Bethel Evangelical Lutheran celebrates 165 years

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 17, 2016


Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church, 1851 – 2016
Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church will hold homecoming services on Sunday at 10:30 a.m. to celebrate its 165th anniversary. The Rev. Carroll Robinson, pastor, will lead the service, and The Rev. Clarence Sifford, a member of the congregation, will deliver the sermon. The congregation will observe a traditional homecoming lunch after the service in the church fellowship hall. During the meal participants will be able to view memorabilia from previous years of the church’s history.
One hundred sixty-five years ago the Rev. Jacob Crim organized Bethel Lutheran Church. Our church family began its life in March, 1851 with 21 members. They worshiped at the Franklin Presbyterian Church. This building was located in the present Franklin Presbyterian Church Cemetery. Synodical records first contain the name Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1854. The first members of the church were descendants of German families who had come to America to escape religious persecution they had endured in their homeland. Many of the families traveled to Pennsylvania. They then came to North Carolina and settled in the eastern parts of Rowan, Davidson and Cabarrus counties. As the need for more farmland increased, these families moved to the western part of the county and settled in this area. Some of the early family names were Shuping, Cauble, Hoffman, Cruse, Miller, Zimmerman and Kennerly.
The name Bethel refers to Jacob’s vision in Genesis of a ladder set on earth reaching to heaven with angels ascending and descending on it and the Lord standing above it. When Jacob awoke from his dream, he set up an altar and called the place Beth-el, meanin “House of God.” The early founders established Bethel Church as a “House of God” reflecting on God’s presence and power.
The first church building which was constructed in 1854 was a small frame structure located at the site of the present cemetery. Wooden shutters covered the windows and a stone wall surrounded both the church and the cemetery. This wall was replaced with a wire fence, which was also later removed.
As a small village known as “Zeb” grew west of the church, Bethel’s growing congregation necessitated a larger structure. A new house of worship was proposed to be built in the village; but this site met with opposition. A compromise was reached to build the new church midway between the old site and the village. This second building, started in 1880 and built by Samuel S. Carter, was a frame structure, 40 x 60 feet, painted white, and heated by a wood stove on each side of the building. This church was completed in 1883 and dedicated, free of debt, on April 29, 1883. In 1928 transepts were added, giving it more of the appearance of a cruciform church.
In 1882 it was recommended by the North Carolina Synod that Bethel and St. Paul’s become one charge. The Rev. V. Strickley was the first pastor to serve both congregations. A house and lot was purchased in 1891 for Bethel and St. Paulís parsonage. This house, now a private residence, still stands on the New Mocksville Road (Highway 601) in Franklin.
On Dec. 31, 1939, the joint relationship between Bethel and St. Paul’s ended and both churches became self-supporting. The years following were difficult for Bethel since the congregation was small and more responsibilities and duties were required of the pastor and the members. Those were also war years with many of the congregation members away in the armed forces or working at defense jobs.
In 1930 a constitution and by-laws were written for the government and direction of the church. These documents were presented to the congregation for approval on Aug. 21, 1930 and adopted on the following Sunday.
Work began on the present Bethel parsonage in March, 1949 and was completed in May, 1951. Total construction costs were $10,700. Repairs and improvements have been made through the years.
During the 1940s the congregation realized the need for a more modern worship and educational facility. A building program was adopted and in 1956 an educational building which included a worship center as the sanctuary was completed at a cost of $67,000.
The congregation broke ground for its current “Houses of God” on June 16, 1972. Modern in design, the building adheres to Lutheran tradition. The nave has a free standing altar and hanging cross. An outstanding feature is the windows of faceted, brilliantly colored glass, cut to shape and size for special effect. They are especially beautiful on sunny Sunday mornings. Total cost of the project, which included sanctuary, paving and remodeling was $225,000. Dedication was held on June 17, 1973.
Through the years, additions and improvements to the property have enhanced the programs and services offered by the Bethel congregation to its members and the community. Among these are an outdoor worship center constructed by Jesse and Josh Hammill for Eagle Scout projects, a picnic shelter with tables, and a flag patio and benches completed by Josh Baker for his Eagle Scout project. A new sound system, organ and carpet have been installed. Choir robes for adults and children have been purchased. Recent major maintenance included a new roof, furnace replacement, sealing and re-marking the parking lot and painting in needed areas.
Bethel supports ministries to members of all ages and to the larger community. This caring congregation provides a preschool program for 3 and 4-year-old children, sponsors a Girl Scout Troop, and joins surrounding congregations as Sharing Shepherds to help with food, clothing, utility bills and Christmas gifts to families in West Virginia. Members partner with the Department of Social Services in “One Church, One Child” and the “Angel Tree” programs. The church also donates food on a monthly basis to Rowan Helping Ministries and prepares meals for shelter guests there. Facilities are provided for health-related programs and blood donation drives, and the members collect funds for cancer research in partnership with Relay for Life of Rowan County. Members generously give financial assistance to individuals on a needed basis. Children in the community are invited to a ìTrunk or Treatî at Halloween and to the annual Easter Egg Hunt. The Glover-Link-McCombs Scholarship Fund awards scholarships each year to students pursuing education beyond high school.
The music program is an outstanding part of the worship service. Under the direction of Cathy Williams, organist and John Hoffman, interim choir director, the Adult Choir performs beautiful anthems and hymns. A Childrenís Choir and two Chime Choirs practice regularly and play at intervals.
The congregation has been blessed with an active youth group. The group participates weekly in the worship services, helps with Vacation Church School each year, assists with the blood drives, participates in skits for Children’s Church and the yearly Christmas programs. They also play chimes in the Youth Chime Choir.
Bethel Lutheran Church has been blessed with dedicated people over its long history. In the past few years, some of our beloved and hardworking saints have entered the Church Triumphant and are still missed by their families and the congregation. As they leave, members have stepped forward to attempt to fill the voids they leave in the congregation. The church has enjoyed a rich heritage of services and dedication. May we continue to be strengthened by faith, prayers and perseverance in future years.

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