Church Celebrates 135 Years of Worship

Article excerpt

Byline: Sammi King

In 1872, 53 Swedish immigrants resigned their membership at the Swedish Lutheran Church in Geneva. The group was comprised of Batavians who wished to start their own church and not have to walk or drive their wagons to attend services in Geneva.

The members of Bethany Swedish Lutheran Church first met on the second floor of August Anderson's home at 15 S. Jefferson.

That was the start of what is now called Bethany Lutheran Church, which will celebrate its 135th anniversary Sunday.

On March 28, 1872, the dedicated group of Lutherans contracted to purchase a small school building on Washington Street (now Lincoln). In 1873, the Ladies Aid Society was formed to assist the church.

In 1887, the congregation elected to tear down the remodeled school house and build a new church. A red brick building with a tall steeple was built, using skilled laborers from the Challenge Windmill Co.

The name changed to the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Bethany Church of Batavia. By 1892, the membership had grown to 968 members.

In those early days, children attended Summer Swede School to learn the catechism and Bible stories in Swedish.

In 1919, Bethany became an integral part of the Batavia Plan, an after school program that allowed children to leave school for religious instruction. Years later, it was incorporated into a citywide religious program commonly referred to as "Thursday School," which continued until 1985.

All services were conducted in Swedish until 1917 when an English service was added. A regular Swedish service remained in effect until after World War II.

Julotta, a Christmas morning service in Swedish, continues, one of the lasting Swedish traditions of the church.

In 1901, the church membership elected to limit the funerals and weddings at the church to members of the church only. In the early history of the church, it was also necessary to be up to date on your offering to be considered a member in good standing.

The church bell was added in 1904. The bell rang regularly to announce the service. Someone would also ring the bell when a member in good standing passed away or a wedding was commemorated On occasion, it rang for other events as well.

"When World War II ended, the sirens sounded throughout Batavia," said Ginnie Wyllie, a member of the 1936 confirmation class. "George Tinknell and I were across the street (at their family homes) and decided to go over to Bethany and ring the bell. I had no idea how to ring the bell so when I rang it, I held onto the rope and up and down I went. George yelled for me to let go. I finally did let go and fell on George's head. The fall almost knocked me out."

Small groups began to emerge within Bethany's ranks. The Willing Workers helped with kitchen duties, the Busy Bees did sewing projects. The Men's Society came together for fellowship and to work on church projects while the Missionary Band was a group for children that supported missions.

"The church was the center of our lives, even as children," said Wyllie. "In Missionary Band we would make things to send to the missionaries. As we got older and enjoyed Luther League we got to meet Lutheran kids from other churches and get together for bowling and other activities. …