Michigan Church Marks 125 Years in Same Structure

Post a Comment » Written on August 12th, 2008     
Filed under: News
STEPHENSON, MI (August 12, 2008) – Bethlehem Covenant Church celebrated its 125th anniversary recently.

The celebration began the morning of August 2 with an open house, which was followed in the evening with an ice cream social. The church honored members who have attended the congregation for more than 45 years. Special note was made of Carl Peterson, who is the longest-attending member, having been part of the church for 74 years.

Four previous pastors of the church participated in the worship service on Sunday: Thomas Ervasti, Mark Johnson, Vernon Anderson, and Vernon Shuman. Jolene Bergstrom-Carlson, Central Conference associate superintendent, preached. A dinner followed the service.

Coincidentally, the celebration also marked the one-year anniversary of Andrew Stonina as the church’s pastor. Stonina also serves the Lost Lake Covenant Church congregation in Stephenson.

The church began with a small nucleus of believers who were Scandinavian immigrants. They carved out a small community, which they called Palestine, because it was a “promised land” to them.

Around 1879, the founding group began meeting together in homes for fellowship. Shortly afterwards, they began meeting for Sunday school in a little log schoolhouse that had been built.

P.L. Taansberg arrived in May 1882 and conducted his first service there. According to the records, the first sermon that he preached was taken from John 17:24-26.

The congregation was officially organized as Bethlehem Swedish Mission Church on January 21, 1883, with eight or nine charter members. This was prior to the founding of the Mission Covenant Church in the United States, which did not happen until 1885.

The group continued to meet for worship in the schoolhouse until 1889, when a portion of the present sanctuary was erected using more than 10,000 feet of lumber donated by its members. The initial indebtedness for the church was only $15 because all the labor and materials were donated. The church has remained in the same location for its 125-year history.

The church building and the parsonage have undergone many changes and updates through the years. The most dramatic change came in 2002, when the original church building was raised up, the basement and foundation removed, a new foundation laid, and the building lowered to ground level. The change enabled handicapped accessibility.  A substantial addition, which included a new multi-purpose room, kitchen, two bathrooms, pastor’s study, narthex, cry room and office annex, also was built. The original structure houses the sanctuary.

Like the original building project, the 2002 construction project was completed with volunteer help from members and friends of the congregation. Enough funds were raised by the time the church was completed that no debt was incurred.

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