History

First Bethlehem Lutheran Church was the eighth congregation of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod to be organized in Chicago. It is currently the fourth oldest church of that synod still in existence.

First Bethlehem's first church building, 1871-1889

First Bethlehem's first church building, 1871-1889

 First Bethlehem Lutheran Church was organized in July of 1871. The area around the church was not directly touched by the fire that swept Chicago in October of that year, but many people decided to move into the then largely unpopulated area served by the church. It completed its first building, a wood frame church, around December 1871. Our present building dates to 1889, when the original church was enlarged and a brick facade erected.

First Bethlehem Exterior circa 1940

First Bethlehem Exterior circa 1940

 First Bethlehem was the site where, in 1894, the first Lutheran service was conducted in sign language. This led eventually to deaf mission work being started in five states. At present it worships in English, but at various times it has had weekly services in German and Spanish, too.

First Bethlehem has always been concerned about education. It operated a day school from 1869 (two years before the church’s official formation) until 1985. In 1995, it began offering English as a Second Language classes for a decade and, in 1999, GED classes.

 First Bethlehem has also always tried to meet the physical needs of its community. In 1984, it opened a small food pantry, which has grown over the years. More recently, it has hosted a neighborhood group and started a Generations project to serve elderly residents of the neighborhood.

In honor of our 140th anniversary we have begun posting a series of articles with more information about our church’s history under the title Learning from our History.