Excerpts from chapter: "Faith Among The People" from "Honoring Our Heritage" by Marge Lawson, pg. 22.
Used with permission of the author.
The early church records give the history of the three religions in Sylvan Grove. Part 2 deals with the Bethlehem Lutheran Church.
In 1931, the Lutheran church of Sylvan Grove celebrated its 50th anniversary. The following was written by Rev. Mehl about the early history of the church:
"The real origin of Bethlehem as an agency to dispense the Bread of Life dates back to the year 1879. On the 17th of November, 1878, St. Paul's congregation north of Ellsworth dedicated its first house of worship and a number of Christians from our neighborhood and also from Lincoln attended the festivities. They there asked the pastor of the church, Rev. E. Maehr to serve them also. He readily consented under two conditions. 1. that his people did not object, and 2. that the petitioners transfer him back and forth. The pastor had a good reason to stipulate the second clause in this agreement; his poverty did not permit him to have his own means of conveyance. Happily both conditions were met: the good people of Ellsworth consented, and the Lincoln and Sylvan Grove people faithfully did their part. This made it possible for Pastor Maehr to hold the first Lutheran service in this neighborhood on the 9th of February, 1879, in the public school building, situated a short distance southwest of the site of the present city water works."
"In time our fathers and mothers began to feel they ought to organize into a congregation. All records of the business meetings were still in existence. The minutes of the first meeting bear the date: August 21, 1881. There we find the entry: "The meeting was opened with prayer." Thereupon the long cherished desire to organize a congregation at this place was considered, and after due deliberation those present unanimously agreed to establish a congregation by then and there attaching their names to the proposed constitution." The following then signed the document: Henry Boettcher, William Hillmer, August Schwandt, William Thrun, Edward Witte, Herman Witte, Robert Wohler, William Wohler. August Schwandt was elected deacon, treasurer and secretary, "for an indefinite time." It is an odd coincidence that the sister congregation near Lincoln organized the same day.
The first Lutheran church was built on four acres on land offered by William Hillmer in 1884, about a half mile southwest of the present Sylvan Grove. F.J. Meyer was secured as the first teacher for two years. Martin Wunderlich then took charge of the next term, 1886 to 1887. In January, 1886, the new pastor at Lincoln, Rev. J.M. Hahn assumed charge of the congregation and performed the first confirmation. The class consisted of Martha Wohler, Minnie, Wohler, and Emma Witte.
In 1889, a twenty-four acre tract of land was purchased on the east side of Sylvan Grove at $17.50. The church building was moved to this ground and an addition was built to it. The parsonage was built that same year. In 1890, the first resident pastor, Rev. A.F. Breihan from Illinois, assumed his duties.
In 1892 a new church was built. The old church building was used for a school but soon it became too small and in 1906, on the 25th anniversary of the church, a new school was built. In 1913, the present two-story school was erected.
The following is a list of Lutheran pastors and their years of service:
Rev. E. Maehr, 1878-1886
Rev. J.M. Hahn, 1886-1890
Rev. A.F. Breihan, 1890-1897
Rev. J.H. Jacob, 1897-1910
Rev. Mehl, 1910-1939
Rev. Albert Winckler, 1939-1943 (passed away in 1943 unexpectedly)
Rev. Karl Leimer, 1943
Rev. R.H. Raedeke, 1943-1951
Rev. Edwin F. Peter, 1951-1971
Rev. Meyer, 1971-1975