

A merger committee was set up to deal with a possible merger between the Bethlehem and Bethel congregations. A vote to merge took place by the Bethel congregation in 1966 with 33 voting to merge and 27 against. This slight majority was deemed to be loss of the motion to merge and it was given back to the merger committee for further review.

As a result, Bethel and Bethlehem agreed that there would be a combined service in Bethlehem Church every Sunday until December 30, 1967 and there would be a Sunrise Service at Bethel on Easter Sunday in 1967. Another vote on the merger took place in the Bethel congregation on January 14, 1967 where the merger vote was lost but the Sunday Schools of Bethlehem and Bethel were merged and model constitution of the ELCC was adopted by Bethel. As well the Bethel Luther League joined with the Bethlehem Luther League.

In 1968 the Bethel congregation voted to discontinue the joint services and that the services would be alternated i.e. morning one Sunday and evening the next. However on June 9, 1968 Bethel voted to adopt the Erickson Lutheran Parish Agreement.

Many of the Bethel families gave notice to Bethel congregation that they were joining as charter members of the Erickson Lutheran Church in 1968. By September 22, 1968, because of the declining membership in Bethel, discussions began about the dissolving of Bethel and the transferring of assets to Erickson Lutheran Church and on October 6, 1968 it was voted to dissolve Bethel but retain the cemetery and the church and all its contents for special events and ceremonies.

On November 4th of 1969, the Bethel congregation held a supper meeting to discuss the future of the church. It was at this dinner that the idea of the Bethel Lutheran Society Inc. was born for the continued care and maintenance of the Bethel church and cemetery. It was decided as well that the parsonage and chapel in Erickson would be turned over the ELCIC who in turn would vest title to the Erickson Lutheran Church. On November 26,1969 an official letter was sent by the Erickson Lutheran Church to the remaining members of the Bethel congregation to..."join the Erickson Lutheran Church in order to provide a church home for its community, where we can share together in Christian worship and witness for his Kingdom." (C. Sundmark)

The last service of the Bethel congregation was held in 1970 and the last confirmand entered into the Bethel records was Marie Nylen.

Bethel Lutheran Society

Given the strong attachment of many among the Bethel congregation to their church and its cemetery, it was decided to create a “historial society” that would primarily establish and maintain, as a memorial, the former Bethel Lutheran Church and its cemetery.

On 11th day of December, 1970, Letters of Patent were issued for the Bethel Lutheran Society Inc. to its incorporating members, Russell Tiller, Farmer, Philip Gusdal, Merchant and Albin Paulsen, Farmer.

Since its inception, the Society has, besides the annual care and upkeep of the cemetery and church, built a fence around the cemetery, placed a plaque at the site in memory of the pioneers of the Danvers District, held the 75th Anniversary of the Bethel Lutheran Church in 1982, hosted the annual Easter Sunrise Service and Breakfast for Erickson Lutheran Church, held a tree planting bee in 1986, and celebrated the 85th anniversary of Bethel Lutheran with an informal service and potluck supper in 1992.

With the increasing costs of maintenance i.e. siding, roof, upgrading of electrical etc., it was necessary to obtain a Charitable Registered Number (August of 2003) to increase fundraising. The charter was amended in 2002 (upon dissolution of the Society any remaining property to go to Erickson Lutheran Church or to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada) and an endowment set up to:

  1. Maintain buildings for worship and other religious use
  2. Preserve local history in service to the community
  3. Provide for the enhancement of education related to the culture of the local area and the church by means of research, conferences and lectures

The Endowment Planning Committee included Delmar Gusdal, Norval Lee, Evelyn Gusdal, Venton Beatty and Reg Nylen. The Cemetery Committee consisted of Earl & Val Wickdahl and Norval & Joan Lee. This Committee mapped out and revised the cemetery records.

In 2004 the basement moisture problem in the Bethel came to the forefront as well as what to do with family plots not used since 1930 and family artifacts that were being donated to the church. In 2005 the Bethania site was cleaned up and restored by the Hall family and Ken Beatty.

With the upcoming 100th Anniversary of Bethel Lutheran Church in 2007, the basement issue came to a head and eventually in 2006 began the extensive renovation of the church structure including increase accessibility and improve the toilet facilities. The work continues to this day.

The continued interest in the Bethel Church by the descendents of its founders and former members and the local community has ensured that the Bethel Church will... stand as a memorial to the pioneers who worked so hard for it and loved it so much and left it to us to care for it.... The guest book reveals how many people have dropped in from near and far to enjoy this little country church. It stands as a worthy monument to the pioneers of the Danvers District.

An Easter Sunday Sunrise Service and Breakfast at the Bethel Church has become a tradition of the Erickson Lutheran Church and the Bethel Church is still the site of for weddings, funerals and family picnics.

The Bethel Congregation celebrated its 100th Anniversary on July 29, 2007 with the theme of “Faith of Our Fathers” with an informal church services followed by a Pot Luck Supper and Campfire and Sing Along.