Bethlehem Church to close congregation

Celebration planned for Sept. 17

Pierce County Journal newsroom
Posted 9/7/23

TOWN OF TRENTON – A rural Ellsworth church will close its doors next week after serving its parishioners for 138 years.

At 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 17, a Celebration of Life and Ministry for …

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Bethlehem Church to close congregation

Celebration planned for Sept. 17


TOWN OF TRENTON – A rural Ellsworth church will close its doors next week after serving its parishioners for 138 years.

At 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 17, a Celebration of Life and Ministry for Bethlehem Lutheran Church will be held acknowledging the congregation's ministry and witness, its history, and memories, according to member Phyllis Beastrom. Former Pastor Carol Peterson will be the presiding minister and Bishop Laurie-Skow Anderson will preach and lead in the formal closure of the congregation.  The community is invited to share in this celebration. The church is located at N3699 730th St., Ellsworth at the intersection of County Road V and 730th Street.

“For 138 years, Bethlehem Lutheran Church has been faithful to our calling as disciples of Jesus Christ,” stated a news release. “But the time has come when the congregation no longer has the people or energy to continue ministry in this place.”

The congregation voted in May to close but the whole process could take up to a year. Beastrom said Bethlehem currently has 50 members; 25 are active/semi-active and worship service attendance usually numbers between eight and 15 people.

“Several have family roots and live a distance from the church or out of state and do not participate,” Beastrom said. “We have been a two-point parish with Eidsvold Lutheran in Bay City since 1956 and shared a pastor. Our last pastor retired the end of May 2023.”

Beastrom shared that last fall, Bethlehem, Eidsvold and Svea Lutheran churches began discussions about how they might do ministry together and share a pastor. 

“In January, Bethlehem discussed closing so Eidsvold and Svea could form a parish and that has been accomplished – they voted on that in June and have called a pastor to serve those two congregations,” Beastrom said. “Folks at Bethlehem can choose where they would like to have their church membership, whether it be with Eidsvold, Svea or another congregation of their choice.”

History (shared in the news release)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church was originally called Stordens Evangelical Lutheran Congregation and dates back to Jan. 22, 1877 with 32 original members meeting in homes. In 1878 the congregation purchased land for a cemetery, located 2 miles south of Ellsworth along County Road C in Section 29, Town of Ellsworth. Four children and nine unidentified were buried in this cemetery and the remains of the stones were moved from that cemetery to Bethlehem's cemetery in the 1980’s.  

On January 5, 1885 Bethlehem Lutheran Church was founded with a membership of about 85 people. On April 29, 1886, it was decided to build a church in the northeast corner of Section 12, Town of Trenton.  Old records, according to Beastrom, indicate the congregation was consistently making repairs on the building. In January 1908, the members decided to build a new church using as much of the old lumber from the original building as possible. Mr. Wangstad who owned the land around the original building donated more land. The old church on top of the hill faced north and the wind was cold, so the new building was built facing east and was located a few hundred feet east of the old site.

The rock for the foundation came from H. Christ Nelson’s quarry a couple of miles south of the church.  He was paid 10 cents a load for the stone and this included loading the stone and hauling it by horse and wagon to the building site. The pews were built by S.S. Reitan in his home during the winter months and were carried to the church from Mr. Reitan's home, a mile away. The janitor carried one of the shorter pews alone and kept this one in the back of the church for his own use. One of these original pews is by the church entrance today.  The bell was purchased in 1899 and has tolled for worship ever since.

The new pews, purchased in 1930 were assembled and stained by members who also scraped and sanded the entire floor before installing them. Julius Bork hand carved a new altar and altar rail and they were installed in 1931. The same picture from the original altar, "Christ in Gethsemane" painted by Sara Raugland in 1900 was installed in the new altar.  In 1940 Paul Bork made the baptismal font which was paid for by the Ladies Aid at cost of $14. 

In 1947 the stained glass windows were installed - the Luther League donated the window above the entrance door, the Ladies Aid donated the two in the chancel, and the other six windows were given by or donated by friends and relatives.

Throughout the years, many improvements were made including an addition in 1968 which included a side entrance, stairs, sacristy, furnace room and indoor restrooms. 

Sunday School has been a vital ministry of the congregation from 1891-2001 and periodically through 2018. The women of the church, initially called “The Ladies Aid” have been active since the congregation was founded. Throughout the years Bethlehem Lutheran Women has had various fundraising projects to help support missions as well as the congregation, held monthly Bible studies, completed projects like quilting and kits for Lutheran World Relief and has supported missions locally and around the world.

Larry Westfield, baptized and confirmed at Bethlehem, was ordained at Bethlehem Lutheran Church on June 13, 1976.  Bethlehem shared a minister with Eidsvold Lutheran Church Bay City from 1888-1920 and 1956 to 2023.  From 1920-1951, Ezekiel Lutheran Church in River Falls, English Lutheran in Ellsworth and Bethlehem shared a pastor. English Lutheran and Bethlehem were a two-point parish 1951-1956.

We give thanks for the men and women who founded this congregation, for all who have used their talents and skills to build up this community of faith, and for all who have walked by faith and trusted in God’s promises. 

Church building

Beastrom said the property, including the cemetery south of the church, is 1.6 acres, not large enough to subdivide.

“We think the church will come down but there hasn’t been any final decision regarding the building,” she said.

She gave a tour to people who thought they might renovate the church into a home, but so far hasn’t heard anything further.

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, congregation closure, Ellsworth, Wisconsin