Our History: 1895 to the Present
Please read our church history to learn how this church has been an integral part of the Gardner community since its inception and what we offer now.
The beginnings …
In many instances God begins with very little. Jesus created food for more than 5,000, beginning with only a small boy’s lunch. Most of the time, God begins with just a few believers when He plans a Christian work – a church. Thus began the work of what is now the Bethany Baptist Church in Gardner.
As early as in the year 1883, there were a few Swedish Baptists living in Gardner, at that time members of the now Belmont Street Baptist Church of Worcester, MA, who began meeting in homes for Bible study and prayer. Visiting pastors came now and then to preach the word of God to them.
Pine Street Church, Gardner MA
In the year 1891, four years before the church was finally organized, and during a meeting with the pastor from the Worcester church, it was decided to build a chapel. Immediately eight of the friends present subscribed $135 to the work. A piece of land was bought for $235, where the chapel was built. The new meeting place was dedicated on February 2, 1892, at a value of $1350. At the dedication, $1047 was already paid, leaving a small debt of only $303. From this time on, regular services were held.
The first regular pastor began his work in February, 1894, more than a year before the church was organized. At this time, the group still held their membership in the Worcester church. In order to do a more effective work, it was agreed that the group should organize themselves into a regular Baptist church. On October 18th, 1895, a group of Baptist believers met and organized The First Swedish Baptist Church of Gardner. There were 26 charter members.
The work of the church progressed very well. Born-again believers were added, so in less than 10 years after the organization, plans were being made to build a new and larger church edifice. Work on this new building began in 1904 and was completed in 1907. The debt on the new church was paid and the mortgage burned at the 25th anniversary celebration in 1920. During the years the work in all departments was progressing normally well. The Sunday School increased rapidly and work expanded in all areas.
In the early 1940s, the Swedish language was no longer being used, so it became evident that the name of the church should be changed. The long-standing name, “The First Swedish Baptist” was changed to “Pine Street Baptist Church.”
Bethany Baptist Church, Ryan St., Gardner
Our Pine Street building became too small, so on January 1, 1967, a vote was taken to build a new church, big enough for all our needs and to include ample parking spaces, and the name was changed to “Bethany Baptist Church.” By God’s leading, the church was able to buy a suitable tract of land on Ryan Street (the present location). This land belonged to the Gustaf Adamson family, and the children were willing to sell this land to the church.
The ground-breaking ceremony was held on April 16, 1967, and the service for the laying of the cornerstone was on September 24, 1967. On Sunday, March 24, 1968, we began services in our new church building. The formal dedication was held on Sunday afternoon, May 12, 1968, at which time we could really sing out: “To God be the Glory, great things He has done.”
The Present …
After 28 years of faithful service, the Reverend Dan Meiners, who was the current full-time pastor since 1986, retired from Bethany and from active pastoring on December 31, 2014. Including Pastor Meiners, the church has been served by 24 full-time pastors and three interim pastors. From January-October 2015, we were blessed by the pulpit being filled by many excellent and godly men who preached God’s Word and continued our tradition of Bible-based preaching and teaching, for which the church family is deeply grateful. After conducting an intensive search, the Pastoral Search Committee recommended and the congregation approved the hiring of Reverend George A. Kohl as our Intentional Interim Pastor to lead the church through the process necessary to call a new, full-time pastor who meets the needs of the church and who can lead us into a new period of renewal and growth. We were blessed by his ministry and stewardship from the October 18, 2015 to April 16, 2016, when he accepted a new intentional interim ministry assignment at another church. Now Interim Pastor David K. Astolfi has joined us as the pastoral search actively seeks the full-time, permanent pastor to lead Bethany Baptist forward into its future as a godly influence in the greater Gardner community.
Presently we hold Sunday Worship Services at 10:45 a.m., with Bible studies for all ages from 9:30-10:30 a.m. Jeremy and Jessica Walters are the Sunday School Co-Superintendents, overseeing the teachers who provide preschool and children’s church through adult Bible study curricula. Read more about the Sunday School here.
Mrs. Paula d’Entremont is our Faith Community Nurse; her health-ministry began in 2002 and continues to provide information, resources and support to the church family, including a Health Ministry section with monthly features on this website.
Over the years, Bethany has had several full-time youth pastors. Serving in that capacity now is Brendon MacKay, who joined the church ministry team in 2007 and directs the Next Generation Youth Ministries program for students in grades 6-12. Young people from around the community are welcomed and regular participants in this program, along with those who are church members. Mr. MacKay leads the Junior High and Senior High group on Monday nights from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. He also leads the Anchor Bible study and support group for younger adults (post-high school to 40); that group meets in the third floor lounge at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday evenings.
The Bethany Christian Nursery School, another outreach program, has been in operation for many years. Mrs. Susan R. Blais is the director and is joined by teachers Mrs. Fredericka Paddock. Sadly, 2017 is the final year for this ministry as all the teachers are retiring.
Tuesday evenings find the Prayer Fellowship group meeting at 7:00 p.m. in the 2nd floor lounge, led by the deacons and the pastor on a rotating basis.
During the entire century we have been in existence, the church has been richly blessed with musical talent, including string bands and an orchestra that took part regularly in the evening services. In the 50s, there was also a band. There have been senior and junior choirs to provide music in our worship services, and our music style is a blend of the traditional and the contemporary. We also praise God for the many groups and individuals who have been blessed with musical talents. Our current choir and music director is Deacon Ted Cushing; Diane Cushing, Brendon and Cathy MacKay, and Nan Sands share the role of Praise Leader.
Our Family Ministry team sponsors the annual Sweetheart Dinner around Valentines Day to celebrate the covenant of marriage and the Mid-Summerfest & Talent Fair in June (Mid-Summerfest is part of the church’s Swedish heritage). The church family’s many gifts and talents are showcased at this time, followed by an ice cream and strawberry social in Fellowship Hall.
We know only part of the story, but God knows all of it, and He will abundantly reward one and all for faithful service that has been rendered to Him and His work. Our “tomorrows” are as bright and hopeful as are God’s promises. May we continue to learn that if we depend on Him and let Him lead, His work amongst us will surely prosper.
The beginning sections of this history come from the 100th anniversary brochure, submitted by the Church Officers and Committees (1895-1995). Updated on May 13, 2017, by the webmaster.
View two clips taken from the 100th anniversary video. These were shown at the Heritage Sunday congregational meeting held on March 13, 2016. These are hosted here on the Bethany YouTube channel.