Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Church
Palestine, Texas
"To Give Light to Those who Sit in Darkness" (St. Luke 1:79)​​​
Orthodox - Liturgical - Traditional
About Us

Bethlehem's History

EARLY HISTORY of Lutherans in the area

​​At Palestine, near Oakwood, where the Reverend G.W. Fischer had conducted services as early as 1906, and where The Reverend A.J. Niemann had made an attempt to found a congregation in the early 1920's. No lasting development came until 1942. (From "Pause to Ponder" by the Texas District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod)​

THE BEGINNING of Bethlehem: Mission in Palestine

While serving the mission of Henderson, Texas, The Reverend Edward Marohn explored the mission possibilities of Palestine, Texas.

For several months, services were held in the courtroom of the Anderson County Courthouse. On January 10, 1942, the first service was held in the Jewish Synagogue located on the corner of South Magnolia and Dallas Streets. On the first anniversary in 1943, the congregation numbered 30 communicants and approximately 50 souls! Bethlehem in Palestine may be the only congregation in the synod to have ever used a synagogue as a house of worship, but that is where the congregation worshiped until 1947, when a surplus Army Chapel was obtained by the congregation.

Anderson County Courthouse Built in 1914


On September 15, 1943, Pastor Marohn accepted a call to the military chaplaincy. On December 12, 1943, The Reverend Hugo Hannusch was ordained and commissioned as Missionary-at-large to the Palestine area. The congregation received its Charter of incorporation as Bethlehem Lutheran Church on December 4, 1945. The Congregation was accepted into membership of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod on April 23, 1946.

The Charter members included Mr. Henry Dupont, President; Mr. J.W. Gruetzner, Vice-President; Mr. Edwin Schwegler, Secretary/Treasurer; Mr. Charles Brenner; Mr. O.F. Meeck; Mr. E.A. Pursch; Mr. Erwin Schwegler; Mr. Luke Wagner; Mr. Frank Gerken; Mr. Walter Kaudelka; Mr. August Koehne; and Pastor Hugo Hannusch.


In 1947, the Missouri Synod purchased an Army Chapel from the former Camp Fannin near Tyler, Texas and moved it from Tyler to Palestine. This building is located at 600 East Neches at Bowie Street. It was dedicated to the Glory of God on April 27, 1947. The first organ was dedicated in 1952.​​​​

Army Chapel Camp Fannin circa 1947​​
600 East Neches @ Bowie Palestine, circa 1947


Pastor Hannusch accepted a call to Dallas in 1953.

Rev. Robert T. Kunz served from 1954 to 1958, accepting a call to West Knoxville, Tennessee.

Rev. James M. Gruetzner was installed in 1959 and served until 1964, going to Washington, Michigan.

Rev. Lenhart E. Etzel was installed in 1965.

On January 9, 1966, a new Baldwin organ was dedicated.

In 1967, Pastor Etzel took a call to Illinois.

OUR PRESENT LOCATION: Ministry moves in 1971

Rev. Keith E. DuBois was called to serve the congregation in September 1968. In 1969, three acres were purchased on Loop 256, where the present church facility was built and dedicated on August 15, 1971. Former Pastor Hugo Hannusch of Holy Cross Lutheran Church in San Antonio, Texas delivered the dedicatory sermon. Rev. DuBois served the congregation until 1973, accepting a call to Copperas Cove. At that time the congregation numbered 132 communicant members and 178 baptized!​​

THE FIRST EXPANSION: Fellowship Hall & Classrooms

Bethlehem's Current Santuary Circa 1971​​
Rev. Kenneth Baisden was ordained and installed on March 23, 1975. Expanding ministries required 2000 square feet of space added in 1978 for Sunday School classes, new kitchen and bathrooms, and a larger fellowship hall. In 1979 the Bethlehem Pre-School and Day-Care Center was opened.​​

The congregation also mothered three more congregations:
  • Christ Lutheran Church in Jacksonville
  • Our Savior Lutheran Church in Centerville
  • Grace Lutheran Church in Crockett
Bethlehem circa 1978 Fellowship Hall, Classrooms & Kitchen added​

MINISTRY EXPANDS: Pre-School/Day-Care Center

Rev. I. Melvin Newman, Jr. accepted a Divine Call and was installed August 3, 1980, and served the congregation for nine years, as well as serving as Circuit Counselor. The Pre-School and Day-Care Center continued to flourish, rated as one of the finest child care facilities in the area. It met the needs of many young working people for 17 years.

