The Bethel Lutheran Church of Brush Prairie will celebrate its centennial March 16 with a weekend full of commemoration events.
In the beginning, the church was the Norwegian Lutheran Skjold Congregation and was founded by 32 charter members. The first pastor was Hans Hjertaas and for the first four years service was held at his home.
In 1921 the original church building was constructed by the members and put to use. Shortly after the project was completed however, Hjertaas passed away.
For the next several years the church continued to grow, but in 1927 changes began to occur. Up until this point sevices were always conducted in Norwegian, but then English worship started taking place on alternating Sundays.
Members today say the past 100 years have brought changes in language, music and activities, and they are committed to continued growth and adaptation, all the while staying centered on their purpose and witness.
Presently, the Bethel Church is larger than ever, with about 300 active members, making it one of the most prominent churches in Brush Prairie.
A hefty dose of remodeling has been done to the original building. In 1921 the only structure was a small sanctuary. Today that sanctuary still remains, but it has been built around with the current newer and larger primary structure.
“I think the original members would say, ‘what is that?’ if they could see it all now,” said Judy Wood, the church secretary.
Although everything looks much different, Kirsten Elson, a regular member, said if you look close enough, you can still see the past.
“I love that you can still pick out the old sanctuary and stuff,” Elson said. “It’s amazing that we all still go to the same place.”
In anticipation of the 100 year celebration, Elson has been putting together a history book for Bethel. Through the project she said she’s come to love her church even more.
“I almost feel like I know everybody. I’ve become more interested in everything by looking back through the history,” she said. “It’s been so exciting to do this.”
The current pastor, Korey Finstad, is the 20th preacher to lead the congregation. He took over just four months ago.
“It’s the oldest church I’ve ever been a part of definitely,” he said. “It’s unusual for a church this far west to be this old.”
Artifacts in and around the church remind members and leaders of the past, such as the original bell from the old steeple, the altar on the sanctuary stage made in 1921, and a graveyard out back where many of the founding members and others who have played a role through the years are buried.
The church continues to add to its heritage. An example of this would be one of Bethel’s social outreach programs, the RockSolid Teen Center, which is headquartered in the basement of the church and has helped hundreds of kids over the years.
Today Bethel is a thriving congregation that sees its rich history as motivation to continue strongly onward.
“If we can adapt to that much change, we can handle whatever the future throws at us,” said Finstad.
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