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 service.

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 first building.

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," Herb said.

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," Herb said.

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," Herb said.

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 English."

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 Congregationalist Church.

"Most of the current members are from other backgrounds," said Laurel.

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 immersion.

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 hall.

"The Bible says without a vision people will perish," said Laurel. "We have hope and a vision for growth for the future."

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 plans.

"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," Herb said.

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, 1962
  • 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, 1999-2001
  • Rick Loewen, 2001 until today

Reprinted with permission of the Hazen Star.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller