Bethlehem Lutheran Church, 388 E. Midlothian Blvd., Youngstown, celebrates its 200th anniversary this weekend with a service at 11 a.m. Sunday. Bishop Elizabeth Eaton of the Northeastern Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America will deliver the sermon. A dinner will follow.
Early years: The War of 1812 slowed immigration to the Western Reserve Territory, and a handful of faithful Lutherans organized Bethlehem Lutheran Church. The Rev. Henry Huet (Hewit) was the first pastor. The first church was constructed of logs in 1816. The land was deeded by Michael Simon to the German Lutherans and Presbyterians. The two congregations had services on alternate Sundays. In 1845, a frame church was built. The pulpit was located between the two entrance doors, one for men and one for women. Bethlehem has always been the official name.
Another building: In 1888, the Rev. H. W. Tope was pastor to Grace Lutheran Church and Bethlehem. On July 4, 1904, ground was broken for a new building on property donated by Mr. and Mrs. Tobias Palmer. The original building was completed in 1905 for $5,300. The Sunday School donated a Meneely Bell weighing 1,500 pounds, which is displayed at the current building.
Centennial: In 1912, the centennial was observed with a week of services. In 1917, Bethlehem changed as surrounding farms were bought and a modern residential district, Cochran Park, emerged. The congregation went from a rural to a city church. In 1919, members asked for morning instead of afternoon services, which had been held because of the distance that farmers had to travel.
Growth: The Rev. J. H. L. Trout became first full-time pastor in June, 1920. Sunday School nearly doubled. The congregation built a parsonage on property just west of the church. Luther League was organized and a mid-week service started in 1925 by Rev. Charles Cassel. Bethlehem reduced its debt from $7,000 to $25 by October, making the congregation virtually debt-free. The weekly bulletin was started, grounds were seeded and a cement walk installed. Boy Scout Troop No. 8 erected a bridge at Stambaugh Scout Reservation.
Depression and beyond: During the Depression, the church offered a relief program for the needy. An addition was built during the ministry of Dr. J.F.D. Bowersox, 1934-37. Unemployed congregants, who could not contribute cash, assisted in construction. The church was rededicated May 10, 1936. A new pipe organ was installed.
Community aid: The Rev. Gilbert Wise, who served 1937-43, promoted the House-by-the-Side-of-the-Road, which cared for the needy. A children’s chapel was built in 1946.
Another spurt: After World War II, Bethlehem’s membership grew as did attendance and activities. In the ministry of the Rev. Ben Varner (1944-54), the chapel was completed in two years for $8,000 and dedicated in 1947. It was the second of its kind in the state; it provided separate space for nursery, beginner, intermediate and junior groups. A vacation Bible school began. In 1949, Rev. Varner devised “Christ back in Christmas,” a life-size Nativity.
Advances: During the ministry of Rev. Clyde Xander (1954-1962), the Evangelism and Stewardship Sector Projects resulted in advances. The old parsonage was turned into a parish house. Bethlehem laid groundwork for the future church building.
150 years: The church was active with organizations including building committee, Altar Guild, Sunday school, Lutheran Church Women, Ladies Aid Society, Boy Scout Troop 8, Luther League, Christian Fellowship group, B.E.L.S.S. group and the Friendly Visitors. A new modern church building was completed in 1964.
Recent era: In 2003, Bethlehem entered into a Cooperative Ministry with Christ Lutheran Church in Struthers. The Rev. Rob Johnson, 2003-10, ministered at both. Midlothian Free Health Clinic, a joint project hosted at Bethlehem, opened March 23, 2008. Bethlehem and Christ churches disbanded the Cooperative Ministry in 2009. Both churches support the clinic.
Activities: A guitar ministry was started with free lessons offered. The church collects underwear for Sojourner House and Christmas presents are bought for “adopted” families there. The church belongs to Alliance for Congregational Transformation Influencing Our Neighborhoods. Seven members have entered the ministry.
Source: Church history