A SLICE OF LIFE IN THE CLC
SNAPSHOTS OF CONGREGATIONS FROM AROUND THE CHURCH OF THE LUTHERAN CONFESSION
“‘Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ Amen.”
Every Christian traces his roots back to Jesus Christ Himself and to when Jesus commissioned all Christians to spread His good news of forgiveness to the ends of the earth. Visible churches spring up when God’s Word is preached and His sacraments are rightly administered, thereby providing the means through which the Holy Spirit works faith in people’s hearts. Once Christian churches are established, it is their duty to continue “teaching all things” that Christ has commanded through His Word (Matthew 28:20). In the late 1950’s, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) had stopped “teaching all things” according to God’s Word. This is the reason Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church began fifty-eight years ago.
In 1955, Pastor Elton Hallauer accepted a call to serve as pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church, a WELS congregation in Hancock, Minnesota. Soon after accepting this call, Pastor Hallauer began to grow concerned that the WELS was following a new and incorrect teaching about fellowship. By April of 1960, he informed St. John’s that he had withdrawn his membership from the WELS and urged his congregation to follow him in obedience to God’s Word. The congregation, however, voted to remain with the WELS and terminated his call on June 5, 1960. But there were four families who were moved by reasons of conscience to sever fellowship with St. John’s and the WELS. On that same day, these families began to form a new church.
The first worship service was held on June 12, 1960 in a two-car garage owned by one of the members. Makeshift, backless pews described by Pastor Hallauer as “blocks and planks” were used. This worship service and ones that followed in the next weeks saw between twenty-five and thirty-five in attendance. Despite the less-than-ideal conditions, those who attended were very positive about the experience. One member said, “It wasn’t difficult at all. The Lord provided a place of worship. Jesus was born in a stable, so why should it be so hard for us to worship in a garage?”
In July of 1960, the future members of Bethel were able to improve their worship situation when they rented a large home southeast of Morris, Minnesota, that served as a parsonage and chapel until June of the following year. In October of 1960, they obtained a rural school building which would be remodeled into a house of worship.
Seven men met on January 9, 1961, for the purpose of officially organizing the congregation. The official date on the congregation’s certificate of incorporation is January 11, 1961.
As time went on, Bethel continued to improve its worship facilities. On June 19, 1961, the renovation of the rural school building was completed. The renovated facility seated seventy-six people and included pews, church furniture, and an antique reed organ. On August 24, 1961, Bethel was accepted as a charter member of the CLC. On September 3, 1961, the renovated worship facility was dedicated. St. John’s former pastor, Rev. H. C. Duehlmeier, preached the sermon and formally installed Pastor Hallauer.
The country schoolhouse served the congregation’s needs for fourteen years. In 1974, Bethel congregation decided to relocate to the city of Morris. A tract of land on Brook Street and Eleanor Avenue was acquired, and a new church building was erected. The building was dedicated on June 15, 1975 and has served the congregation ever since.
Pastor Hallauer also served several families in the area of Parkers Prairie, Minnesota, who left the Missouri Synod in 1961 for reasons of conscience. This group organized as Peace Evangelical Lutheran Church and continued to hold services in Parkers Prairie until 2010. Upon the closing of Peace congregation, the remaining nine members transferred their membership to Bethel.
Bethel’s membership in 1961 was forty-two souls. In 1982, the congregation’s membership reached a high of sixty-nine souls. Since then, membership has declined, and the current membership is forty souls. Many of the current members live an hour or more from Morris but still faithfully attend services on a weekly basis.
Bethel has been served by three full-time pastors. Pastor Hallauer served Bethel faithfully for fifty-two years until he announced his retirement from the public ministry in 2012. The congregation then called for a seminary graduate. The Call Committee on Graduates assigned the call to Mark Tiefel, who served the congregation from September of 2012 until April of 2015. Bethel then called for another graduate, and that call was assigned to Robert Sauers, who served Bethel from June of 2015 until August of 2018.
On the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the congregation in 2010, Mary Hallauer, daughter of Pastor Hallauer, recalled God’s blessings upon the congregation:
Most of all, I remember the love and generosity continuously shown our family throughout all the lean years to the present time. Together we’ve witnessed births, graduations, weddings and funerals; over time our bond of Christian love and friendship has been strengthened. God has been so good to our congregation over these fifty years.
God has, indeed, been good to the members of Bethel. Through the years, by God’s grace, this small group of faithful Christians has continued “teaching all things” as Christ has commanded through His Word. We pray that God’s Spirit will continue to guide them into all truth (John 16:13), that they may continue to proclaim the truth of God’s Word in west-central Minnesota.
Robert Sauers is pastor of Luther Memorial Church in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, and a member of the CLC Board of Missions.