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Church Histories

Bethlehem Lutheran Church

Dow City, Iowa

1938-1994 History

An account of the Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Dow City.

In 1937, the Rev. Elmer E. Greene, Pastor of St. John' s Lutheran Church at Buck Grove, was approached by Herbert Greene to do some mission work in the vicinity of Arion and Dow City. With the permission of the Mission Director, the Rev. Greene accepted this challenge and began working in the community. After a few months work in this area, it was quite evident that a group of people living here desired preaching services.

This was begun the last Sunday in July 1937, with service being held in the Congregational Church in Arion, Iowa. Services were held Sunday evenings for a time, but were changed to 9:00 a.m. on Sunday mornings. At the first service held in Arion, seven people were present. Attendance slowly increased. In the fall of 1937, seven adults were confirmed.

At the end of 1937, various difficulties arose that demanded immediate attention. One of the greatest was the establishment of a Sunday School, which could not be done because of the time of services held by the Congregational people. Therefore, it was evident that if this mission was to grow, it must have a suitable building of its own. In the face of this problem, a few men suggested that the members look around for a building to move into. However, in order to do that, a congregation had to be officially formed.

Together with Pastor Greene and the visitor, Rev. F.C. Israel of Manilla, this step was taken on January 5, 1938. The congregation was organized with ten charter members. It was agreed that the congregation should relocate in Dow City. Several buildings were considered. It was agreed to purchase the old Baptist church from the American Legion. During the summer months of 1938 the building was remodeled.

Bethlehem Lutheran Ladies Aid

On August 21, 1959, Bethlehem congregation was privileged to dedicate its house of worship to the Triune God. Three services were held. This building served as the church until May 1964.

In 1947, the congregation made some much needed improvements on the church property. A vestibule was built, an oil furnace installed, the woodwork on the interior was repainted. In February of 1948, a parsonage was purchased on the west end of town and the pastor was moved from Buck Grove to Dow City.

In February of 1962, under the leadership of the Rev. Bruce Sommerfield, the congregation appointed a building committee to study the possibilities for a new church building. After several months of hard work, the building committee presented a formal resolution to the voters to go ahead with definite plans for a new house of worship. After reviewing several plans, on December 14, 1962, a contract was signed with Church Builders, Inc., Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Bonds were floated to pay for the church. On February 3, 1963, ground breaking ceremonies took place. However, the actual building was delayed until late in May due to a subsoil condition.

In August 1963, the basement walls were finished and the arches were erected. On October 13, 1963, Rev. C.W. Schmidt spoke at the cornerstone laying ceremonies. On May 17, 1964, the church was dedicated. The old budding was offered at an auction and sold. On Sunday, May 20, 1979, the congregation had a mortgage burning ceremony in the church service and gave thanks to God that the church building was paid in full. Efforts continued to improve the church properties.

In July of 1972, it was decided to go ahead with plans to build a new parsonage. Ground breaking was on November 26, 1972. Framework was done by contract with Rasmussen Lumber Company, with members of the congregation giving much time to the completion of the building. Dedication of the parsonage was on November 18, 1973.

On June 12, 1988, "50 Years of God's Grace" was celebrated with two special services conducted. At the 10:00 a.m. service, the Rev. Richard Kapfer, President of the Iowa District West, Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, was the speaker. At the 2:00 p.m. service, the Rev. Elmer Greene, Bethlehem's first pastor, was the speaker. Longtime members were recognized and roll call of Bethlehem's confirmed and was given.

In 1992, under the leadership of Pastor Larry Lemke, Bethlehem was again blessed with the opportunity to complete additional improvements. The entire sanctuary was carpeted and new, padded pews were installed. Also, the parking areas were paved.

  • Pastors who served at Bethlehem
  • Rev. E. Greene 1938-1941
  • Rev. M.W. Lilie 1941-1946
  • Rev. L.W. Nutzmann 1946-1953
  • Rev. Roger E. Raebel 1954-1957
  • Rev. Robert D. Eckelman 1958-1960
  • Rev. Bruce Sommerfield 1961-1964
  • Rev. K. Braun 1964-1968
  • Rev. John E. Schauer 1969-1975
  • Rev. Paul Stengel Jr. 1976-1988
  • Rev. Larry Lemke 1989-

Much credit is due Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Greene, who were really originators of this mission. But much credit must also be given to everyone, to the first seven to be confirmed, to the ten charter members who organized our church, to the many pastors who have served as our leaders, and to the many who since have worked hard and dedicated many hours to the success of the congregation. It is such by the Grace of God.


Source: 125 Years of Dow City-Arion History 1869-1994

We thank Cindi Simon for submitting this material.

Ladies Aid photo submitted by Lynn Breese