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 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 building in early 1872. In 1889 the transepts were added, the entrance was remodeled, and the wood siding was replaced by brick. However, the substance of the building dates back to 1872, thus making it the oldest Missouri Synod church building within the city limits.
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. It continues to offer two Bible classes a week, plus a monthly theological book discussion group.
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.
Because our church was a port of entry for many immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th century, many people look to our church’s records in order to trace their ancestry. For more information about how to find a record of an ancestor, please click here.