A BRIEF HISTORY OF BETHANY EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH
A brief history of Bethany Evangelical Lutheran Church, compiled from material in part from the 45th Anniversary Celebration booklet, compiled by the Rev. John C. Stuff in 1937; the 50th Anniversary Celebration booklet, compiled by the Rev. Karl Luther Mumford in 1942; from other church records and publications by Mary Ann Mauzy and updated in August 2001 for the 109th anniversary; and compiled by Jennifer Christensen and Dr. Kathy Heinsohn, updated August 2017, for the 125th Anniversary Celebration of the founding of the congregation.
Bethany Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brunswick, Frederick County, Maryland, was organized on August 21, 1892, with a membership of 21. C. W. Bixler, a student at the Lutheran Theological Seminary, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, spent 3 months during his summer vacation in 1892 to take a religious survey of the community. The first services were held in a storeroom on Fifth Avenue. Seminarian Bixler returned to Gettysburg in the fall and the congregation was without a pastor. Professor J. J. Shenk had moved to town and opened a private school known as “The Brunswick Seminary.” He was elected superintendent of the Lutheran Sunday School, organized in the fall of 1892. He served until 1904.
On November 23, 1892, the Rev. W. C. Wire moved to Brunswick and became pastor of the parish, which included Brunswick, Harpers Ferry and St. Paul’s of Neersville, Virginia. On February 26, 1893, Pastor Wire resigned. Ferdinand D. Hesse, another Gettysburg seminarian, served the congregation for 3 months, beginning on June 23, 1893. During this time, ten more members were added and in August a building lot on East C Street was purchased. The cornerstone of this building was laid on September 24, 1893. The foundation was constructed by Daniel Martin. Sunday School services were held in the new church for the first time on February 11, 1894.
On June 1, 1894, Henderson N. Miller, a senior at the Gettysburg Seminary, took over the work as pastor at Bethany. The new church was dedicated on June 17th of that year. Pastor Miller served the congregation until September 1, 1895. On March 1, 1896, the Rev. Cyrus Held became pastor. During his pastorate, membership increased to about 100. He resigned on December 1, 1898. The Rev. John H. Diehl became pastor on June 1, 1899 and continued until December 9, 1900. On January 2, 1902, the Rev. Charles W. Hess, a graduate of Gettysburg Seminary, became pastor.
During the late 1890’s, the congregation bought a lot on the corner of A Street and First Avenue, where the church currently stands. The congregation worshipped in Wenner’s Hall until the new church was built. The cornerstone of the present church building was laid on August 14, 1904. The first service was held in the basement of the church on January 8, 1905. The building was dedicated on July 16, 1905. During the summer of 1916, the parsonage, now known as Bethany House, was built on the church lot facing First Avenue. Bethany became self-supporting in 1917 and its total indebtedness was paid off completely. Pastor Hess continued as pastor of Bethany until November 30, 1932 when he resigned. In 1932, the sanctuary was remodeled into what it remained until 2001, when it was again remodeled. It was rededicated on October 2, 1932.
In January 1933, the Rev. John C. Stuff accepted a call to become pastor of Bethany. Pastor Stuff resigned in June 1942 and the congregation called the Rev. Karl Luther Mumford as pastor. He served until August 1943, during World War II, when he resigned. The Rev. Ralph H. Miller became Bethany’s pastor on October 1, 1943, and served the congregation until his retirement on August 3, 1974.
During the 1920’s, 1930’s and 1940’s, Bethany was the center of social as well as religious activities of its members. After Pastor Miller’s 31-year pastorate ended, the congregation called the Rev. Douglas S. Strachan on November 1, 1974. He served until July 31, 1979. For the next year, Bethany was without a pastor and was served by several supply pastors.
From August 1, 1980 to March 1, 1981, William Henry Roen, a graduate of Gettysburg Seminary, served as supply pastor. After his approval for ordination, the congregation called him as pastor on June 1, 1981. He was ordained in the church on August 30, 1981. Pastor and Mrs. Roen were also married at Bethany in June of that year. Pastor Roen resigned on June 19, 1988. The Rev. Jeffrey A. Truscott, a graduate of Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio, became pastor on October 1, 1988. Pastor Truscott resigned on April 30, 1992.
On Sunday, August 23, 1992, almost 100 years to the day of the organizing of Bethany Evangelical Lutheran Church, the congregation voted to call its first woman pastor, the Rev. Patricia Snyder, a 1992 graduate of Gettysburg Lutheran Seminary. She remained for five years and resigned on November 9, 1997. Between the pastorates of Pastor Truscott and Pastor Snyder, and also the pastorates of Pastor Snyder and Pastor Barth, the Rev. Donald F. Sause served Bethany as an interim pastor. In his last interim position, he served from November 1997 until September 1998, when Bethany voted to call the Rev. Bruce W. Barth. Pastor Barth, ordained on September 28, 1996, was installed as Bethany’s pastor on September 13, 1998.
