A Brief History of our Life Together at Bethesda

Our Altar Painting

1883 …. On January 4, 17 women and 14 men signed the roll of charter members organizing “Den Svenska Evangeliska Luterska Forsamling,” a congregation of the Augustana Synod of North America. Ludwig K. Holmes, still a seminary student, was the organizer.

After worshipping in a variety of places, the congregation purchased its first church home for $3,250 on April 1. Located on Humphrey Street, the site is the present home of Emanuel Lutheran Church.

1884 …. The newly ordained Rev. C. T. Sandstrom called as first Pastor.

1885 …. First Sunday School organized, grew from 21 students and six teachers at beginning of year to 120 students and 22 teachers by year’s end.

1890 …. The congregation moved to a larger church on St. John’s Street, the former English Methodist Episcopal Church. The altar painting by Herman Sodersten of Jesus’ rescue of Peter from the raging sea, now hanging in our present narthex, was dedicated.

1905 …. The congregation dedicated its new building on State and Franklin Streets which became its home for 50 years.

1913 …. Under the ten year leadership of the Rev. Carl H. Nelson, three Sunday School branches were started (one giving birth to First Lutheran Church in West Haven). The church began the practice of holding English and Swedish services on alternate Sundays. 300 people joined the church during this decade.

1923 ….The Rev. Gideon S. Ohslund began his 16 year ministry, the longest pastorate at Bethesda. By his retirement in 1939 the congregation boasted 770 members and worshiped almost entirely in English.

1945 …. With the departure of the Rev. Karl E. Mattson as pastor, the increasingly diverse membership stood at 900 and Bethesda became more deeply involved in local council of Churches and community concerns.

1953 …. During the ministry of Rev. Paul Lorimer the congregation began a six year long project to relocate from State Street to the present St. Ronan Street/Whitney Avenue complex. The property, the former Malley estate, was purchased from Quinnipiac College for $85,000.

1956 …. The education building was completed and all congregational activities were transferred to the new location. Plans for the construction of a new sanctuary began.

1959 …. Now totaling 1,020 baptized members, the congregation gathered on October 4 to dedicate the new church building.

1962 …. After many years of providing ministry to the Yale University campus through our congregation, a full time campus pastor was called by the New England Synod to serve the New Haven area. The Rev. Richard E. Olson, a part-time assistant at Bethesda, assumed this position. Ministry to the campus, especially to the Divinity School, continues to this day.

1968…. The Rev. Harold Wimmer began the second longest pastorate of Bethesda Church serving until 1982 when he was elected Bishop of the New England Synod.

1983…. The congregation of 729 baptized members, now more diverse than ever, celebrated the 100th Anniversary of its founding with a festive worship service on January 9, a Pentecost Sunday Confirmation Reunion and October 23 dinner among many other activities throughout the year. Les Swenson came to Bethesda to serve as our Pastor for 10 years.

1991…. The chapel was remodeled and the Whitney Avenue entrance was modernized. The Bethesda Concert series was instituted, providing three or four concerts a year at Bethesda to benefit organizations in New Haven that provide services to the needy.

1993…. Joseph Bourret served as interim pastor while the call committee researched and interviewed candidates.

1994…. Michael G. Merkel began his ministry as pastor at Bethesda.

2009…. William J. Preuss II served as interim pastor while the call committee researched and interviewed candidate

2010…. Timothy J.Keyl began his ministry as pastor at Bethesda.

Senior Pastors of Bethesda Church

1884-1888 C. T. Sandstrom

1888-1889 Emanuel Edman

1890-1892 Fritz Jacobson

1892-1902 A. J. Enstam

1903-1906 Augustus Nelson

1907-1911 Constantine M. Esbjorn

1913-1923 Carl H. Nelson

1923-1939 Gideon S. Ohslund

1939-1945 Karl E. Mattson

1945-1949 Martin E. Carlson

1950-1955 Paul Lorimer

1956-1963 Luther R. Livingston

1964-1968 Richard L. Thulin

1968-1982 Harold R. Wimmer

1983-1993 Leslie R. Swenson

1994-2009 Michael G. Merkel

2010- Timothy J.Keyl