|The New Bethel congregation moved its
church located in Hazen to a site in West Hazen with a long-term
building project that includes four phases, Phases I and II
have been completed
Faith, Vision Bring Church to 100 Years
Gehring, Karlene Hill. "Faith, Vision Bring Church to 100 Years." Hazen Star, 30 September 2004.
Long before Hazen was a bustling community, a group of German
pioneers spurred forward by their faith and determination came together
to form a church. Flash forward lOO years and the faith those early
pioneers held remains in the generations that followed.
|The fall of 1997, New
Bethel moved to its present location in West Hazen
It's faith that brings these people together and faith that helps
them survive and remain committed to their vision. Whether that
vision is saying good-bye to their country church to build in town
or planning a building project far into the future, the New Bethel
Congregational Church members for the past lOO years have put their
faith in God and moved forward into the future.
New Bethel Congregational Church will host an anniversary celebration
and Building dedication Sunday, Oct. 17. Worship services are set
for 1O a.m. and 1 p.m. Special music will be provided at both services
including musical selections by the Germans from Russia singers.
Rev. Milt Reimers, Great Plains Conference historian and former
conference chairman, will be the guest speaker at the afternoon
A noon meal of ham and knoephla will be served, with anniversary
cake and coffee following the 1:30 p.m. service. Also that afternoon
the dedication ceremony will be held. The public is welcome to come
and enjoy the celebration with the New Bethel congregation. It was
Oct. 18, 1904 when a group of German settlers met in the home of
John Zuern Sr., with the sincere desire to start a church. The settlers
were under the leadership of Dr. M. E. Eversz, who was the Superintendent
of the German Congregational Churches of America. Pioneers gathering
for the meeting that day included John and Elizabeth Zuern, Sr.,
Jacob and Sophia Zuern, Sr., George and Katarina Karlin, Sr., George
and Ida Karlin, Jr., John and Susana Wiedrich, David and Martha
Betz, Katarina and Eva Zuern, Dr. M. E. Eversz, Rev. H. Baumann,
Rev. George Rein and two brothers Fred Frei and A. Zimmerman.
The group agreed to organize and gave this organized church the
name Bethel Congregational Church. The summer of 1910, a second
special meeting was called as church members voted to build a church
on a plot of ground on the farmland of Fred Wiedrich. By Sept. 26
that same year, the church
was completed. Bethel members had their worship services, prayer
meetings and Sunday school in the church for the next 25 years.
Herb Zuern of Hazen remembers that first church. Born in 1919,
Herb was raised in the country church located about six miles from
his current home. His grandfather, John Zuern Sr., was one of the
men who gathered in 1904 to start the church. The church is part
of the Zuern family history as Herb recalls his memories of that
He tells of the chairs and. the pot belly stove that provided heat
and the kerosene lamps with mirrors that provided light.
“The Christmas programs – it was all candles,"
The five-mile journey to church each Sunday was a task as Herb's
father, John Jr., would hook the horses to a sleigh and travel cross
country to the little church.
|After building a country
church north of Hazen in 1910, New Bethel built a church in
Hazen in 1931 that remained at the location until 1997.
"If the roads were impassible he went through the fields,"
As time progressed roads and cars made it feasible for people to
easily travel to Hazen, said Herb's wife, Lonna. The roads leading
to town were better than the roads leading to the country church.
Decisions were afoot as the congregation decided to reorganize and
build a new church in Hazen.
It was 1932 when a plan was accepted and the church was christened
New Bethel Congregational Church. A child of about 12, Herb said
it was a difficult time for some who did not want to see the congregation
leave its current location and move to town.
"Some did not want to go into town," Herb remembers.
"It was such a big decision to make."
Herb's father, John Jr., was one of those in favor of building
a church in Hazen and he was elected a deacon in the first church.
Herb remembers building that new church in Hazen as the men of
the church would use their trucks to haul in the dirt and gravel
for the new church.
"All the members helped build it and a guy from Germany,"
A memory that stays with Herb is the fellow from Germany putting
the cross, built by Herb's father, on the church's steeple. As the
man was at the top of the church working, Herb's granddad looked
up at the steeple and said, "How are you going to get down?"
"Getting down is no problem," the man replied. "It's
the getting up."
"It's new times now with a bucket and boom," Herb said.
"It's a lot easier to get up there now."
Lorina added, "Back then they used a ladder and scaffolding."
The church and congregation continued to thrive as they went with
the ebb and flow brought
about by change. Herb remembers that the change from German services
to English was especially difficult.
"Some people wanted to switch, others didn't want to... that
was churches all over," Herb said. "They didn't understand
New Bethel saw its congregation increase and then grow smaller
as time passed. In the mid-1980s the church found itself with fewer
than 20 members. But the church wasn't ready to give up...
"It was that way," Herb said. "You really didn't
think of giving up but you wondered how to go forward."
The members decided to pray for 10 new families. They even went
so far as to gather 10 blank cards on which to note the names of
the new families.
