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Fifty Years of Christian Service

"For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith, and that not of yourself.It is God's gift and is not on the ground of merit, so that it may be impossible for anyone to boast."- Eph. 2:8 (Weymouth's Tr.)

Looking back on any Christian endeavor, and knowing something of the human life and nature, that God must begin to work with, we will gladly say: GRACE ALONE DID IT. This is true of any local church history.

Early Beginnings

Knowing something of how the work started here in Chicago, we trace that early beginning to the positive commandment of Jesus "Behold I say unto you; lift up your eyes and look on the fields, for they are white already unto harvest." John 4.35. These pioneers heard and accepted the will of the Lord. There were to be many difficulties in the way. The people were untrained and the resources limited. How then could they proceed? The answer again we find in the promises of God; "For it is God that worketh in you, both to will and to do of his good pleasure"- Phil 2:13.- So then, stirred by the commandments of the Lord and supported by His promises, these few believing friends among the Finnish people, ventured out into the work which later was destined to become the BETHEL BAPTIST CHURCH OF CHICAGO.

This small beginning took place some three years before the church was organized. In March, 1901 a local mission society was formed, which included both Swedish as well as Finnish speaking people. At the time we had a very active and promising young man studying in the Baptist Seminary in Morgan Park, Ill. This man was Edward Fleming, a servant of the Lord, much loved and esteemed by our people everywhere. He was chosen to lead these believers into the new venture of faith and works.

Then in the Fall of 1902 the first meeting place, a Hall on Orleans Street and Chicago Ave., was rented, where all the meetings and activities were held, both in Finnish and Swedish languages. Our Student brother at the Morgan Park Seminary, Mr. Edw. Fleming, had charge of the Swedish and a lay preacher, Mr. Alexander Laurikainen, led the Finnish work. Later, however, the Finnish work was taken over by Rev. J. H. Jappinen.

At the time an attempt was made to start a Sunday School with Dr. A. M. Wickstrom as Superintendent. This Sunday School work, however, did not materialize until a year later, or in July 1903. But since then, this humble start has continued to grow in usefulness of its purpose.

Church Organizes

As a result of all this preliminary work the First Finnish Baptist church, as the congregation was then named, was organized on March 19, 1904. Fourteen born again believers joined heart and hand in this charter organization. These members came with good recommendations from various Baptist churches in the country. In all fairness and with the highest respect for these brave and faithful people, we will name them here as they were recorded in the first minutes on record:

Rev. Edward Fleming
Dr. A. M. Wickstrom
Matts Sundquist
Katrina Sundquist
Hanna Nyman
Sofia Berg
Maria Olson (Who later became Mrs. John Carlson)
Alexander Laurikainen
Hugo R. Schultz
Mrs. Maria Schultz
Maria Westin
Ida Nygard
Amanda Sand
Katarina Ostman

Mr.. John Carlson, our trustworthy brother through the years, ought to be recognized also in this charter group. He was at the organization meeting and two weeks later gave his testimony of salvation by faith in the Lord Jesus and was baptized uniting with the church. Mr. and Mrs. John Carlson are the only two members left and active with our work, of those who attended the charter meetings fifty years ago.

A good word could be said about all the charter members and their early labours for the Lord, but it would be too lengthy. Suffice to say that the mention of their names in the charter roll call, stands for citations of unusual acts of merit for Christ's cause in this period of early beginnings.

The church was organized on the recommendation and consent of leading brethren in the American and the Swedish Baptist work: Rev. Judson B. Thomas D.D., secretary of the Baptist Mission Society; Rev. R. E. Manning D.D., superintendent of the City Mission work and also pastor of the LaSalle Ave. Bapt. Church. Rev. Erick Wingren, Editor "Nya Wecko-Posten" : Rev. Carl Gustaf Lagergren D.D. Dean, Morgan Park Baptist Seminary; Rev. Eric Sandell D.D. Professor, Morgan Park Baptist Seminary.

Growth And Achievement

Rev. Edward Fleming became the chairman of the new church. He was also meant to be the minister of the congregation, but gave very little time to that office as he was for the most part travelling throughout the country starting new work in many places.

The first regular pastor was Mr. A. J. Stormans. He served the church as student pastor during the summer of 1906, which was his last school year. Then, upon his graduation in the spring of 1907, he accepted a call to become the regular pastor.

Rev. Stormans was ordained into the ministry in our church and continued as pastor until the month of August 1910, when he left for his new field in Tacoma, Wash.

Rev. A. J. Stormans was born in Forsby, Finland October 17, 1879. Converted in early years he entered the Morgan Park Baptist Seminary shortly after immigrating to U.S.A. Upon graduating he served several of our churches, among them the Bethel Baptist Church twice.

The loss of our pastor was keenly felt in all departments, especially since Rev. Storman's ministry was much blessed by God. But the church was not helpless, because from the Morgan Park Seminary they could call for help and the students were most willing to come and serve.

