Many years before Bethany was established in 1902, Palestine Lutheran Church was built near Huxley.  It was the first Norwegian Lutheran church in the area and was founded about 1855.  As the Norwegian community grew west toward Slater and Sheldahl, a second church, called Bethlehem Lutheran was established in 1878 just east of Slater.

In 1892, the Bethlehem congregation decided to remodel its existing church and to build a second church located one mile south of Kelley on land owned by Erik Cleveland.  This church was called North Bethlehem and was served successively by Pastors Holm, Thvedt, and Huus.  The Kelley area was being built up, settlers having started to arrive about 1853, and a town was established in 1875.

On December 18, 1902, a meeting was held for the purpose of reorganizing North Bethlehem into a separate congregation that would just share a pastor with Bethlehem.  Rev. T.T. Heimark presided at the meetings and was called to serve the congregation temporarily until a regular pastor could be secured.  The pastor’s salary was $175 a year. It was decided to call the church Betania Norwegian Lutheran Church and to become a member of a group of churches called the United Norwegian Lutheran Church.  “Betania” is the Norwegian version of the name “Bethany.”

For the first 60 years, Bethany was a two-point parish with Bethlehem of Slater.  Services were conducted in the Norwegian language until the year 1911 when it was decided to have 10 English services during the year.

In 1916, a basement was dug and the church building was moved to it’s present site in the town of Kelley.  George Holland donated the land.

Bethany was a part of the merger when the United Norwegian Lutheran Church joined the Norwegian Lutheran Church of America in 1917.  This body later changed its name, with no merger involved, to the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELC).  Changing the name, however, did not mean a change in Norwegian influence.  In 1928, it was decided to hold only one Norwegian service a month, the rest being in the English language.  In 1937, the motion passed to conduct all Sunday morning worship services in English.

It wasn’t until 1936 that the women of the church were allowed to vote.

In 1941, Lowell Accola began as choir director and his wife, Marge, became the organist.  Lowell served for 51 years until his health would no longer allow him to continue.  Marge served a few additional years until her health also failed.

Extensive church improvements were made in 1949 and the church was re-dedicated with District President Astrup Larson officiating.  In 1952, additional land was purchased for needed parking space.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church, of which Bethany was a member, merged into the American Lutheran Church in 1960.

Bethany voted in 1962 to add some Sunday School space, an expansion of the sanctuary and a new narthex. New pews were purchased and improvements were made in the sanctuary.

Upon the resignation of Pastor Bjorlie in late 1962, Bethany voted to hire its own full-time pastor and discontinue sharing one with Bethlehem.  Under the guidance of interim Pastor Olaf Holen, the church improvements were completed and a parsonage was built in 1966-67 next door to the church. Charles Raker of Slater was the contractor for both projects and, with his crew and supervision, the work was completed.  Men and women members of the congregation assisted with much of the work.  The parsonage was dedicated on June 25, 1967, and Bethany’s first full-time pastor, Gordon Kruse was installed in July.  Office equipment was purchased and a secretary was hired to do part-time clerical work for the church.

The altar was totally refurbished in 1975; the oil painting was repaired and discovered to be a Sara Raugland original.

Along with a cluster of other Lutheran churches in the area, Bethany was privileged to help sponsor a refugee family from Southeast Asia in 1979, the Sars.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) was formed in 1987 by a merger between the American Lutheran Church and two other Lutheran bodies.  Bethany became a part of this new organization.

The Church building has seen continual improvements over the years.  In the last couple of decades, we’ve added maintenance-free siding, air conditioning, new ceiling and carpet.  In 1999, the entire nave and chancel were refurbished.  The old walls were replaced with wood wainscoting and wallboard.  The ceiling was paneled with wood and the chancel wall painted red.  Dedication service was in September of that year with Bishop Philip Hougen as speaker.

In recent years, a new concrete slab was constructed at ground level in front of the church building to replace the steps, making it easier for everyone to enter.  An elevator for handicapped accessability was also installed inside the front entrance to go up to the level of the sanctuary or down to the level of the basement fellowship area.

Bethany’s members voted to leave the ELCA in May of 2010 to join Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC).  This was done to take a firm stand in support of  the authority of scripture.   But we continue to work together with our brothers and sisters in Christ found among other Lutheran bodies and in other Christian denominations.

Come be a part of our NEXT 100 years as we continue to worship together!!

More background:  The Norwegian Immigrant and His Church