About Bethel Lutheran Church
Called by God, forgiven through Christ, and led by his word (Spirit) so that we might proclaim Jesus Christ and Him crucified for the forgiveness of sins to our church, community, and world.
Located at the corner of Euper Lane and Waldron Road in Fort Smith (map), Bethel Lutheran Church has been serviving, Fort Smith, Van Buren, Arkoma, Barling, and the Arklahoma region since 1939.
Bethel was established on October 15, 1939 with the original intention to be a branch Sunday School of First Lutheran, however, growth was constant. The very first communion service was held 1942. By 1943, six children and five adults had been confirmed. Initially the congregation was almost entirely of previously unchurched people whom Lutheranism had been a foreign word in the beginning.
During the years from 1939-1949, the total membership at Bethel varied little. With Fort Chaffee so close, members were transferring in regularly but, with almost as much regularity, members were also transferring out.
In the early 1950's a new wing was added serving as the Parish Hall.
During the late 50's and early 60's, more programs were added to the ministry of the church. Vacation Bible school grew in attendance as did Sunday school, and more children began to attend First Lutheran School. The Lutheran Women's Missionary League, always an agency for spiritual growth among the ladies, began to grow as well.
In 1965, the current church sanctuary was built and dedicated on June 6.
During the 1970's Bethel became fully self-supporting; its classification as a mission congregation was removed.
In 1980's a new wing was added to the building adding office and classroom space, as well as a large fellowship area. During this time, renovation work was also done in the sanctuary, with alterations in the chancel area, new carpeting and better lighting among the changes. With the new facilities, new opportunities for ministry presented themselves to the congregation, and a preschool program was established.
During the 1990's, a second worship service was started, and a second addition was added to accommodate the need for space. The addition was dedicated in 1995 and provided more space for Sunday school, preschool, and congregation programs. In 1998 Bethel opened a Child Care Center. This Center served as a day care facility for parents of children ages six weeks through five years.
During the 2000's, major changes to demographics of Fort Smith caused a decline in membership. Bethel returned to one service and closed its child daycare.
In 2010, Bethel is re-establishing its roots, concentrating once again on mission work. The changes seen are tremendous and the challenges ahead are inspiring,but by God's grace and direction, Bethel Lutheran will continue its work serving Jesus Christ through Word and Sacrament.
Message from Pastor Johnson
Dear Christian Friends,
Epiphany, often called the season of light, reminds me of these words of Jesus found in Matthew 5:16: "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven." This imperative serves as inspiration for the Sunday School song, "This Little Gospel Light of Mine". One verse states: "Hide it under a bushel, NO! I'm gonna let it shine." Singing these words teaches and encourages us to be unapologetic about our faith as we allow ourselves to be identified as Christian people, regardless of who is watching and no matter where we might be. After all, it is the nature of light to shine.
So what is "This Little Gospel Light of Mine" and where does it come from? Jesus said, "I am the light of the world" (John 8:12), yet he also tells us that we are the light of the world. (Matthew 5:14) As Christians, we see that Jesus is the light that illuminates the darkness of sin, but it might be confusing that Jesus also refers to us as being that same light. Simply, this "light" is the Gospel message, the Good News that our sin — the world's sin — is forgiven in and through the work of Jesus Himself. This gift is given to us so that we might shine it for others.
Besides proclaiming the Word, how does this light that is ours shine before people? Jesus tells us that we shine when we do good works. Good works are necessary, not to save us — Jesus has already taken care of that — but so that our neighbors might see these works and glorify our Father in Heaven. That is why we sing in another verse, "All around the neighborhood, I'm gonna let it shine." We know that we do not manufacture this light that shines. Rather, as we rejoice in His Light, our light shines because we have been brought into God's family by grace through Word and Sacraments. Like wet comes with rain, so light comes with Jesus. As people see our care and love for them and for each other — our faith in action — God's light shines through us, illuminating sin and showing the forgiveness won by Jesus Christ on the cross.
As members of the body of Christ in this place and at this time, we are called to shine, not with our glory or our accomplishments, but with His glory and what He accomplished on the cross. May we, as members of Bethel Lutheran Church, realize our calling and purpose as light-bearers to people walking in darkness all around us … that they may also see HIS GREAT LIGHT!
Amen! Amen! It shall be so!
Photos are coming soon!