Bethany Evangelical Lutheran Church: History of Congregation

"The first step towards founding an English-speaking Lutheran Church in Edgewater, Chicago, was taken in the spring of 1905, when a number of Lutheran people, residing there, were convinced of the fact that such a church was a necessity in that locality.  These very Christians of Edgewater held a meeting shortly after, and as a result of their deliberations, English Lutheran services were conducted on Sunday afternoons.  The first service was held on Sunday afternoon, June 11, 1905, by the Rev. E. F. Haertel in Kelly’s Hall, corner of Clark Street and Ridge Avenue.  That first service was attended by only a few people.  For seven months Pastor Haertel faithfully ministered to the small flock…and the congregation increased.

Six months after the beginning had been made a meeting was arranged and all those interested in the organization of an English Lutheran Church were asked to attend. That meeting was held on the evening of November 15, 1905.  The object of the meeting having been discussed, an organization was effected under of "THE BETHANY EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH OF CHICAGO, ILL.

Encouraged by good prospects, an appeal for a missionary was sent to the North Illinois District Mission Board.  The Board extended a call to Rev. Karl G. Schlerf, at that time pastor of Trinity Ev. Luth. Church of Hillsdale, Mich.  Pastor Schlerf accepted the call, was installed as pastor of the new mission January 7, 1906, and preached his inaugural sermon the following Sunday, January 14, 1906.

Immediately an intensive missionary campaign was begun.  Whenever people were found that were not members of a church they were invited to attend services of the new mission and were asked to send their children to Sunday School.

The beginning of Bethany Church was exceedingly small; nor was its growth a rapid one….The membership roster found by the pastor on his arrival contained but a few names.  Five voting and twelve communicant members constituted the whole membership.

For the first nine months, from June 11, 1905, to February 25, 1906, services were held in Kelly’s Hall, corner Clark Street and Ridge Avenue.  The location, however, was not the proper one.  So the small congregation decided to look for a more suitable location.  The store at 2561 Evanston Avenue, now 5540 Broadway, was rented, and as the accompanying cut shows, was churchly furnished and arranged.

Soon after the congregation was comfortably located in this place of worshop, a Site Committee was elected to seek a desirable corner for a church building.  Owing to the final results obtained from continued missionary efforts, and the increased attendances at church and Sunday School, it soon because evident that the store in which the congregation was worshiping would soon become too small to accommodate the ever-increasing congregants.  Immediate steps were taken to procure several lots in the neighborhood.

After much serious thought had been given to the lot in question, the congregation purchased two lots on the northwest corner of Thorndale and Magnolia Avenues for $3,800.00.  These lots were acquired by the congregation in the early spring of 1908. Just prior to the building of the church proper in 1913, the lots adjoining the church to the north were bought by three generous members and presented to the congregation as the site of a future parish house and parsonage.  The size of Bethany’s property is 190 x 125 ft.

Early in the year 1908 the congregation elected a Building Committee, which at once had plans drawn for a Bible Chapel.  The plans accepted and contracts let, ground was broken July 6, 1908.  On August 16, 1908, the cornerstone was laid, the pastor officiating, the Rev. G. Shuessler preaching the sermon.

When the structure was completed the congregation found it to be most useful for devine service, Sunday School and other church purposes.  On Sunday, January 17, 1909, the Chapel was dedicated to the services of the Triune God.  The congregation had every reason to be proud of the new ediface.  It will be of interest to know that the Chapel at that time cost approximately $14,500.00, including furnishings.  Special preparations were made for the dedicatory services.  Three services were held, morning, afternoon, and evening. Pastor J. Adam Detzer of Detroit, Mich., preached the surmon at the morning service; the pastor conducted a Children’s Service in the afternoon, and Peter Schuessler of Chicago delivered the sermon in the evening.

With the Bible Chapel completed, the congregation believed it had a building spacious enough for many years to come.  But the growth of the congregation had been such as to necessitate the building of the church proper soon after.  After much preliminary labor the congregation on May 3, 1912, resolved to proceed with the erection of the church proper, joining the Bible Chapel.

The cornerstone was laid on June 22, 1913, the pastor preaching the sermon in the Chapel, after which the congregation assembled in front of the structure to witness the laying of the cornerstone.

A farewell service was held in the Bible Chapel on Sunday, February 15, 1914…."

--taken from an undated publication of the Bethany Lutheran Church