Exploring the Ruins of Bethlehem Lutheran Church
· 7 min. read
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The old ruins emerged from the grass like a forgotten obelisk. The walls stood tall and proud, yet crooked from time, buckling in on themselves. The only sound was the wind whistling between the empty sepulchre's shattered stones.
"Don't get too close", Jessica gestured to a nearby sign. "It's private property".
Although I doubt the owners of Wheatwyn-Bethlehem Care Corporation would care if I went inside the old church, it was probably for my own safety to stay outside. The stone window arches had begun to buckle, and any unnecessary strain could lead to collapse, and possibly death.
I never ventured into the building, but I did walk around the grounds and peer through the windows.
The former Bethlehem Lutheran Church was constructed in 1906, approximately 9km southeast of Southey or 6km southwest of Markinch, Saskatchewan.
Online sources say the first burial in the adjacent cemetery occurred in 1901, but the earliest date I can find online is of Alma A. Krienke, who was born and died on a very cold January 16, 1908.
As with any church, the former Bethlehem Lutheran Church was created to be a hub for the community. It would fulfill that role, bringing together farmers and nearby community members when the distance to Southey or Markinch proved too great. Reverend F. Brockmann held the first service there on April 22, 1906. The congregation changed pastors throughout the next decade four times, with Reverend Arthur Preisinger arriving in 1916. He would then move to Chicago in 1918 and succumb to the Spanish Influenza pandemic. It would change pastors three more times after that, ending with Reverend A. H. Fellwock.
However, the church could not stand the progress of time. Following The Great War, automobiles made transportation easier, and more and more people left the church to attend services in nearby towns. By the 1930s, the once prosperous life of a farmer in Saskatchewan had dried up and blown away in the wind. With it, many church members moved to the towns, and it was decided to disband the Bethlehem congregation. The church pews and other church articles were divided between Emmanuel Southey and St. Mark's Church in Markinch. The church property was also turned over to St. Mark's as they had no cemetery of their own. Because of this, the cemetery is still in active use today.
Here is when two stories diverge. According to one source, it was at this time a decision was made to destroy the church. The source says that the former congregation did not want to see their beautiful church fall into ruin from vandals, so they took its fate into their own hands. They torched the building to the ground, with the stone frame acting like an oven, incinerating everything and anything left inside.
The other story is less dramatic but still ended with a fire. Following the gutting of the church, the building fell into ruin. Vandals broke the windows, water seeped into the roof, and pigeons took roost inside its hallowed shell. By the late 1960s, Bethlehem Lutheran Church had become "more like a chicken coop than a church", and it was decided to salvage what they could of it. They removed any remaining wood, retrieved a Bible from the cornerstone ? which explains why the cornerstone is missing ? and decided to tear the roof down and light the remains on fire. It was too expensive to save Bethlehem Lutheran Church, impossible to move it and it was too sad to see it fall to ruin.
Whatever the story, a fire was set, and the church burned, leaving a ghostly stone ruin behind.
Today Bethlehem Lutheran Church is maintained by Wheatwyn-Bethlehem Care Corporation and the grass is cut by local volunteer community members. The plan of the WBCC is to maintain the property and take care of the church perpetually.
The ruins of Bethlehem Lutheran Church are one of many that dot the prairies. It is an artifact of a different time, a different place, and a different world. In a sense, the abandoned stone and overgrown brush are retribution from the old gods, who were removed and replaced when the building was erected. Now, with men gone, there is nobody left to worship them, and the old ways return once more.
I apologize if my article about the Bethlehem Lutheran Church was not as historically precise as my other ones. In fact, there was very little information online for me to reference for this article. Any information I got was from third-party sources on Old Saskatchewan or from Pioneers and Progress: The History of Southey and District by the Southey History Committee. Unfortunately, that book doesn't say what fate befell this once beautiful building. In a sense, the church has been forgotten, not only due to the passage of time, but also from the lack of record-keeping.
If anybody has any additional information about Bethlehem Lutheran Church, please let me know in the comments below or contact me directly, and I will add it to this article.
Have you ever visited Bethlehem Lutheran Church? Would you? Let me know in the comments below.
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Categories: Canada, Dark Tourism, Regina, Saskatchewan