Sweden, along with many other European countries, was experiencing both rapidly growing populations and economic hardships during the middle of the 19th century. From 1850 until the turn of the century, over one million Swedes were part of a massive migration of Scandinavians to the United States. The majority of these new immigrants went west in search of the promise of land and farms in Minnesota. A smaller number stayed east to work on the canals, rivers, railroads and the quarries and rose gardens in Portland and Cromwell.
The Swedish Lutheran immigrants in Cromwell began meeting in homes around 1885, Several attempts were made to officially form a congregation. Bethany Lutheran Church was finally incorporated on January 8th, 1908 . Two years later, in December of 1910, the Methodist church building on Main Street was purchased. This remained Bethany's home until its present building on Court Street was built in 1965. Bethany offered many opportunities for these new Americans. It was a place to worship the God they loved. Bethany was also a place to retain part of the old country which was still close to their hearts. The Swedes worshipped in their native language. In 1920, a decision was made to hold one service a month in English. Bethany adopted English as its official language in 1928.
From 1908 to 1953, Bethany Lutheran Church shared a pastor with Zion Lutheran Church of Portland. Pastoral expenses were shared by both congregations during that time. Bethany maintained its own Sunday School program and confirmation classes were held in Portland. The pastor would come to Cromwell to preside at an early Sunday morning service and officiate at funerals and weddings, etc.
Bethany’s first full time pastor, the Rev. C. W. Hendrickson, was installed in 1953. That same year three acres of land were purchased on Court Street. The Rev. Ralph Sandberg ws called in 1956 to be Bethany’s next pastor. Pastor Sandberg served until 1962. During his tenure the church celebrated its 50th anniversary. By then the original church building on Main Street was badly in need of repair and the property lacked sufficient parking space. Initial plans to relocate began but had to wait. The expense of supporting its own full time pastor proved difficult for the small congregation when missions support funds from the New England Synod were no longer available. When Pastor Sandberg resigned from his position. Bethany had to decide if it was going to continue on its own or perhaps join with another Lutheran congregation.
A young seminarian, Burton D. Strand, was serving his intern year at Christ Lutheran Church in Middletown, He was enlisted to provide pulpit supply at Bethany on Sundays. After ordination, the Rev. Burton Strand was called to be Bethany’s new pastor. He, along his wife Beverly and their three children moved into the parsonage on Nordland Avenue.
A decision was then made to move ahead with construction of a new church building. The congregation was small but their dreams were big and they had deep faith in God. They took on the task of building with vigor and enthusiasm, doing much of the physical works themselves under the guidance of builder Sam Tychen and his nephew Sven. Many pledged their homes as collateral for the loans needed for construction. The new church was built and dedicated with a sanctuary, fellowship hall, classrooms and offices. A pre-school was established and began serving the needs of Cromwell’s growing number of young families. Shortly thereafter a new parsonage was built and dedicated next door.
The years that followed were challenging but fulfilling. Under the leadership of Bethany’s new pastor, the Rev. Wynton Hoog, the congregation continued to grow and flourish. Subsequently, Pastor Hoog left to assume duties as chaplain of the Whiting Forensic Institute. Bethany next called the Rev. Roger Davidson, who served faithfully for several years. After the death of Pastor Davidson, several interim Pastors served Bethany, including the Rev. Stanley Sandberg, retired pastor of Emanuel Lutheran in Hartford . The Rev. Lawrence Wogman was called to be pastor of Bethany in the late 1980’s.
By the mid-90’s it became obvious that a new era was developing for Cromwell and for the Bethany. The church facilities needed refurbishing. What was once considered an abundance of space was now inadequate for the growing needs of the Sunday school, preschool, music program and worship. Additional worship services had been added to accommodate the congregation. In 1998, an additional 1 1/2 acre parcel of land adjacent to the church building was purchased and fund raising began for an expansion of the building. Several generous estate gifts, a matching gift program sponsored by a member and the commitment of members made the new facilities possible. Much of the physical labor was completed by members of the congregation. On May 23, 2004 the expanded facility with new offices, a chapel, community room, additional classroom space for the preschool and improved parking was dedicated.
In 2008 the congregation celebrated its 100th anniversary. Following the retirement of Pastor Wogman, Bethany was served by its 1st interim female pastor and the Rev. Sara Anderson helped lead Bethany during a time of transition. The Rev. Dr. Paul Krampitz was called as Bethany’s next pastor and began serving here in 2012. Milestones of note in our congregation during Pastor Paul’s tenure include adopting an affirmation of welcome to all people and becoming a Reconciling in Christ Congregation, becoming home to the Greater Middletown Chorale, the replacement of our original oil burning furnace with 2 high efficiency propane furnaces, the installation of a solar panel array to produce our own electricity, the expansion of WiFi capability throughout the church building, the installation of video monitors in our nave and the introduction of livestream worship services.
Over the years, Bethany has faced personal, national and global challenges. Bethany has experienced the tragic untimely death of one of its pastos and the accidental death of another pastor’s young daughter. The congregation has sent its members to serve our country in the military in time of war. It has endured the Spanish Flu, the Great Depression, the assassination of a president, the tragedy of 9/1, the horror of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, and the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020.
Bethany continues to move forward in faith, witness and service. We are no longer a predominately Swedish congregation. We welcome all as Christ welcomes us. We are now a much more diverse congregation, with members and visitors from many faith traditions and ethnic groups. Our preschool remains an important part of our ministry. From 12 step programs to Yoga classes, Scout meetings and music recitals, Bethany’s church building is a gathering place for people of many interests and needs. We looking forward to seeing you at Bethany!