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Bethel Baptist Church

Brookings, South Dakota

A history

For nearly 60 years, God has been at work in the people of Brookings, South Dakota, its surrounding area and, by extension, the world through the body of Bethel Baptist Church. God has brought people of many groups into this fellowship – from young families and college students to empty nesters and older adults, and many others – to be a part of this local church. Bethel’s life has been rich with some long-running ministries and with the regular opportunity to begin something new, as the church has continued to seek out what God is doing and to get involved in His work.

Beginnings

Bethel Baptist Church was organized January 9, 1955. Its first meeting was actually a prayer

service held in a private home, with Sunday school and worship services held in another home a week later. A constitution was written, approved, and instituted within a few weeks by 11 charter members. The church was incorporated July 31, 1956.

The church was first affiliated with the Conservative Baptist Association. Later, in the 1960s, Bethel changed its affiliation to the Baptist General Conference, now called Converge Worldwide; it is a member of the Converge Heartland District.

Landmarks

In 2005, Bethel celebrated its 50th anniversary. A special service featuring Dr. Jerry Sheveland, president of Converge Worldwide, was held to honor how God has blessed Bethel with longevity. The following summer, the church invited all the past leaders and members to Brookings for a celebration weekend. At the time of this festivity, the Lord also inspired the congregation to plan a facility and ministry expansion project. The 10,000 square foot Event Center was dedicated on July 19, 2009. In 2014, the church continues to repay the expense of this addition.

Facilities

From its inception in early 1955, attendance at Bethel services continued to increase each week and by June of that year the need for a larger meeting place was evident. The basement of the old City Armory was leased for this use and there the church continued to grow.

In August 1956, the way was opened for the purchase of a large house. The first floor was converted into a chapel and study and the second floor was used for the parsonage and Sunday school rooms.

By spring 1958, attendance was consistently overflowing the available space. This led to the purchase of the facility formerly used by First Lutheran Church, a small building in downtown Brookings located at 703 Main Avenue. After repairing and redecorating the building, a service of dedication was held Nov. 30, 1958.

The downtown location served the church well but this old building required certain extra efforts. For instance, winter required parishioners to hand-stoke the coal furnace every six hours. The building was also not accessible to handicapped people; wheelchairs had to be carried up the steps.

By the late 1970s it was clear that Bethel was once again operating in inadequate space. In February 1978, with the church building deteriorating, the congregation voted to purchase land and build a new facility. This was a move of faith, as the congregation included only about 70 people at the time. A plot of ground located at Eighth Street South and 17th Avenue was purchased in July 1978. Bethel engaged the service of Zion Church Builders to share in the construction of the facility, which it occupies today. This new building was dedicated in 1981.

Leaders

The first full-time pastor, Pastor Lawrence Johnson, was called in January 1956. Bethel was then served by Rev. Norman McPherson, 1960-1966; Rev. Wilbur Madsen, 1966-1969; and Rev. William Damberg, 1970-1975.

In 1976, Rev. Dennis Erickson was called as pastor; he led the congregation until his retirement in 2007.

During Pastor Erickson’s tenure the church employed a number of interns for youth ministry. The first associate pastor was called in the early 90’s. By the end of Pastor Erickson’s ministry the staff count was at its highest in number; it included a head pastor, full-time associate pastor, a half-time worship leader, a half-time counselor and a full-time secretary. The church also paid a quarter of the salary of an evangelism pastor. This pastor spent the balance of his time as a paid staff member of the para-church ministry InterVarsity; he served the campus of South Dakota State University in Brookings and was director of the ministry for the Dakotas.

Following Pastor Erickson’s retirement, Rev. Dennis Johnson led Bethel from 2007 to early 2009 as an intentional interim.

In 2009, Bethel called Rev. Scott Maurer as senior pastor. In 2011 Pastor Ryan Bucher was hired as the worship pastor and Pastor Todd Kruse as the youth pastor. Annegret Brozel became director of children’s ministry, a part-time position. God used the time with this pastoral team for Bethel to grow in worship, in vision for the Gospel, in baptisms and in new members.

In January 2013 God brought Bethel to a time of transition during which the elder board and Pastor Maurer mutually agreed that he should resign. Pastor Ryan served in the interim role until July 2013, when he returned to the West Coast for another pastorate. Pastor Todd resigned in June 2013 to go to Minneapolis for family reasons.

In the fall of 2013, Pastor William Menke became Bethel’s interim pastor, serving via Interim Pastor Ministries. Pastor Menke is currently preaching God’s Word and coaching the congregation through this time of transition and pastoral search.

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