At one time, there were two Lutheran churches in Moose Lake, Bethlehem - a Swedish Lutheran Church and Zion - a Norwegian Lutheran Church. Our heritage goes back to both of these congregations.
In the fall of 1869, the Ole Swanson family settled just south of Moose Lake. Ole invited his Swedish neighbors, who had brought their Bibles, Psalm books, catechisms and Lutheran convictions from the old country, to his home for services. Pastor N.J. Brink preached in the Swanson home in 1875-76. Subsequently, pastors from various places made monthly visits. The congregation was organized in 1882 by Pastor Brink. This small congregation with little support finally had to disband in 1900.
In 1901, Ole Swanson was again the leader in reorganizing the parish with Pastor C.J. Collins. By 1902, the pastorate included Blomskog, Swede Park, Mahtowa, Atkinson, Moose Lake and Grand Rapids. This was quite a tour for the traveling pastor who would have to take a train and stay for the weekend. Families took turns "putting up the minister." The Moose Lake congregation was divided into two sections: the country church met at the old Birch Grove school; the town congregation met at the old school. The congregation remodeled the school for a church and bought a parsonage.
The buildings were destroyed in the great fire of 1918, but in 1919 the parsonage was rebuilt for $3500 and church rebuilt in 1920 for $5232. The class of 1922 was the first to be confirmed in English.
A Norwegian church wasn't started until Pastor N.G. Nilsen came in 1893. A short, chubby, but extremely energetic man, Pastor Nilsen walked miles through brush and woods to visit a prospective member and ask for donation. His persistence paid off. Zion Lutheran Free Church was organized, and a church and parsonage built in 1893. The class of 1914 was the first to be confirmed in English. The pastors of Zion also did their share of traveling. Over the years they also served parishes in Little Moose, Nordlund and Denham.
Both congregations were growing in numbers and both were in need of more space. Forgetting their differences, and after much debate, on April 24, 1957, Bethlehem and Zion voted to merge. On October 15, 1958, the new congregation authorized a building program. Dr. Thomas Moe donated property, and the ground-breaking was celebrated in 1961. On December 3, 1961, the first Sunday of Advent, the congregation moved into the present building. The church was formally dedicated on March 25, 1962, and the mortgage burning celebrated in April 1978.
On April 18, 2004, the congregation authorized a major renovation of the building. The $2.2 million project included two additions and the remodeling of most of the remainder of the building, making it more open, airy and completely handicapped accessible. The ground-breaking ceremony was held on June 16, 2004 and actual work began on July 5, 2004. The building was newly dedicated on July 3, 2005.