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Bethany Lutheran turns 125

By Staff | Jun 28, 2013

Bethany Lutheran Church in Rugby turns 125 in July. After being founded in 1888, the church rebounded after a fire in 1947 destroyed its building.

Through generations of parishioners, dozens of pastors and a fire that decimated the building, but not the church, Bethany Lutheran is about to turn 125 years old.

The congregation will celebrate with a dinner at Dakota Farms on July 6 and a worship service on July 7 followed by a picnic.

The church was organized by Rev. J.U. Pederson in Rugby in 1888, just three years after settlers first arrived in the Rugby area.

Eleven years after the congregation was organized, the articles of incorporation were signed and recorded at the Secretary of State’s office in Bismarck.

The first building that housed the church was completed in 1907.

But it was the destruction of that building which was the key turning point in the history of the church.

On Jan. 20, 1947, Bethany Lutheran Church and its contents were completely destroyed by fire.

Winds and frigid conditions made it tough for firefighters to battle the blaze, and it dramatically crumbled to the ground when the tower bell broke loose from its perch and crashed into the basement.

But nearly as soon as the building was destroyed, the congregation stood firm on its decision to rebuild.

Construction began in June, 1947 and the new church was built at a cost of $90,000.

On Sept. 11, 1949, the first service was held at the new church.

Inez Thortenson, 101, moved into Rugby from the country when she was eight years old from the country and started attending Bethany soon after.

Her earliest memories of the church include the Norwegian pastors with thick accents.

“That wasn’t very good for us,” she said with a laugh. “We couldn’t understand them.”

One of Thortenson’s biggest projects at the church was a display for the confirmation classes.

“I had to go to the council and pick out what I wanted to do, but it costs $800,” she said.

She got the okay for the project, a giant picture book that still hangs on the wall in the basement of the church.

Loraine Ohm started in the parish in the 1940s in Tunbridge and has been an active member for decades.

Her daughter, Mitzi Mettler, was baptized at the church in the 1940s.

The church has undertaken some major construction projects on the new church, and is presently raising funds for a roofing project.

“The Sunday School addition was a big thing,” Mettler said. “When we decided to do the elevator that was a big one, too.”

Like most churches, it’s the people, not the building, that are the heart of what makes them special.

“Pastors come and go,” Pastor Dana Holter said. “It’s the membership that makes the church.”

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