Pastor Mel, as he was known to the congregation, accepted a call to Katy, Texas in July, 1989.

A Hammond Organ was installed in 1989.

In June of 1989, the congregation numbered 228 communicants and 329 baptized souls!

Rev. Paul Donald Neumann was installed February 4, 1990. He served both Bethlehem, in Palestine, and Christ Lutheran in Jacksonville, until November 15, 1993, when he moved to Allen, Texas.

Rev. Paul E. Johnson of Irving, Texas, served as vacancy Pastor for almost three years, from November 21, 1993, until July of 1996. The Pre-School/Day-Care Center was closed in August of 1996.


In July, 1995, Bethlehem Lutheran celebrated 50 years of God's Blessings, with a special service and BBQ supper. Rev. Mel Newman was the special speaker, and Rev. Hugo Hannusch, the first full-time Pastor of Bethlehem, was the honored guest.​

CONTINUED EXPANSION: Parking & Mortgage Burning

Rev. Robert J. Pase accepted a Divine Call as Pastor of Bethlehem and was installed on August 18, 1996.​​

As parking became a growing issue during Pastor Pase's tenure the parking lot was expanded. The main parking lot was effectively doubled in capacity.

During 1997 a revised constitution was approved, preliminary plans for church expansion begun, and on December 7, 1997 the church mortgage was burned, signifying the mortgage being paid in full.

Bethlehem Circa 1999 After Parking Expansion

A NEW MILLINEUM: A New Expansion

A Building Committee was appointed to draw up plans to expand Bethlehem's ministry facility. In January 2000, a Capital Campaign Committee was formed to oversee fundraising efforts to raise $350,000 for the building addition and renovations to the existing building with the theme "Rooted in God's Word...We Grow!" from St. Matthew 6:33.

Pastor Pase served until August 2000, when he accepted a call to serve Grace Lutheran Church in Midland and departed on August 31, 2000.

During the vacancy that followed Pastor Lewis Wunderlich of Bruceville, Texas, served as interim pastor.

PHASE I: Laboring for Christ

In July 2001, a Divine Call was issued to Rev. David R. Bergman of Trinity Lutheran Church, Alamogordo, New Mexico. He accepted this Call and was installed as Bethlehem's tenth resident pastor by Texas District Area B Vice-president Pastor Robert Preece on September 30, 2001. Under Pastor Bergman's guidance the Building Committee continued to formulate plans for the proposed building expansion and it was decided to ask Synod's Laborers for Christ program to assist with construction.

Hookups for travel trailers were installed on the church parking lot in anticipation of the arrival of the six Laborers for Christ couples assigned to our Bethlehem project.

On January 26, 2003, following other site preparation, groundbreaking was held for the construction of the building addition. Then on Reformation Day, October 31, 2003, the 9600 square foot concrete slab foundation for the new building was poured. A slab party celebration was held on Sunday, November 16, 2003.​

Bethlehem Lutheran Church
​& RV Park circa 2004

The Laborers for Christ work crew was led by foreman Bill Terrell. The crew included Earl & Marlys Fischer of Marlette, Michigan; Walt & Winnie Kois of Broomfield, Colorado; Donald & Jean Mahnke of Bryan, Texas; Cliff & Pat Olson of Clayton, Delaware; Bill & Nancy Terrill of Acworth, Georgia; and Don & Doris Verseman of Perryville, Missouri. The Commissioning of the Laborers for Christ team took place on Sunday, December 14, 2003.

The major exterior work of constructing the new building was finished by February 15, 2004, and was celebrated with a "Stud Signing Party." Having completed this first phase of the new construction the Laborers for Christ crew departed. Since that time members have continued to work on various aspects of the building in anticipation of the completion of the interior.

