Chicago Lutheran History: Bethlehem Lutheran Church- 1874

In 1896, the Lutheran churches of Chicago published Geschichte der Gründung und Ausbreitung der zur Synode von Missouri, Ohio und Andern Staaten gehörenden Evangelisch-Lutherischen Gemeinden U. A. C. zu Chicago, Illinois, a history of their growth in the city beginning with First St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, now located on LaSalle and Goethe streets in Chicago. As far as I know, there is no English translation, so I offer this to share the history with you. Follow me to get updates about the rest of this work.

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An illustration of the second church building.

German immigrants almost always moved to the edge of the fast-growing city of Chicago. Over the years, Chicago annexed many suburban towns. Bethlehem Lutheran Church began in the city of Colehour, named after Charles Colehour. Like most of our the new churches, it began while the neighborhood was sparsely settled, but that didn’t last long. Unfortunately, Bethlehem Lutheran Church closed in the last decade, though the building still stands.

I have a personal connection to Bethlehem. Tom Feiertag was a professor at Concordia University Wisconsin while I was a student, and he took my wife and I through our pre-marital counselling. He is the great grandson of the long-time pastor of Bethlehem, Johannes Feiertag. Many of the photographs below come from him.

Evangelical Lutheran Bethlehem Congregation (103rd Street)

Since 1866, The Chicago Pastors Bener and Döderlein were already preaching in this area. Because only a few Germans lived here, the meetings also were not large. This situation lasted several years. But in the beginning of 1870, more Germans settled here in so-called Colehour, and, after the Great Fire (1871), many members from Chicago congregations moved here, close to one another. And, finally, on the 3rd day of Christmas, the 27th of December 1874, they founded the Evangelical Lutheran Bethlehem Congregation. 10 members signed the church constitution. They called Pastor Duborg, then from South Chicago, as their pastor, who would serve the congregation, like a branch church, with the means of grace every Sunday. The children attended the congregation’s school in South Chicago, and they had a long way to travel, including crossing over a rail bridge. God be praised! There has never been an accident on the children’s way to school.

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The second church building burned down in 1918 in what was called an “electrical fire.” A German speaking congregation was not well liked during World War 1. Photograph courtesy of Rev. Dr. Tom Feiertag.

In 1874, Mr. Charles Colehour gave the congregation three lots on the corner of 103rd Street and Avenue G as a place for a church and school. The same is still there, but the congregation has considerably expanded their church property over the years.

In May of 1875, the congregation called the teaching candidate Eduard Bartling from Addison, who took the call. The new church and school building, which the congregation had chosen to build, was finished, and it was dedicated on the 13th of may, 1875. Pastor A. Reinke took the festival sermon. After two years, Teacher E. Bartling followed a call to the school of St. Paul Congregation in Chicago. But he could only work for four months in his new field. On the 8th of February, 1877, the Lord called him home. He died, beloved and respected, at the age of 22 years and 25 days.

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Pastor Johannes Feiertag. Courtesy of Rev. Dr. Tom Feiertag

The congregation then chose to call their own pastor, who also would teach the children in the school. Candidate Joh. Hener followed the call, and was ordained and installed on the 18th Sunday after Trinity by Pastor Eißfeldt. Step by step, the congregation now marched in their internal and external development. But after three years, Pastor Hener took a call to Jefferson, ILL, and the congregation then called pastor Johannes Feiertag from Wollcottsville, New York, as their pastor. The same was installed into his office on Quasimodogeniti Sunday, 1882 by Prof. C. A. T. Selle with the assistance of Pastor Eisßfeld.

Under God’s blessing, the congregation soon built themselves up rapidly and easily, because right about this time more large wooden homesteads were built here. More members from Chicago congregations moved out, and the school and the congregation grew. In 1882, the congregation also built a parsonage. One year after that, the congregation called the teaching candidate, A. F. Ahner, from Addison, as teacher, and, in 1884, the congregation erected a second classroom. In the same year, the church facilities were significantly enlarged, and they were dedicated by Pastor L. Hölter on the first Sunday in Advent. In the year 1885, a female teacher was placed in the second school classroom, which the pastor had managed until this time.

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The aftermath of the fire at Bethlehem. Photo courtesy of Rev. Dr. Tom Feiertag

In the following year, a church bell was purchased, weighing 2,500 pounds, which has stood in a belfry near the church plot for six years. The same was dedicated on the third Sunday after Epiphany, 1886, by Pastor Eißfeld. In 1888, the school premises of the second class were significantly enlarged with an addition. In the years 1887 and 1888, Pastor Feiertag also served the congregation in Hegewisch, Illinois. In 1889, Teacher A. C. Renn was called. In January of 1890, he took up his office. What was once Colehour came into the city through Chicago’s annexation of the suburbs. Because the post office came to an end, so did the name, “Colehour,” and therefore the congregation took the name “Evangelical Lutheran Bethlehem Congregation at 103rd Street, Chicago, Illinois.” In the years 1890 and 1891, The congregation in Whiting, Indiana was also served by pastor Feiertag, until they received Pastor Philipp Wille as their own pastor.

In the year 1891, the congregation decided to build a new church, and they executed this plan with God’s help. They build a church in Gothic style, 50 feet by 100 feet, with two towers, of which one is 160 feet high. In the afternoon hours, on the 28th of June 1891, the 15th Sunday after Trinity, the foundation stone of the church was laid by Pastor Engelbrecht and Pastor Feiertag.

On the 26th Sunday after Trinity, the 22nd of November 1891, the new church was dedicated. The festival preachers were: President H. Succop, Pastor L. Lochner, and Pastor Paul Lücke. In the year 1893, on the 25th Sunday after Trinity, the congregation consecrated their organ, at which Professor König from Addison and Pastor Wille from Whiting preached. At the close of the year 1895, the previous teacher Ahner gave up his office. His successor was Teacher Joh. Richter, made famous by his long service at the schools of Trinity Congregation and Holy Cross Congregation.

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The rebuilt church and school buildings still stand at 103rd st. and Avenue H. in Chicago

The situation of the congregation is: 101 voting members and 375 communicant members. 1 school, 190 school children, and two teachers, J. Richter and A. C. Renn.

A pastor, writer, and geek who lives in Chicago. https://jameshuenink.wordpress.com

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