History of Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Church
On July 13, 1924, a group of people wished to start a new church. The first organizing meeting was held on July 27, 1924, at the home of George Tuerk. Rev. C. G. Althoff of Fowlerville assisted in organizing Bethlehem Lutheran Church. Twenty-four men signed their names to form the new congregation. The first service was held on August 10, 1924, at the home of one of the charter members. When the church was incorporated on September 23, 1924, there were 55 members.
In the fall of 1924, two lots were purchased on the corner of Mount Hope and Ray Streets. Ground was broken for a new chapel on October 20. The original chapel was erected by the members of the church on Thanksgiving Day, 1924, during a rain and snow storm. The chapel was 26 x 50 feet and cost $3700. The dedication of the new chapel took place on December 14, 1924, in subzero weather.
The new congregation extended at formal call to Rev. Althoff to become their resident pastor. He was installed on March 22, 1925, and served until July, 1928. 400 individuals were often crowded into the main auditorium on special occations. The basement was equipped for the Church School and contained rooms for recreational purposes and for family night activities.
Pastor George C. Bubolz was installed on September 23, 1928. During his pastorate, a parsonage was purchased, remodeled and occupied in 1932. The chapel was enlarged in 1931 to better serve the congregation. In 1942, the church mortgage was paid off. A larger building was needed and plans for new church building started to develop by 1945. Pastor Bubolz resigned in 1948.
Pastor Edward J. Nest served as the interim pastor following the departure of Pastor Bubolz.
Rev. Walter F. Koepplin was installed as pastor on January 16, 1949. The building fund was growing. Plans were developed and a church building progam was approved on October 8, 1950. Ground breaking ceremonies were on October 29, 1950, and the cornerstone was laid on June 25, 1951. The main floor of the sanctuary could seat 304 people and an additional 86 could be accommodated in the balcony. A stained glass window above the altar was designed to include all the colors of Luther's emblem. The old chapel served as a social and parish hall for many years. Pastor Koepplin retired on April 30, 1967.
On February 7, 1965, Rev. John C. McCollister was installed as the assistant to Pastor Koepplin. Pastor McCollister assumed the duties of senior pastor upon the retirement of Pastor Koepplin in April, 1971. He left the congregation in August 5, 1971.
On November 28, 1971, Rev. James A. Schalkhauser became the pastor at Bethlehem. In addition to his duties at the church, Pastor Jim served as Chaplain to the Lansing Fire Department for more than 25 years. One of Pastor Schalkhauser's dreams was to serve jointly with his father. That dream was realized when Rev. E. H. "Rusty" Schalkhauser was installed at Bethlehem on September 22, 1974. Pastor Rusty served until his retirement in March, 1980. Rev. Noel Niemann was installed as assistant pastor following Pastor Rusty's retirement and served until early 1986. Pastor Jim retired in December 2002.
Rev. James R. Lichtenberger was installed as associate pastor on April 20, 1986. He served in this capacity until the retirement of Pastor Jim Schalkhauser and was then installed as the senior pastor. Pastor Wayne Knockel was installed as Assistant Pastor on October 19, 2003 and served until August of 2006. Rev. Knockel left Bethlehem in August, 2006.
Rev. Matthew A. Smith was installed as Assistant Pastor on May 8, 2008 to serve with Senior Pastor, Jim Lichtenberger. Pastor Matt is a 1995 graduate of Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, and graduated from Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio in 2002. He has served as Pastor at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in Bridgeport, Michigan from July 2002 through April 2008.
Pastor Matt's area of focus is Youth and Family Ministry.
The Bethlehem family has been blessed with continued growth. In our efforts to spread the Good News, our involvement with the needs of the community continue to increase. The ever increasing use of our church facilites prompted the pursuit of yet another building project which was completed in 1996. This projet included updating our current building as well as the addition of more classrooms and offices for our pastors and staff.
In recent years, we have become actively involved with Neighbors United in Action; joined in the efforts of Christian Services as a host for the Lansing Area Rotating Sanctuary and the Quality Living program; hosted the summer lunch program for the Lansing School District; worked with the Greater Lansing Area Food Bank as a food closet; and worked with Habitat for Humanity. For a number of years we held summer day camp and Neighborhood Kids Night programs.
Additionally, our facilities are used by Narcotics Anonymous, Lutheran Social Services of Michigan for English as a Second Language class, and the Child Abuse Prevention Services Family Growth Center.
As we move into the future, our strong and continued presence will only increase our opportunities for sharing God's love and the gospel of Jesus Christ. This congregation of Christians will continue to "Lift High the Cross" in our neighborhood, our community, our nation and our world.....