PHASE II: The New Roof

In 2005 Bethlehem moved forward with Phase II of the construction project, the re-roofing of the flat portion over the old parish hall and classrooms and tying it in with the new building. New air conditioning and heating units would also be installed. A special offering campaign was initiated, which gathered the needed money to fund the construction of the pitched roof. The project began on April 30th.​

God blessed us with rains, often inside the fellowship hall and kitchen, but the roof was complete, including new shingles on the sanctuary roof, by the middle of May.


In August 2005, a used Rogers 750E electronic organ was donated to Bethlehem by Robert & Barbara Helmkamp, members of St. Mark Lutheran Church in Houston. It is a full size church organ with 2 manuals and 36 stops. Although it is 20 years old, it will provide appropriate musical support for the Divine Service for many years to come.​​

Installation of the Rodgers was completed in time for Palm Sunday 2006, and dedication recital concerts were given on October 1st by Benjamin Kolodziej; and Pamela Tamburello on November 12th.

The old Hammond previously in use was donated to Trinity Lutheran Church in Tyler for use in the satellite mission they have initiated in the Hawkins/Holly Lake Ranch area north of Tyler.

The Rodgers 750E Organ


In February 2006, Bethlehem joined the 345 congregations of the Texas District in celebrating the centennial of the district’s creation in 1906, while also marking 60 years of ministry in Palestine. We confidently look to the future, praying for God’s guidance and blessing so that, faithful in worship, study and service, we may complete the task of providing improved facilities for the work of proclaiming the Good News about Jesus Christ and His Kingdom in this place. Our vision for ministry is summed up by the Bethlehem Mission Statement:​

“Steadfast in the Word, Bethlehem Lutheran Church shares Christ and serves people with friendship in His love in all of God’s world.”

PHASE III: The Vote to finish the New Building

After almost two years of slow, but continual tasks being finished, including major drywall work being completed, electrical rough in, plumbing rough in, and texturing and priming of walls, the next area was the air conditioning of the expanded facilities.​​

In the fall of 2007 Bethlehem's Church Council voted unanimously to finish the new building NOW! The proposal was taken to the church's voters meeting, and passed to take a loan of up to $200,000 with the Church Extension Fund.

L to R: Pastor Bergman, President Devin Jackson, Secretary Donna Hughes & Mary Lou Daughtrey Treasurer

PHASE IV: The Push to the Finish

After months of bids, calculations, and some re-bidding due to a volatile economy, we finally received the OK from CEF to proceed.

Loan paperwork was signed, and the push to the end began in earnest in September, 2008.

The City of Palestine was gracious to grant Bethlehem a temporary certificate of occupancy July 2, 2009.

Vacation Bible School was held in the new building!

The building was officially dedicated on October 18th, 2009.

Thanks be to God for this accomplishment as we work to the building being completely finished!

2012 REMODEL: E X P A N S I O N of the Narthex

After being identified as an issue, the church council & the congregation approved a project to expand the narthex of Bethlehem. A working budget of $20,000 was set aside for the project.

With the relocation of church offices and Pastor's study; there where areas available to be renovated. Major electrical service within the church had to be moved and relocated. The former church office & mailroom, and approximately half of a former classroom and half of pastor's old study were involved in the new narthex area.

The remaining half of the former classroom became the new counting room and is also used for uploading the recordings of the Divine Service to the webpage. The remaining half of pastor's old study became the Music Ministry Office.

After the work by the congregation in Luther Hall, this project was confidently completed with "veteran" help in demolition, cleaning, painting and helping!

In June 2015, after almost 14 years of ministry here, Pastor Bergman retired and moved to the Waco area. The Reverend David L. Adler, of Elkhart, served as Vacancy Pastor until June of 2016, when the Voters’ Assembly extended him a divine call. He accepted and was installed on August 5, 2016.

Under Pastor Adler's leadership, Bethlehem congregation is striving to increase her role in the community, as both salt and light, through outreach and service.

