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The history of our work in Chicago begins about three years prior to the actual organizing of the Church.
About the 30th of March, 1901 a local mission society was formed comprising both the Swedish and Finnish speaking groups of our countrymen.
One of the most prominent in organizing this mission project was Edward Flemming a student at the Swedish Baptist Seminary in Morgan Park, Illinois.
In the Fall of 1902 a hall was rented at Orleans and Chicago Ave., where gospel meetings were conducted in both the Swedish and Finnish languages. A Sunday School was also organized with Dr. A. M. Wickstrom as superintendent.
It was from this missionary project that the First Finnish Baptist Church, as it was then called, originated.
The church was organized March 19th, 1904, with fourteen charter members.
Rev. James Selander
At about the time the church was organized, a hall was rented at 135 Sedgwick Street, where the work was carried on for about four years, after which the church moved to the La Salle Street Baptist Church, 1225 N. La Salle Street, where a hall was rented for the services. Rev. A. J. Stormans was called as the first pastor in 1907. He served in this position until 1910.
The work among the Finnish group prospered for a while until the leaders who started the work, left the city to organize mission societies in other places. In 1908 the work was abandoned entirely. Since the work was no longer carried on in the Finnish language, the old name of the church was considered improper and it was changed to the Swedish-Finnish Baptist Church.
In 1911 Rev. Matts Esselstrom accepted a call to be our pastor. Pastor Esselstrom was loved and respected by all. During his ministry the church grew and more than double in membership. The work of the church was carried on satisfactorily in the La Salle Street Baptist Church for a number of years, but as the membership grew, the need for a larger and more suitable place became apparent. In September 1919, it was decided to buy the Norwegian Free Mission Church at 5000 West Ohio Street.
The move from the well-known north side to the new neighborhood in Austin, while looked upon by some with doubt, proved to be a step in the right direction. As the membership grew and the Sunday School became larger, the building at 5000 West Ohio Street could no longer accommodate the various activities of the church, a decision was made to build a new and larger church. In 1927 a lot was purchased at the corner of Walton and Lavergne Streets, including a two story brick building in the rear of the lot. The new church was completed in 1929.
Rev. Esselstrom closed his fruitful ministry of fifteen years in 1926. The following year Herman Mattson served as pastor. Rev. Isak Berg accepted a call in 1928 and served until 1935. This was the transition period with regard to the language question. Until now the Swedish language had a prominent place in the meetings, but in order to adequately meet the need of the children and young people, it was necessary to change to the English language. As a result of the change in language, a change of the name of the church was also decided upon. This took place on May 7th, 1933, when the name was changed to the Bethel Baptist Church.
After Rev. Berg's resignation, Rev. C. A. Aldeen served as interim pastor for about four months. In the meantime a call had been extended to Rev. A. J. Stormans. Rev. Stormans began his second term of mininstry in our church 1935 and closed in 1944.
Floyd Ankerberg served as interim pastor for three months and on August 1st, 1944, accepted a call to be our regular pastor. During Pastor Ankerberg's ministry a bus was purchased for the Sunday School, also a Hammond organ was installed in the church. Dan Ankerberg, Rev. Edw. Midura and Rev. Walter Midura served as assistants to the pastor for some time. Rev. Ankerberg resigned January 8th, 1950, to be full time evangelist with Youth for Christ.
Rev. Martin Erickson served as interim pastor for two months. A call was extended to Rev. James E. Selander and he began his ministry with us on April 1st, 1950.
A new parsonage was built and was dedicated on November 19th, 1950. During the short time Pastor Selander has been with us 47 new members have been taken in. Our membership is now 217.
We are looking forward to great things in the future with our youth groups. On June 1st, 1951, Thorsten Frohm will be engaged as Youth Director.
Our hope and prayer is, that the Bethel Baptist Church may grow and continue to be a mighty influence for good to our people, as well as to the people of the community do which it is located.
Published in Fifty Years of Christian Stewardship 1901-1951. Prepared in commemoration of the Fiftieth anniversary of The Baptist Mission Union of America. 1951, p. 31-33.
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