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Celebrating 140 years at Bethel Lutheran

POSTED: October 18, 2012 9:46 p.m.
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The sign in front of the Bethel Lutheran Church.

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Part 2
Continued from last week

Sunday school rooms were added to the Bethel Lutheran Church sanctuary in 1953. Prior to that, there were only two rooms, one on each side of the vestibule. The building added two unfinished restrooms, two small classrooms and a larger assembly room.

Plumbing was added in 1954 and the bathrooms were now inside. Prior to this, a wooden women’s outhouse was located to the north of the church, and the men utilized an area with a wooden blind on the south side of the property when nature called.

The young people met at Luther League, as it was first named. No one knows exactly when it was formed. The late Mr. Eddie Heidt told the story that he had a date (in 1944) with Miss Libby Arnsdorff going to League, and they became sweethearts from then on and later married.

Some of the early leaders were Mr. Ellis Burns, Mr. Willie Bragg and Mrs. Rebecca Wilson. League was held jointly for the parish churches. Under direction of Mrs. Blanche Arnsdorff, the League organized the first Easter sunrise service for the parish at Tuckasee King landing on the Savannah River near Clyo in 1962.

The youth today raise funds for events and trips and participate in activities in and out of the local area. Bethel and Holy Trinity youth currently share some joint activities. The young people have always met on a scheduled basis with good Christian leadership offering fun and fellowship and to serve the Lord in many helping ways.

The women of the church organized on May 14, 1889. It was known as the Women’s Home and Foreign Missionary Society of Bethel Church. The church had two circles known as the Alice Weitman and Gussie Kieffer Circles. In 1963, they changed the organizational name to LCW (Lutheran Church Women in America). It then became WELCA.

At present they have three circles: Faith, Hope and Charity. This group has committees that carry out the responsibilities of the church. They plan a church women’s Sunday, coordinate meals and receptions for the church, coordinate banquets for the church’s organizations, plan World Day of Prayer events, plan nursing home events and senior citizens programs and dinners, plan Christmas program refreshments, decorate the Chrismon tree, prepare the church for the seasons and change the paraments, plan special services and showers, staff the nursery and purchase member gifts for occasions like confirmation and graduation. Bethel ladies participate in projects for Lutheran World Relief and local benevolence. The women have an altar guild.

In the 1950s, a propane gas tank and gas floor furnaces were installed to heat the church. Over the years, it was heated with wood, coal, and gas space heaters before the current electrical heat. The purchase of the first mechanical air conditioning was approved in 1962 and consisted of two oscillating fans. Floors were replaced and other updates followed in 1964. The large assembly room was divided in 1966 to provide more classrooms. Bethel added additional Sunday school space, a social hall and kitchen in 1974.  The congregation also approved installing central heat and air conditioning in the entire facility. The new fellowship hall was dedicated Jan. 7, 1975.

A new organ and piano were purchased in 1983.

In the summer of 1976, during the nation’s bicentennial celebration, the church held special services constructing a bush arbor, like their ancestors used, and many members dressed in period costume for worship and a meal after services.

Stained glass windows were approved in 1985 and the donated windows were installed in pairs according to the plan adopted. The first four were installed in 1990.

The congregation had grown and approved construction of an educational building constructed separately from the church on the south side, connected by a covered walkway. It was completed in late spring of 1986.

Bethel became an independent congregation, leaving the parish Nov. 30, 1986. The former parsonage was sold and proceeds divided among the three churches.

A lot was purchased in 1987 in Springfield and a parsonage was erected shortly thereafeter. Rev. Ernest Burns served as interim pastor from December 1986-June 1988.

Open house for the new parsonage was held June 5, 1988. The first pastor called to Bethel after it became independent was Rev. Michael Bovingdon, who was installed July 10, 1988. He and his family occupied the new parsonage. The parsonage note was paid just 15 months after completion.

The first female ever elected to council was Cathy Heidt in 1988. Children’s church was approved and began a few months later in 1995. Playground equipment was donated and installed in 1995.

The widening of Highway 21 required sale of right-of-way land to the DOT by the church, and they closed the road known as County Road 57 on the north side of the church property, leaving Arnsdorff Road crossing the church property.

A carport was added to the social hall in the late 1990s and a new deep well installed. An accessible ramp was installed for the handicapped into the social hall.

On March 14, 2010, Bethel Lutheran Church voted to leave the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America). This vote came to honor the members’ Bible-based beliefs, which were at odds with the ELCA in a resolution on marriage and human sexuality that the ELCA had adopted. On April 11, 2010, Bethel joined the LCMC (Lutheran Churches in Mission for Christ). The LCMC congregations hold joint fellowship events for the women and men.

In October 2010, the church social hall was enlarged and the kitchen extended.

The late Rev. Robert Freyermuth and the Rev. Kirk Bridgers became Lutheran ministers from this congregation.

Bethel Lutheran Church will celebrate its 140th anniversary on Sunday. The Rev. Robert Lafavi and the congregation invite everyone to share in the event with their worship service at 11 a.m. and lunch immediately following in the fellowship hall.

A brief afternoon program will follow lunch. The public is cordially invited to share in this occasion.

A full history of Bethel Lutheran Church can be found in Effingham Museum. This was written by Susan Exley of Historic Effingham Society. If you have photos, comments or information to share, contact Susan Exley at 754-6681 or email her at:


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