Soli Deo Gloria!​

Core Values in Ministry

Rev. David L. Adler

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
(Acts 2:42 ESV)

1. “THE APOSTLES’ TEACHING” – The Word of God

It is particularly important in a church that people take a personal responsibility to each other in group Bible study. Such personal responsibility to one another is impossible to be achieved in a worship service. The dynamics of studying God’s Word together and fellowshipping together are important for the continued involvement of every Christian. God works in and through your fellow believers to benefit the Bible students in their participation.

The example of the Church in Berea “For they received the Word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” (Acts 17:11)

Jesus confronts and challenges the Jews and all men, even people of today: “He who is of God hears the words of God; the reasons you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” (St. John 8: 6,47)

Jesus said: “If you continue in my Word, then you are truly my disciples.” (St. John 8.31)

I encourage every member (and leaders are expected to set examples) to be faithful in group study of God’s Word. In this way the Body of Christ can mature and grow.

2. “THE FELLOWSHIP – Service in the Communion (community)
     of Saints

Every member needs to be involved in at least one activity within the Body of Christ. There is opportunity to serve in so many ways that most people’s talents and gifts can be used. It is also expected that each member financially support the ministry which is being performed by all the members of the Church. This means an annual “Faith Promise” (a commitment, or pledge) of financial resources that God provides to you so that you can prove the earnestness of your love (2 Corinthians 8 & 9). Offerings and gifts to the Lord ate not optional but are expected of every Christian as the Scriptures clearly indicate. There are examples in Scripture as well as direct demands to be generous and supportive of the Lord’s work. Such offerings are to be sacrificial gifts and provide a means of praising Him for His generous sustenance.

Being in fellowship also demands integrity in inter-personal relationships. This means that we reject gossip and slander in our midst.

"Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another." (Ephesians 4:25 ESV)

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Cor 13:7 ESV)

Do not slander one another. (James 4:11 NIV)

We also hold each other to our Lord’s directives in dealing with any confrontation, differences, or need for discipline that may arise in our spiritual community.

“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave
your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to

your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (St. Matthew 5:23-24 ESV)

"If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” (St. Matthew 18:15-17 ESV)


It is expected of every member to be faithful in worship and in receiving the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Faithfulness is to be defined as being present every Sunday among God’s people unless there is a providential reason such as sickness, accident, and the like which would prevent it. The Third Commandment demands it and Scriptures throughout expect the faithful people of God to be present in worship. It has become the habit, custom, expectation of many to think that God is satisfied with half-hearted commitment or a token participation. Neither God nor your fellow members of the Church are satisfied with that kind of participation. “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:25 NIV)

Historically, the Lutheran Church is a “liturgical” church. That means that the basic pattern of our worship is drawn from the services that have been used by Christians for many centuries all across the world. The components of the Liturgy come from the Bible and serve to focus our worship on God’s Word and our response to His Word in faith. As Martin Luther once said, “We worship to hear God speak and to speak to the God who hears us.” If anyone is new to our worship format they are encouraged them to let it serve as a witness of our response to God who reaches out to us. In time, we pray that they, too, will celebrate the rich spiritual rewards of our heritage in Worship. [A full explanation of our core values for Worship is included in “ Theses for Worship ”]

Our Communion practice, although different from all Protestants, is consistent with the historic practice of the Christian Church, which has regarded unity in doctrine as a prerequisite for admission to the Sacrament (Eucharist) (“oneness at Communion demonstrates oneness in doctrine”). 

For this reason the churches of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod practice Closed Communion.  Closed Communion is the Scriptural and historic practice of limiting participation in the Lord’s Supper to those who have been...

  • catechized (instructed),
  • formally admitted to the Sacrament, after having been examined in the truths of the Christian faith, and
  • who have promised to believe, teach and confess all that the church in which they will commune believes, teaches and confesses.

We believe that Holy Communion (the Eucharist) is a special gift of God to His church.  This Sacrament is administered in the confession and glad confidence that, as God says, He gives into our mouths not only bread and wine but the actual Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins and to strengthen our union with Him and with one another. [A full explanation Closed Communion may be found at " Holy Communion - A Clarifying Word "]