Bethlehem Lutheran Church

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History of Bethlehem Lutheran Church 1907 to 1945

History of Bethlehem Lutheran Church

On a beautiful autumn morning in 1907 two ladies walked down the hill from Proctor to West Duluth, a distance of four miles. As they walked, they talked longingly of their desire for a Norwegian Lutheran worship service in Proctor, and for the necessity of giving a Christian education to their children and to all of the children in Proctor. That very day, they called upon the Reverend J.A. Bjerke pastor of Our Savior’s Norwegian Lutheran Church in West Duluth. They asked about the possibility of having him conduct services in Proctor and also about organizing a Ladies Aid. Reverend Bjerke promised to do what he could do to help.
Before long and by word of mouth, the message was spread that there would be a Norwegian worship service in the Proctor Village Hall every other Sunday at 3:00 PM, and that women desiring to form a ladies’ group would meet at the home of Christine Johnson. This group of women became known as the Dorcas Society, and shortly thereafter they sponsored a Sunday school. A choir and a young people’s society were also organized. All activities were held in Norwegian and worship was in the Proctor Village Hall, the only available location, until permission was obtained to use the Methodist Church.


The Early Years

  • 1908 December 25, 1908, seven families met at the home of Peter Foss and organized Bethlehem Lutheran Church of Proctor. The congregation included Peter Foss, Andrew Johnson, Michael Johnson, Peter Olson, Olaf Swanson, Ole Wang, Thore Bjornaas, Martin Hanson and their families. Bethlehem’s founding members continued making plans for building their own church.
  • 1911 January 1, 1911, the first worship service was held in the original church building, which is located across 7th Street from our present church. The church was dedicated on July 30, 1911. Pastor Bjerke built the pulpit and helped build the altar. The cost of the original building was $4,400.
  • 1914 The first recorded wedding at Bethlehem took place in 1914.
  • 1917 The basement was built in 1917 with partitions, andit contained a kitchen and a furnace room. Plumbing was installed to make the building modern and convenient. This improvement cost an additional $2,000.

For 17 years (1908-1925) Bethlehem shared pastors with Our Savior’s Lutheran in West Duluth.

  • 1908-1911 Reverend Bjerke 
  • 1912-1914 J.C. Reinertson
  • 1914-1919 B.L. Opdahl
  • 1920-1925 Daniel Halvorson

Ministers served without fee from Bethlehem’s congregation until 1914 when a fee of $25 per month was given.

  • 1925 Our Savior’s realized they needed a full-time pastor and they notified Bethlehem’s congregation of that fact. The president of the Minnesota District suggested that one pastor serve the congregations in Floodwood, Canyon, Culver, and Proctor. This pastor would reside in Proctor, and Bethlehem’s congregation would contribute the largest part of his salary. The plan was accepted and Bethlehem decided to contribute $900 a year. The envelope system for collecting the offering was adopted, and women were given voting rights in the congregation. Reverend F.B. Anderson became the first resident pastor, and he was installed on August 16, 1925. His total salary was $1,100 a year plus living quarters or $1,400 a year without living quarters. The pastor’s salary was shared by the whole parish. Pastor Anderson became well known for the services he conducted in the car shops at the railroad during lunch hours.
  • 1926 English was spoken at all church activities except for a monthly Norwegian service, and at the Dorcus Society meetings. Several church organizations were formed, including the Ladies’ Guild, Cradle Roll, Brotherhood, and a mixed choir. The Young People’s Society changed their name to Luther League. Religion classes were held one hour a week for grades one through six, and public school Superintendent Jedlicka gave permission for pupils to be released from school to attend. The Sunday school, which began with 30 members, tripled in size. Pastor Anderson no longer served the congregation in Culver so Bethlehem’s contribution to his salary increased to $1,020.
  • 1928 At the annual meeting the trustees announced that the congregation was, for the first time in its 20-year history, without debt. A decision was made to have a three-week Bible school after the close of the school year, and Mrs. Ernest Kuhlmey was hired as the instructor at a salary of $50. A new constitution and by-laws were adopted. Reverend Anderson resigned in December 1928 but agreed to serve until another pastor could be secured. The Reverend I.J. Tanner was installed
  • 1929, and many improvements were made to the church building. The railroad donated labor and most of the materials for remodeling the basement.

The Great Depression

The congregation became financially pressed as the Great Depression took its toll on Bethlehem. Sacrifices were made. The organist served without salary, men took care of the janitorial duties and repairs, and women helped with lighter duties. A suggestion was made at the 1933 annual meeting to cut the pastor’s salary. Pastor Tanner cautioned against cutting the salary officially because it would be difficult to get a pastor for a lesser salary should the need arise. He suggested that because many of the members were without jobs and because they were in the middle of a depression, he would be satisfied with whatever they could give each month. His Christian attitude brought church members closer together despite the hard times. Services were well attended, new members were added, and the Sunday school flourished with 164 members. The superintendent at the railroad donated coal to heat the church so activities could continue. It was a period of sacrifice yet one of Christian closeness at Bethlehem.

  • 1933 On November 19, 1933 Bethlehem celebrated its 25th anniversary.
  • 1935 Reverend Tanner resigned as Pastor in August 1935, and Reverend E.G. Larson was installed. By this time Floodwood was no longer part of the parish. Various organizations developed ways to aid in meeting the budget for Bethlehem. The Dorcas Society made and sold lefse and donuts, and the Brotherhood sponsored its popular lutefisk/meatball dinners.
  • 1937 At the 1937 annual meeting the board recommended that the church purchase a parsonage, if one could be found at a reasonable price. The Parsonage Committee was unable to find an existing home so a decision was made to purchase lots for $150, and the building of a parsonage, with the help of donated labor and materials, wascommenced. The parsonage was completed in1938.
  • 1938 The cost of a dinner in 1938 was 50 cents. The Ladies’ Guild collected Ivory soap wrappers and Oxydol box tops, each worth ½ cent each, and the women compiled a cookbook that sold for 50 cents.
  • 1942. Pastor Larson tendered his resignation in March 1942. The ladies of the congregation presented hand-made quilts to Pastor Larson and his wife in appreciation of his service at Bethlehem. Reverend Wogen from Our Savior’s helped out during the interim. Pastor Wogen suggested the consolidation of the two Lutheran churches in Proctor, and he asked officers from both churches to work out a feasible plan. Consolidation of the two churches never came to pass.
  • 1943 Reverend Blikstad was called in 1943 to serve the joint parishes of Bethlehem and Canyon, and Bethlehem continued to grow.
  • 1945 The pastor’s salary was raised to $1,650, and the organist’s salary was raised to $60 per year. Sunday school continued for the summer with a children’s service at 9:00 AM and a regular service at 10:00 AM. In July 1945, a drive for Lutheran Welfare was held for the first time under the direction of Mrs. Kuhlmey. Pastor Blikstad resigned in September 1945 but was recalled in November by a unanimous vote. During his service, Reverend and Mrs. Blikstad did janitorial duties and snow shoveling. Membership at Bethlehem continued to grow and improvements were made on the church building. Bethlehem Brotherhood agreed to sponsor a Cub Scout pack with Bethlehem member, Karl Karlsberg, as the leader.