National/State Register Listing Name: FREE EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH
National Register Listing Date: 1985-03-27
State Register Listing Date: 1989-01-01
National Register Multiple Property Name: Multiple Resources of Ephraim
Additional Information: POINTED ARCHED WINDOWS AND ENTRY. Buttresses are a later addition. Ceiling was lowered in 1940. The altar rail and pulpit were gifts from a church in Manitowoc. In 1904, the pews from a church in Milwaukee replaced the original curved back chairs. The baptismal font was carved by Bruce Eames of Door Co. in 1953. The present altar was built and carved by Charles Pelletier of Door Co. in 1958. Although founded by Norwegian Moravians, Ephraim included many Scandinavian Lutheran settlers often unfamiliar with the Moravian church. "There had long been talk among the Norwegians in Ephraim and the surrounding countryside about organizing a Lutheran congregation and building a church where they could follow the practices which they were accustomed to in the old country, for the Moravian service was so different that they did not really feel at home," wrote Peter Peterson, an influential Lutheran merchant. By 1878, Ephraim Lutherans met in village homes, with services conducted by a Lutheran minister visiting from Manitowoc. But the difficulty of travel interrupted those early services, and furhter plans for organizing a congregation lay dormant for a few years. In 1882, however, six families "with diverse views of church fellowship" gathered in the home of Thomas Goodletson and established the Free Evangelical Lutheran Church with the hope of gathering all Lutherans in the area "into a church community and building a church in Ephraim". The group carefully avoided sectarian conflict by remaining unaffiliated with any synod. Indeed, noted Peterson, "it was a major concern of the Lutherans in Ephraim to stay out of the church struggle". Within weeks, sixty families pledged their support; a fund raising effort, directed by Peterson, had begun, and a new church building took shape. When the new building was dedicated in 1882, Peterson secured the services of the Rev. John Torgerson, an independent Lutheran minister from Chicago, and former president of the Hauge College and Eielsen Seminary in that city, to conduct the service and help prepare a constitution. As a demonstration of tolerance, the group invited nearby Moravian, Methodist, and Baptist ministers to join in the ceremonies. Upon Torgerson's recommendation the congregation hired Johan Olson of Chicago as its minister. Olson served the church for the next ten years. From 1895-1897 the church was affiliated with the Augustana Synod, and in 1898 became affiliated with the United Lutheran Church of America, at which time it adopted the name "Bethania Scandanavian Evangelical Lutheran Church". By that date, the church had 119 members, and services were conducted in Norwegian. But the creation of Peninsula State Park forced the removal of several of the congregation's families, and by 1915 membership had declined to 46.
Bibliographic References: "75th Anniversary of Bethany Lutheran Church, Ephraim, WI, 1882-1957" pamphlet.
Holand, Hjalmer Rued, History of Door Co., WI, Vols. 1 and 2 (Chicago, S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1917).
Kahlert, John, Pioneer Cemetaries (Baileys Harbor, WI, Meadow Land Publishers, 1981).
Peterson, Peter, On Both Sides of the Ocean: A Part of Per Hagen's Journey. Translated with introduction and notes by Kate Stafford and Harold Naess. (The Norwegian-American Historical Association: Northfield, MN, 1984).