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Bethel-St. Johns United Methodist Church, Racine, Wisconsin

Privacy Level: Open (White)
Date: 1883 [unknown]
Location: Racine, Wisconsinmap
Surnames/tags: Religion Methodists
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Description and History

Swedish Methodist Episcopal Church of Racine, Wisconsin

Bethel Methodist Episcopal Church was begun by Swedish immigrants to the United States on March 23, 1883, and was first known as the Swedish Methodist Episcopal Church of Racine, Wisconsin. At the time of its founding, there were 14 charter members.[1] The congregation was established after the impactful preaching of Rev. Nels O. Westergreen, one of the leaders of Swedish Methodism in the midwest and presiding elder of the Chicago Swedish District, to a gathering in Racine on February 25, 1883. Rev. Victor Witting, another major figure in the Swedish community, and editor of the influential Swedish-language periodical Sändebudet, spent several weeks in Racine following Westergreen's visit conducting revival meetings and assisting in the organization of the new congregation.[2]

Initial meetings took place at an existing Episcopal Church, but moved in 1884 to a Danish Baptist Church purchased by the congregation. Rev. E. A. Davidson, then a seminary student at the Swedish Theological School in Evanston, Illinois, began his service as the church's first pastor in the autumn of 1884.[3]

In 1904, the church building was sold to a Jewish congregation, and a new structure was constructed at the intersection of West 6th Street and Lafayette Avenue (later renamed Memorial Drive) in Racine at a cost of $10,000. It was dedicated by Bishop McDowell on May 28, 1905.[4] In 1921, the church changed its name to Bethel Methodist Episcopal Church, and remained so until the church merged with St. Johns United Methodist Church in 1967. Bethel is likely a reference to Olof Hedstrom's Bethel Ship John Wesley, which was moored in New York harbor from 1845 to 1890, and served as a floating chapel that provided aid, social support and Methodist worship for the scores of Swedish immigrants who passed through the city.[5]

Merger with St. Johns United Methodist Church

On June 11, 1967, Wisconsin Area Methodist Bishop Ralph T. Alton consecrated the merger between the all-white Bethel Methodist Episcopal Church and the predominantly African-American St. Johns United Methodist Church. The new congregation became known as Bethel-St. Johns United Methodist Church, and had a combined membership of 235 in 1967.[6] Both pastors of the constituent churches served the merged congregation together until 1971, when Bethel-St. Johns' popular African-American minister, Rev. Ernest Loftin left to serve a pair of rural churches in Green County, Wisconsin.[7]

Merger with Faith United Methodist Church

In 1975, Bethel-St. Johns United Methodist Church sold its building at 1502 West 6th Street, and merged into Faith United Methodist Church in an effort to grow the small memberships of both congregations.[8] The diverse community of Bethel-St. Johns found union with the historically Italian congregation of Faith Church, and the joined congregation continues to operate in Racine as Faith United Methodist Church.

Sources

  1. Sixtieth Anniversary Program, March 20-21, 1943, Bethel Methodist Episcopal Church, Racine, Wisconsin.
  2. "History of the Church," Rev. Henry G. Nylin. Newsletter of Bethel Methodist Episcopal Church, 1925.
  3. "Bethel Methodist Church to Observe 60th Anniversary over Weekend," Racine Journal Times: March 18, 1943.
  4. "Bethel Observed Fiftieth Anniversary." Racine Journal Times: March 20, 1933.
  5. Wyman, Henry C. The Hedstroms and the Bethel Ship Saga: Methodist Influence of Swedish Religious Life. Southern Illinois University Press: Carbondale and Edwardsville, IL., 1992.
  6. "Bishop to Consecrate Union of Negro-White Churches." Racine Journal Times: June 8, 1967.
  7. "Rev. Loftin Will Leave." Racine Journal Times: May 26, 1971.
  8. "Merger of Two Churches in 'Courtship' Stage." Racine Journal Times: June 8, 1975.


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