Bethel United Church

By dhowell - Posted on 03 January 2008

The Bethel United Church in Freedom Township celebrated its 125th anniversary when it dedicated its new $49,000 educational building October 24th.

The Rev. Friedrich Schmid, a pioneer church organizer among the Germans of southeastern Michigan, first held services in a public school building, one mile east of the present church property on Bethel Church Road about seven miles northeast of Manchester, between the years of 1833 and 1840. In 1840, a log church was erected on a plot of ground now occupied by Bethel Church.

The earliest deed in the church files, in describing the five-acre plot all read "except one acre," showing that the congregation had acquired that acre earlier. Records in the Court House indicate that there was a transaction of 1-1/4 acres by "Levant Hewes (Hughes) for the First Dutch (German Reformed) Church of Freedom for $40.

In early American History the use of "Dutch" for German comes from the similarity of the word "Deutsch."

When the early missionary was unable to officiate, services were often read by a member of the church council such as Jacob Spathelf or August Hutzel.

A granite boulder and bronze plaque in the church cemetery mark the location of the first log church. The occupation of the early members was farming. There were a few blacksmiths and an innkeeper. Now the church members are city and suburban dwellers who commute to nearby industries to work.

The church is often referred to as Evangelical Lutheran and attempts were made during the years by pastors to obtain affiliation with a synod, but the membership stubbornly resisted. It took until 1958 for them to consent to join the Michigan Indiana Synod.

Some members attend regularly from Manchester, Saline, Bridgewater, Ann Arbor and as far as Detroit.

In its long history the church has had only 10 pastors. The Rev. Fredrick Mayer was the first to start preaching English at Bethel.

In church records many names are misspelled because early settlers had little practice writing and, when asked to sign anything, would be embarrassed and ask someone to sign for them. And names underwent changes into near English, for better or for worse.

The congregation, purchased land across the road from the church in 1878 for "schaedz" (sheds) for their horses and members built their own. If they left the church they could sell to another member, but the sheds could never be removed from the row.

After some forty years they were torn down for a parking area. The church bell in the new edifice cost $627. It, like Angelus, turned thoughts to prayer and served as a time piece.

In the early days the men sat on the right and the women on the left in church. This was discontinued in 1909, when the present granite church was built. For this the farmers brought in stones, rocks, sand and gravel.

In the beginning the church board ruled with a stern hand. The records mention that the Rev. E. G. Kuenzler presented a bill for $1.70 for whitewashing the parsonage. The bill was paid but the board resolved that in the future any "reperring" done must be with the permission of the board.

Pastor Mayer had his troubles. In 1912 he had arranged for a district representative to speak. This was in pre-electricity days when carbide was used for lighting. It was noticed that when carbide and water was put in the pressure tank that it did not work properly.

Just as the first visitors arrived, there was a terrific explosion. Windows were damaged and the stained glass windows upstairs were permanently bent outward. A member and his family driving up said momentarily they thought there was an earthquake.

In the midst of a snow storm on March 10, 1909, Architect Charles Sauer of Ann Arbor brought Henry Lelling who cut all the stones for the edifice which stands today. The Rev, and Mrs. T. W. Menzel have served the church since 1948.