Bethlehem Lutheran Church will celebrate its 160th anniversary on Oct. 20, 2019. Bethlehem is the oldest congregation in the Florida-Bahamas Synod. This history was included in the congregation’s bulletin as part of their anniversary celebration.
In 1859, when the congregation was organized, the members worshiped in a log schoolhouse not far from the site of the present church. By 1862 the congregation had erected a building with boxed style rough lumber and left in unsealed. Because fire destroyed the original building, a new building was erected with a parsonage nearby. The church records that we have begin in 1882 with the membership listing each adult with his or her baptismal date. Some information in the records was from memory and has sence been considered inaccurate.
A hurricane referred to as “The Great Storm of 1896”, swept the northern part of the state on September 19, completely destroying the church building. The church council met on October 17 and planned a new church. Trees that had fallen were sawed into rough lumber, and with most of the labor being donated, the new church was built. This building was completed in eight months and on or about the first Sunday in July 1897 the building was dedicated. Over the years the building has been remodeled many times. Its appearance started changing in 1925. The roof of the church was recovered with metal shingles. With minor repairs, this roof lasted until a new metal roof was in installed in January, 1998.
The front entrance was changed in 1939 from two doors on either side to one main door in the middle with steps and an open porch with rails Then in 1953, a roof was built over the entrance porch. At the entrance to the church auditorium a partition was installed on each side to form two Sunday School Classrooms. Florentine Art Glass Windows were placed in the church in 1956. The church underwent a complete remodeling inside and out in 1975, including brick veneering of the 1897 building. A sill was placed under the church building so duct work for the central heat and air could be installed. The Chancel was enlarged and the porch enclosed. The furniture was replaced and a hymn board was added, which changed the interiors’ appearance.
A wheelchair ramp was added to the north side of the church and dedicated in March, 1994. The year 2007 brought about a major remodeling to the Sunday School Building, which updated the kitchen and bathrooms. During 2008, the porch of the Sunday School Building was enclosed with air conditioning and heating added. Also during 2008, altar vases and candle holders were replaced. In 2009, the front entrance doors were replaced and a glass cabinet was built to showcase the recently retired altar vases and candle holders. Over the course of 2012-2013, the stained glass windows were repaired and releaded. In 2014 new pews and playground were dedicated.
With the arrival of a new pastor in 2015, The “Woman of Bethlehem” group was organized. Every Thursday these women meet at the church. They have been diligent in their projects, including……VA Outreach, making 220 personal care bags each year for VA Nursing Home. Little Feet Outreach, providing shoes for needy children at elementary school In Lake City. Many beautiful greeting cards and crafts projects are made throughout the year.
A Jubilee Committee was organized in 2017. Their purpose was to plan an annual Bethlehem Lutheran Church Spring Jubilee. A Jubilee was held in 2018, 2019, and plans for 2020 are underway.
In 2018 beautiful white Crosses were made to honor all veterans. There is a cross for each veteran. Each cross has the veteran’s name, rank, and branch of service. The crosses are placed by the cemetery two times each year. On Veteran’s Day crosses are displayed for all veterans, and on Memorial Day crosses are displayed for only deceased veterans.
After much work and research, in 2019 an over two year project was completed. Out of these efforts a Cemetery Book was created. The history of each grave in the cemetery is in this publication. It is available for a $50 donation to the Cemetery Fund.
In 2019 Bethlehem Oaks Pavilion was built by members of the church. It is located behind the cemetery under the gorgeous oak trees. It was utilized during the 2019 Jubilee for live music. Plans are underway to use it for various activities at the church. The Pavilion will be Dedicated today by Bishop Suarez.
Bethlehem Lutheran Church, after 160 years, continues to be a faithful, dynamic group. They continue to carry out the Mission of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ in the church community, the outside community, and the world.