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Our History
In the Beginning ...
At the turn of the 20th Century, the members of Trinity Lutheran Church in Oshkosh recognized a need for another Lutheran congregation in the city.  This desire to foster a mission church on the city's northwest side marked the beginning of Bethlehem congregation.

It didn't take long for the pieces of the puzzle to fit together.  On the first day of the new year -- 1901 -- Rev. Ernest Schlerf was installed as the first pastor of Bethlehem congregation. 

 

As expected, the early years of the young congregation were filled with much activity.  Buildings were constructed.  First, a sizeable church was built on the corner of New York Avenue and Ontario Street.  A small school building soon followed and then a parsonage for the pastor. 

 

Pastor Schlerf served Bethlehem congregation for 22 years.  Though the small school was closed in 1918, the early years of the congregation were ones of growth and strengthening

Growing Up and Growing Out ...
When Rev. Schlerf left the ministry to become the postmaster of Oshkosh, a young pastor from North Dakota accepted the call to lead Bethlehem into the future.  Rev. Paul Lueders was installed in 1923.  Little did he know at the time that he would serve the congregation for the next 42 years.

Not forgetting their birth by Trinity congregation, twice in a span of twenty years God's people at Bethlehem daughtered congregations.  Their first daughter was Grace Lutheran in Omro (1930).  In 1948, they looked within the city of Oshkosh and established Redeemer congregation. 
Following twenty years of expanding beyond their corner, the members of Bethlehem realized that a larger house of worship was needed on the corner of New York and Ontario.  In 1955, groundbreaking took place and construction began.
Settling In ...
By the spring of 1957, the construction of the new church was completed and Bethlehem's people settled into their new building.  Congregational life was filled with God's Word and Christian fellowship.

Just to the south of the church, a bustling campus ministry was growing at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.  Pastor Lueders was asked to lead it.  He accepted this responsibility, but soon realized that he needed help.  By the early months of 1964, Pastor Lueders was planning for his retirement and Bethlehem was calling for a new pastor. 
Standing Firm ...
After a year of searching for a new pastor, the Rev. Walter Moll of Omaha, NE, accepted Bethlehem's call in the spring of 1965 and was installed on June 20.

The congregation continued to experience growing pains in the early years of Pastor Moll's ministry.  Needing some "elbow room," the congregation purchased several homes adjacent to the church on Wisconsin Street.   A couple of the homes were razed so a parking lot could be added.  Another lot would later become the site of a second parsonage.

During the late 60's and early 70's, Pastor Moll and Bethlehem congregation realized that their church body -- the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod -- was straying from its historic confessional heritage.  After repeated attempts to convince their brothers and sisters in Christ to remain faithful and true to the teaching of Scripture, Bethlehem's members voted to withdraw its membership from the LCMS in 1971. 
Expanded Ministry ...
After considering their options for a new synodical membership, the people of Bethlehem joined the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) in January 1972.

As the 1970's dawned, it became apparent that Pastor Moll needed help ministering to the congregation.  Mr. Elmer Baacke was the first to join the church's full-time ministry staff.  As Director of Education and Youth, Mr. Baacke particularly worked with Bethlehem's youngest members.

During this time a number of hearing impaired people joined the congregation.  Responding to their need, Mrs. Joanne McAleer was asked to provide monthly signed services for the deaf. 

After Mr. Baacke left Bethlehem for a teaching call in Milwaukee, the congregation's leaders chose to enter the vicar program of the WELS.  Nine young men faithfully assisted Pastor Moll as part of their training for the public ministry.

One of Bethlehem's vicars was called to return to the congregation as its first Associate Pastor.  In the summer of 1985, Rev. Paul Stern began his permanent ministry at Bethlehem while Pastor Moll remained as Senior Pastor. 
Changing Ministry ...
After Pastor Stern followed a call to serve a congregation in Michigan, Rev. Richard Voswinkel came to the congregation in 1991.  His departure in August 2003 signaled the beginning of a new era in the life of Bethlehem congregation. 

In early 2004, Pastor Moll announced his intention to step back into a part-time ministry.  In August of that year, Rev. Paul Lidtke was installed as the next Senior Pastor of Bethlehem congregation.  

Pastor Moll retired on May 31, 2006, after serving nearly 41 years at Bethlehem congregation.

Bethlehem's congregation has begun to change in recent years.  New challenges are presenting themselves.  One thing remains the same, however.  Through his Word and Sacraments, God continues to strengthen and motivate Bethlehem's members to love and serve God.