The Rev. Andrea Ernest was called to be Bethany’s second female pastor from February 2004 to December 2011. She served one year as a supply pastor, and then she received her call from Bethany. She (and her husband Mark and son David Lehman) were very involved in BEACON – Brunswick Ecumenical Assistance Committee On Needs- and helped to establish the Brunswick Food Bank in what had previously been the parsonage, and then a space for bible studies and Sunday School classes. When her husband Mark became ill, she stepped down and resigned. Mark Ernest sadly passed away on Christmas Day, 2011. The Bishop then appointed the Rev. LaVern Rasmussen as interim pastor immediately in January 2012. He helped heal some dividedness and sadness from Pastor Ernest’s departure. The Delaware Maryland synod Assistant to the Bishop, The Rev. Ron Schlak, was also instrumental in keeping Bethany’s ministries going at this time. Pastor Rasmussen was already in his eighties and had come out of retirement to assist the congregation. He both resigned and retired in September 2012. The Rev. Dr. K. Robert Schmitt, was called from October 2012 to May 2013 as Vice Pastor, initially, and then as a supply pastor. During this time, sadly a schism occurred in which many members of the existing council (all female members) were not re-elected at the annual church congregational meeting, and many walked out to join other local churches. New council members were elected, including three men to make a more representative and balanced governing body representing all of the church membership. Pastor Schmitt saw the congregation through a very difficult time. Asst to the Bishop Schlak was also helpful. The Rev. Paul F. Warnke was called out of retirement to lead Bethany from July 2013 to February 2014 as Vice Pastor. He and his wife Adelle were very active and helped with the transition for a permanent call to be made to a pastor. There had been no called pastor since 2011, when Pastor Ernest resigned. The Rev. Linda Fernandez after serving a short time as a supply pastor was called as the third female Pastor and the first Episcopalian Priest (one of two in this Synod t this time) of Bethany Lutheran Church in February 2014. (The Episcopalian Diocese and Lutheran Synod are in ecumenical communion with one another and priests and pastors are therefore allowed to be called to either community, as there is a shortage of both at this time.) The Food Bank had already decided to make a move to a new location, freeing up the parsonage for use as a parsonage again. The Fernandez family (Pastor, husband Rudi, and mother-in-law Aida, and one of pastor’s triplet sons, Steven), moved into the parsonage in the fall of 2015. Pastor Linda Fernandez was installed by Bishop Wolfgang Hertz-Lane on Palm Sunday 2014. She was challenged by the Bishop at her installation to use her talents to serve those outside of our doors.
Many members continue to work with BEACON, our Brunswick Ecumenical Service supporting the food bank as volunteers and contributors of can goods, school supplies for needy children in the fall, Christmas gifts for needy families at Christmas, and back pack meals for at risk kids in the summer when school is not in session. We have a very active Senior ministry and weekly Wednesday night fellowship suppers from 5-6:30 pm in the Fellowship Hall. We participate actively and annually in Railroad days with a food booth and an evangelism booth. We participate in the annual Veterans Day parade with a float, and have many veterans in our congregation. We make prayer shawls to be sent to Andrews Airforce Base to comfort families of returning mortally wounded soldiers. We hold an annual blessing of the bikes and an annual blessing of the animals’ day, in October on the Feast of St. Francis of Assissi. And, we maintain a lovely world hunger tree in the sanctuary where the late Pauline Gosnell’s many crocheted ornaments hang for free will offerings to be made toward conquering world hunger. The music ministry at Bethany is also very gifted. The choir is small in number but mighty in voice, as directed by Randy Ewell and accompanied by organist Carol Boehler. There is always a joyful noise on Sunday mornings.
As we look back over the history of Bethany, perhaps we seem to think in terms of buildings and windows and furnishings, since these are the visible signs of growth and change. But these are not the true signs of life and growth in a congregation. As members of the body of Christ gather to worship on Sunday mornings, there are grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren of Bethany’s founders and leaders standing side by side with the many treasured new members who have recently moved into the community and joined the Bethany family.
Pastor Linda Fernandez has helped guide and challenge the council to establish a mission for Bethany of hope and healing in our community. She also has engaged the council in pursuing resources for developing leaders in the congregation and seeking ways to make Bethany more inviting and welcoming. This seems most appropriate at this particular time in history, when church attendance has dropped off and the millennial and following i-generations are distracted by many things preventing their coming to church; perhaps a new vision of church is taking place and a new reformation. Pastor Linda Fernandez is currently serving Bethany Lutheran Church at the writing of this history for the 125th anniversary celebration, and the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s Reformation.
We thank God that we now have 125 years of history behind us (and 500 years as Lutheran Christians) and we pray that He will continue to reinvigorate us to continue to serve Him.
BETHANY’S CHARTER MEMBERS
Received on August 21, 1892
Jonas Haupt, Mrs. Jonas Haupt, George H. Tritapoe, Mrs. George Tritapoe, Mrs. Anne M. Piper, Mrs. E. S. Blessing, W. O. Sutter, Mrs. Jon Fleming, Mrs. Sarah Miller, Miss Estella Links, Mrs. Charles Ernest, Mrs. Sarah Forney, Mrs. Ridgeway, Mrs. Daniel Shafer, Mrs. H. M. Thompson, Mrs. Nora Kelley, Mrs. W. E. Evans, Luther McBride, Mrs. Luther E. McBride.