The 10 cards were soon filled and the Bill and Laurel Tveit family
was one of those 10 families that joined the church, They were joined
by a growing number of church members who were not raised in the
"Most of the current members are from other backgrounds,"
Bringing church family together with different backgrounds and
traditions can take work. But Laurel said, "Our common ground
is in God's word and our love for the Lord."
She explained that three issues are primary for the church: a belief
in the Trinity, a belief that the Bible is God's Word and God is
speaking to us, and a belief in a personal relationship with Jesus
is necessary for eternal life. "
All other issues are considered secondary," Laurel said. "Everybody
has a right to their own opinion with those secondary issues."
She added that New Bethel is unique in that it practices both infant
baptism by sprinkling on the water and also believer's baptism by
By the mid-1990s, decisions were once again facing New Bethel as
it was outgrowing its church, there was no room for expansion and
the basement foundation was crumbling. Bill said the church building
itself was sound, only the foundation was crumbling, so the congregation
in 1997 decided to move the church from downtown to its current
site in West Hazen. The structure was set on a new basement, with
a tunnel built to provide handicap accessibility to the basement.
The move itself provides an interesting story as the cross that
adorned the church's steeple that Herb remembers so well would not
fit under the highline wires.
Church members turned this problem into an opportunity to construct
a bigger more durable cross.
The original cross was removed and replaced nearly two years later
with a new cross that incorporated an anchor to signify the congregation's
belief that they are anchored in Christ.
Moving the church was only the, beginning of a vision for New Bethel,
which has a four-phase building plan. Phase I included the basement
and moving the church along with building the tunnel. Phase II began
in 2003 when construction was started on a new addition to the west
and south as well as expanding the basement to the south. New classrooms
and storage were added to the basement, along with a pastor's office,
bathrooms and a meeting room. A new entryway was added to the front
of the church, with the entire sanctuary and old entryway refurbished.
The outside was re-sided and the roof re-shingled. The first beam
for a proposed new sanctuary to the west, which is Phase III, was
also set in place. Phase IV includes construction of a fellowship
"The Bible says without a vision people will perish,"
said Laurel. "We have hope and a vision for growth for the
Miraculously, nearly all of the costs of the $120,000 project are
paid for albeit a small loan.
|Bill Tveit, New Bethel
Building Committee chairman, shows a model of the church expansion
"Our people believe in tithing ...They are very giving people.
They give because they love the Lord." With a long-term plan,
it can be difficult to keep the vision in mind. But what was simply
a plan in 1997 is now reality.
"The future has come," Bill said. "The future that
was a vision in 1997."
The Tveits added that although the congregation has decreased in
size since 1997, it hasn't lost the vision.
The New Bethel Congregation continues to plan for the future with
hope and a strong faith that the congregation will grow, and when
it does they will be ready.
Current, pastor, Rev. Rick Loewen has been with New Bethel for
nearly four years.
"The church has continued for 100 years because of the devotion
of the members of the church first to the Lord and then to the church,"
Rick said. He added that church members have work well together
in an atmosphere where if they disagree "they disagree agreeably."
"They talk it out and they may still feel differently but they
don’t hold it against each other," Rick said. For the
future, Rick said, "We always hope that we can get new members
and we can continue to be a lighthouse in the community.' Herb has
watched his boyhood church change so much through his lifetime and
he and wife, Lonna remain committed to New Bethel Congregationalist
Church. "When I was a kid and Granddad (Geist) was sick and
old he said “You young ones be sure to keel up that church,"'Herb
said. "That kind of sticks to a person when an older person
tells you something It means more." From grandfathers and fathers
to sons, Lonna said, "That's a good heritage." "My
prayer (for New Bethel) is it will keep growing until the Lord comes,"
Pastors who have served the congregation since 1904 include:
- George Hein, 1904-05
- John E. Reister, 1905-07
- Carl A. Lippenberger, 1908-09
- F. Held, 1909-10
- FredrichAnhom, 1910-12
- H.R. Reutemann, 1912-13
- John Rothenberger, 1913-18
- A. Sehnikeit, 1918
- Henry J. Diedrich, 1919-22
- Fred J. Wacker, 1923-25
- Jacob E. Himing, 1925-27
- Carl C. Roemmich, 1929-36
- Fred J. Wacker, 1936-39
- Hennan Ollech, 1939-42
- Adolf Ormim, 1943-45
- George Kissler, 1946-48
- Student Theodore Bader, summer of 1949
- Jacob Rath, 1949-52
- Student Herbert Wenz, summer of 1952
- Student Ralph Sailer, summer of 1953
part of 1954
- Arthur M. Hoffinan, 1955-61
- Jacob Rath and Student Vernon Heinrich,
- Albert Wetzel, 1963-68
- Adolph Orman, 1968-82
- Clinton Birst, 1983-84
- Arthur K. Wetzel, 1985-91
- John Barwick 1992-99
- Interim pastors Ron Klein & Bob Pittman,
- Rick Loewen, 2001 until today
Reprinted with permission of the Hazen Star.