Three months after the pastor left, a call was extended to a young brother of the Swedish Finnish people, Mr. J. Isaac Berg, a second year student at the Seminary in Morgan Park. He regularly attended our services and was very willing to do all he could to help. He accepted the call as interim pastor during the Christmas vacation. Then later this call was renewed to extend over the summer months of that year. This experience proved most helpful to the young man.

It was felt, however, that a full time pastor was needed to do the work properly. So therefore on the 22nd of April, 1911, the church gave a call to Rev. Matts Esselstrom, then pastor of the Ebenezer Bapt. Church in Duluth, Minn. Rev. Esselstrom accepted the call and began his work Nov. 25 that year. This was to become a long and fruitful ministry, stretching over a period of fifteen years.

Pastor Malts Esselstrom was born in Esse, Finland on October 21, 1868. Upon immigrating to U.S.A. he entered the Baptist seminary in Morgan Park, Illinois in 1896; graduating to 1900. He was pastor in the following churches. Worcester, Massachusets; Negaunee, Michigan; Duluth, Minnesota; Bethel, Chicago; and Cypress Avenue Baptist, New York. His chief work was as Editor of "The Mission Post" which post he held for twenty-six years.

Rev. Esselstrom, with his humane and spiritual approach, won the confidence of all people, those inside as well as those outside of the church. The membership more than doubled and the work became more stabilized with the church taking a long step forward to meet the needs of the future. When Rev. Esselstrom resigned on July 27, 1926, the church felt the loss keenly, but thankful for the years the pastor and flock had enjoyed fellowship together.

A call then was issued to Mr. Herman Mattson to serve as interim pastor. Later a renewed call was accepted, and so brother Mattson began his work as a permanent pastor on August 9, 1927. Brother Mattson did not remain long with us, for in November that year he tendered his resignation to take effect as soon as another pastor could be secured.

At a business meeting in Nov. of that year a call was issued to Rev.. J. Isaac Berg, of Westboro, Mass. Rev. Berg accepted the call and began his work January 1, 1928.

Pastor J. Isaac Berg, was born in Malax, Finland, April 17, 1887. He immigrated to U.S. In 1906. He attended Morgan Park Academy and Seminary and graduated in 1913. Pastorates: 1913-1918 Calvary Baptist, Gardner, Mass.; 1816-1919 Norwood, Massachusetts, Chapel Street Baptist Church; 1919-1924 Bethel Baptist Worcester, Massachusetts,, 1924-1925, Belmont Evangel. Cambridge Massachusetts: 1928-1935 Bethel, Chicago: 1935-1942 Bethel, Worcester (2nd term), 1942-1943, Grace Baptist Church, Worcester, Massachusetts, 1945-1952 Baptist Church Gardner, Massachusetts (2nd term).

This ministry lasted until May 1935 and became an eventful period in the life of the church as we will see in a following chapter.

As previously mentioned, when the local mission society was formed in 1901 a meeting place was needed. In the Fall of 1902 a Hall was rented on Orleans St. and Chicago Ave. Here the congregation worshipped less than two years, when a more suitable location was obtained on 135 Sedgwick Street.

Meeting Places, Halls And Church Buildings

For the time being this meeting place seems to have served the new work well, but after less than four years the owner needed the property for other purposes and again the church was without a sanctuary.

By this time the LaSalle Ave. Baptist Church had shown a good deal of interest in our work so when consulting with this large church, they consented to let our work be moved into their spacious Sunday School room; also to use the basement for our social activities. Again we had a place to meet in and a better location than the former. This arrangement proved very satisfactory for many years.

Then, due to the changing conditions in the LaSalle Ave. Bapt. Church it became necessary for us to seek for a new location. This, together with the fact that many of our members had moved to Austin, caused the church to look in that direction for a possible move.

Church Moves To Austin

A good deal of discussion, pro and con, was made regarding the change of location. Finally a decision was reached to purchase the Norwegian Free Mission Church, located at 5000 West Ohio Street in Austin. For this property the church paid $1,800. Extensive repairs and improvements had to be made, but by unity of purpose, mind and spirit, these accomplishments were made and the church, once more, was serviceably located. Then on the 4th of May 1920, the church moved into the new field.

That we now came to the right place was substantiated by the fact that within a few years the work outgrew even this building.

In January 1925 a committee was appointed to scout for a lot to build on. The committee went to work eagerly and within a month's time the church decided to buy a lot on Potomac Ave. But after further investigation it was deemed wise to re-sell the property and look for something else. When the lot was sold it netted the church $2,000.00

The committee went to work again and after many prospects had been considered it was finally decided to obtain a property located on the corner of West Walton Street and LaVergne Ave. On the back of this 50 x 125 lot was a two family brick building and the price was $16,000. Now the church had something real to work on.

At the business meeting on March 1, 1927 it was unanimously voted to build a church on the LaVergne Ave. property. After many trialsome estimates and plans, the contract was let to Messers Erickson & Dahlvik for the sum of $23,365.00 The plans had been drawn by S. M. Seator.

