The History of Bethesda Church
The earliest ministry record of Bethesda Church springs from a mission outreach into what at the time was a very rural area on the outskirts of Minneapolis. Two tents were erected for Sunday School Classes as a ministry to children. Those Sunday school classes that were started around 1910 would eventually give birth to Bethesda Evangelical Free Church. The actual date of erection of the Sunday school tent on East 38th Street and 26th Avenue South is unknown but we do know that in 1910, the two Sunday Schools merged under the ministry of Rev. Oscar Walstad. As the first pastor he not only taught the merged Sunday school classes, he also began preaching in the morning services the new congregation would have.
In 1913, the church began construction of a small chapel, which was completed in 1914. God continued to bless the work of the church and they outgrew the chapel and in 1916 a small addition was built. From 1918 through 1930, the church was blessed with committed pastors, Alvin O Carlson, Paul Seashore, Alvin O. Carlson, and C. E. Cedar.
It was in 1924, that the church was formally organized and incorporated with the state of Minnesota and it officially became Bethesda Evangelical Free Church. The old church building was razed and a basement was dug for a new church. Church services were held in the basement structure until the new building was completed and dedicated on April 18, 1926.
In 1930, Pastor Henry B. Prince began his ministry at Bethesda Church as its interim pastor. In August of 1933, Bethesda’s congregation asked Pastor Prince to serve as their permanent pastor. He responded by challenging the congregation, saying, “he would serve as pastor if the congregation gave fifty percent of its offerings toward missions work.” He had a passion for missions and evangelism and it was a great step of faith for the congregation to do this since they had over $40,000 in debt at the time. We praise the Lord that the members voted in favor of this commitment at their business meeting in 1935. It was a tremendous step of faith and the Lord has truly blessed the church as a result.
Under the guidance of Pastor Prince who preached with great evangelistic fervor, God blessed Bethesda’s ministry. The Sunday school ministry mushroomed and with the increase in enrollment, the Sunday school outgrew its facility. Plans were made to build larger facilities and so in 1939, Bethesda began a new building effort. In 1940, the new church sanctuary was dedicated. For sixteen years, Bethesda successfully broadcast “The Morning Bible Hour” which became one of the most popular religious broadcasts in the Twin Cities. In 1945, Bethesda started a church, Oxboro Evangelical Church, in Bloomington MN. In 1951, Bethesda gave Oxboro its release to become an independent Church. It was during these years that “Bethesda Mission” was established as an independent missionary sending agency with missionaries in Brazil, Bolivia, and the island of Curacao. Because of Pastor Prince’s ill health he stepped down as Senior Pastor in 1968.
On August 11, 1969, Roger Anderson was installed as Bethesda’s Senior Pastor. During his tenure, Pastor Anderson was a man of vision with great organizational skills. He updated the office with new equipment so it would run more effectually. He was a firm believer in evangelism and a tract ministry. He was a student of the Bible and a gifted Bible Teacher. During his years he not only taught the congregation deep Bible truths, he also wrote an excellent series of booklets and studies for the congregation’s benefit. Pastor Anderson’s passion for teaching was a blessing, but after seventeen years of faithful service he resigned and the church bid farewell to him on August 24, 1986.
After this, Pastor “Frosty” Hansen was appointed Interim Pastor while the church engaged in informational sessions and surveys to assess the congregation’s desires for a new pastor. After a review of all the information the Elder Board decided it needed to look no further than the man already serving as interim pastor. On January 18, l987 the members voted to call Pastor “Frosty” Hansen as its Senior Pastor. Pastor Hansen was an encouraging preacher of the Word of God and had a ministering heart toward the congregation. Under his leadership the church addressed many key questions about its future direction, developing “Vision 2000”. It was during this time that the church separated from the Evangelical Free Church and became an independent non-denominational congregation, changing the church's name to Bethesda Church. Later the church entered into an association with the Grace Gospel Fellowship with churches across the country that shared the same dispensational theological foundations as well as a normal, literal interpretation of God's Word.
“Frosty” had a heart for missions and the support of missionaries grew under his leadership. In l992, God called Pastor Hansen to a major shift in his ministry to go and serve himself as a missionary with his wife Cathy in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. God blessed them as their support was raised and they served with Grace Ministries Inc. which had recently merged with Bethesda Mission. Through it all, it was evident that God was truly working in their lives.
The church began its search for a new Senior Pastor and they found their man in Pastor Arthur Matychuk, who was pastoring in Carter Lake, Iowa. Having served as a missionary himself in Bolivia, South America, he was another man with a heart for missions outreach. Being called to serve at Bethesda was a homecoming for Pastor Art, as he had grown spiritually as a young man under Pastor Prince’s ministry. Pastor Art began his service as Senior Pastor in 1993 and blessed the congregation with his passionate preaching of the Word and his solid theological teaching concerning the truth of the Dispensation of Grace. He was a man of vision, bringing Dave Noebel to the Twin Cities for the first “Worldview Conference” and leading the church to take steps of faith in several large projects such as buying property for more parking space, the remodeling of the worship area and remodeling of the chapel. Pastor Art faithfully served Bethesda Church until he retired in the spring of 1999.
Pastor Mark Matychuk, who had been serving at Bethesda Church as the Pastor of Outreach and Family Ministries, then became interim pastor in 1999. As associate pastor he had initiated ministries such as our Family Camp, our Discovery Conference and working with his wife Kathy, to produce and direct our Easter Musical Dramas that were such a blessing for so many years. The “Bethesda Blueprint” was a vision-casting effort that involved the whole congregation at the time. After serving as interim pastor for almost a year the congregation called Pastor Mark Matychuk to be their senior pastor. Pastor Mark had shown a love for God's Word and the application of truths for the church to the daily lives of those who follow and serve the Lord. The church was very active reaching out into the community, ministering to children and families with Vacation Bible School and great Awana programs. The congregation truly had a dedicated heart of service.
At a point it became clear, however, that the congregation needed to evaluate it’s future direction. A year was spent in prayer and a task force was formed to address many questions. Careful studies were made of other 13 other urban churches in the area, and many congregational forums were held to discuss and pray together about God's desires for the future of our church ministry. In the end the Lord led in a wonderful way, bringing the congregation together to face a great challenge of selling their building and moving 22 miles away to the Savage/Prior Lake area. In a blessed step of faith the congregation voted to move their ministry from where it had been located for more than 85 years. As a result the Lord has blessed Bethesda in countless ways. Initially there was the renovation of this “new” facility, and later the congregation responded with great faith in extra giving to pay down our building debt, “Laying Firm Foundations” for future ministry. A year later a faith step was taken to build an educational classroom addition and a new play ground. Courageous steps were taken and much hard work was put into the accomplishing of these steps forward. Our whole congregation has a wonderful sense of truly moving into a “new mission field” to minister in the name of the Lord. So many challenges have been faced but in every case it has been evident that the Hand of the Lord has been upon this fellowship of believers. To God be the Glory!