Our church was founded in 1895 by a dozen Norwegian families who had settled in the Flathead Valley, many direct from Norway. The church, built on Fifth Avenue West and Fourth Street, opened its doors as the Den Norske Evangeliske Luterske Menighed av Flathead; nine years later, a parsonage was built next door. Five of the church’s first seven pastors were born in Norway, and in the early years, all services were conducted in the Norse language. Over time, however, the church attracted worshipers from other religious backgrounds and other nationalities, and by the 1920s, English had become the standard for worship services, classes and meetings.
In 1918, the name was changed to Bethlehem Lutheran Church, and by 1923, the congregation had begun saving money for a new building. A year later the trustees allocated $1,100 to purchase the Main Street lots on which our church now sits. In April 1932, three and a half years after the October 1929 stock market crash, and with the nation reeling from the Great Depression, the congregation gathered to lay the cornerstone for the new building. By that fall, the shell of the new church had been erected, and the basement was ready for services. It would be another five years before the building was completed, at a total cost of $40,000.
Dedication day was Oct. 17, 1937. “We dedicate our Church to the glory of Jesus Christ and the salvation of souls,” the congregation proclaimed. “Youth of our Church and of our valley … this is to be YOUR Church. Use it! Let it be your refuge, your rallying place for inspiration and for strength. Love your Church! Attend it faithfully! Rally around it! We throw the torch to you.”
Since then, worship, like other aspects of the church, has changed in some ways, but the basic function remains the same: to glorify God and draw closer to him and to the community of believers.