The work on the building began to take shape and within 4 to 5 month's time the new building was ready to be dedicated.

Bethel Builds

The dedication took place on the 8th of July, 1928 in connection with that year's annual meeting of the Baptist Mission Union of America. The feeling of joy and thanksgiving ran high during those days of celebration. Much credit for the splendid work on the new church building was due to the supervising contractor, Mr. Emmanuel Erickson of Chisholm, Minn. Also a word of appreciation to the pastors, who through the years of buying and selling, stood so loyally by the congregation helping and advising. Especially do we remember our beloved brother Matts Esselstrom who served so well during the move from the Northside to Austin. Mr. Herman Mattson too, for the help he gave when plans took form to build.

Rev. J. Isaac Berg took over the work on Jan. 1, 1928 and so had the joy of serving the church during the erection and dedication of the new building. During the next following years the church experienced great blessings from the Lord.

Then the great depression struck the American nation in 1929 and our church ran into a financial crisis with a heavy burden on the members of the church to pay for the new building. But the Lord stood by in those days and made good His promises.

Special Developments

Certain timely changes took place during the years that brother Berg served us as pastor. The Bible School showed a healthy increase under the direction of Ben Mattson. The Choir and stringband got a new start with brother Gust Doktar at the helm.

The language of the services was changed from Swedish to English and the name of the church was changed from THE SWEDISH FINNISH BAPTIST CHURCH to: BETHEL BAPTIST CHURCH. But best of all, through the preaching of Biblical methods of giving, God poured out over the church a spirit of sacrificial willingness to give in a much greater measure for the cause.

Pastor Berg submitted his resignation on Jan. 1, 1935. The church accepted and brother Berg terminated his work at Bethel, May 1 of that year. We deeply appreciate pastor Berg's wise and faithful ministry.

At a business meeting on Jan. 29, 1935 Rev. Alden accepted the interim pastorate. He began the work May 1 and continued until Oct. 1 when Rev. A. J. Stormans began his second term as pastor of the church. Rev. Stormans served the church for nine years, or until April, 1944. The work proceeded normally under his guiding hand.

During pastor Storman's ministry the church experienced a great uplift in song and instrumental music. Miss Nathalie Stormans, daughter of the pastor, greatly talented, in music, organized several singing groups; a Gospel Trio, Men's Chorus and the Melody Twins. Later when engaged as musical director, she added another musical group called "The Harmonists." These ladies, together with the Male Chorus toured the country holding concerts. Thus the work at Bethel became widely known both in the East as well as the Mid-West states.

Immediately following the resignation and departure of brother Stormans, Rev. Floyd Ankerberg was called as interim pastor. Two months later Rev. Ankerberg accepted a call to become the regular pastor. He served the church until Jan. 1, 1950.

Reverend Floyd Ankerberg was born on December 29, 1917 in St. Petersburg, Florida. He attended and graduated from the North Park College. Later he studied at the Northern Baptist Seminary. Reverend Ankerberg has been for many years serving as an evangelist. His only pastorate was Bethel Baptist 1944-1950.

During Pastor Ankerberg's ministry the church experienced an upswing in all departments. The youth work was revived and church attendance grew rapidly to an all time high. A church visitation program was launched, when the members, two by two, made a door-to-door visitation of the community.

Several improvements were made in the Sunday School work. A bus was purchased for transporting the children to Bible School and church. The attendance in Bible School reached an all-time high of 300.

Pastor Ankerberg had from time to time able assistants in the new youth work. Rev. Walter Midura; Rev. Dan Ankerberg and Rev. Eddie Midura, all gave forth of their best to build the lives of these young people.

After Pastor Ankerberg left, the church called Rev. Martin Erickson as interim. He began at once and continued until the regular pastor was secured.

On Jan. 18, 1950 the church voted to call Rev. James E. Selander, then pastor in Willmar, Minn. He accepted the call and began his ministry on April 1, that year, and is serving the church at the present.

The New Parsonage

A fund for the parsonage was started during pastor Ankerbergs last month with us. On April 1, 1950 the ground was broken. It was completed in the Fall and is now occupied by the present pastor and family.

The indebtedness is expected to be cleared at this jubilee so that we may praise God for this another of His guiding acts. The parsonage is also a credit to the foresight of the members at Bethel church.

For The New Bus

A second hand bus was purchased a few years ago for the sum of $1,173.00. In 1952 a new bus was secured for the price of $4,212.00. This picture shows the new bus.

The bus serves the Sunday School primarily and each Sunday a happy group of children as well as adults climb aboard for a ride "To Bethel." The bus also serves on special occasions such as at Easter and Christmas programs and during the summer months in transporting boys and girls to camp. Our drivers, K. McCollum, W. Carlson, and Wayne McCollum think it indispensible to Bethel church.

Published in Fifty Years of Christian Service. Bethel Baptist Church, 919 N. Lavergne Avenue, Chicago, Illinois. P. 6-15 of 26.

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