The Times photo by Betsy Reason
Bethlehem United Methodist Church members and friends wave motorists into their parking lot for free Bibles -- 175 free Bibles to celebrate the church’s 175 years -- on Saturday at the church on Olio Road, just south of a busy roundabout. The church will celebrate its 175 anniversary on Oct. 12 and 13.
The Times photo by Betsy Reason Bethlehem United Methodist Church members and friends wave motorists into their parking lot for free Bibles -- 175 free Bibles to celebrate the church’s 175 years -- on Saturday at the church on Olio Road, just south of a busy roundabout. The church will celebrate its 175 anniversary on Oct. 12 and 13.
Bethlehem United Methodist Church members and friends on Saturday afternoon stood alongside Olio Road, just south of the roundabout at Hamilton Southeastern Parkway, waving motorists into their parking lot to receive free Bibles.
The church was giving away 175 free Bibles in celebration of its 175th birthday. The official celebration is this weekend.
Bethlehem, founded by pioneers in 1844, is the oldest continuous community of faith in Hamilton County.
The church began as a “class” of the United Brethren Church with 18 charter members in 1844 and became part of the Evangelical United Brethren denomination in a 1946 merger. A second merger, in 1968, of the EUB with the Methodist Church produced the current denomination, The United Methodist Church.
“Our plan is to be here for another 175 years,” said Pastor Angela Gafford Asmus, who has served at Bethlehem UMC church for four years. The New Orleans native was a minister in Iowa before coming to Fishers, and in Texas before that. Her two daughters, Isabella and Evelyn, stood beside their mom, giving out Bibles, along with Max McCabe, Vivienne Kerwin, Laura Combs and Kay Martin. Marcia Stove stood at the north edge of the church property, closer to the roundabout, waving at every car.
Asmus said any Bibles that weren’t given out on Saturday will be sent home with members to share in the community and be given out this weekend at the 175th birthday to anyone who requests one.
The community is invited to the 175th birthday celebration, which features a community hog roast and cider making from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and celebratory church service commemorating the 175-year anniversary, including a “circuit rider” on horseback, rededication and sermon beginning at 10 a.m. Sunday, followed by cake and punch.
While Bethlehem UMC is a small church, its members have big hearts and invite everyone to come celebrate with them.
Bethlehem UMC and its historic cemetery sit in the middle of the hustle and bustle just south of the roundabout at Southeastern Parkway and Olio Road.
The church’s early beginnings date back to 1844, when founded by pioneers, and a log church that was built in 1845, along Olio Road, just south of where the roundabout is now. In 1851, a frame church was built just northwest of there. And from 1912 to 1914, the church was moved a few feet and rotated onto a finished basement.
Upgrades have been made since then, in the lower-level kitchen and meeting rooms, and an electric chair lift was added just six years ago. Plus, new stained glass-front windows were added and the original 1851 pews - made of oak and donated from a member’s farm - were restored. The sanctuary was redecorated in 2015.
The little white church, which used to have a Noblesville address but now is Fishers, was built when there wasn’t much around it.
Except for farmland.
No Interstate-69. No Saxony development. No Hamilton Town Center.
And no roundabout.
Today, the church is in the heart of the suburbs on a busy road next to a 750-acre mixed-use development of housing, retail and offices. There are two hospitals, an array of fast-food restaurants, a manmade Saxony Beach with kayak rentals and a $76 million recreational sports center nearby.
Yes, times have changed. In fact, a post on the church Facebook page shows a photo of new solar panels purchased in 2019, with the message: “Bethlehem UMC is 175 years old! And this is our birthday gift to ourselves and our future... we've gone solar!”
Besides new solar panels, the church has a new vision brought by the new minister, who is leading the church into a promising future.
“We sing traditional hymns, but I would say our worship is not old. It’s not fuddy-duddy,” Asmus, an ordained UMC minister, said. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and French, a Master of Divinity from Duke University and a certification in Spiritual Direction.
“Our worship is centered on the scripture passage for the day offering reflection and guidance on how to follow Jesus Christ in today's world.”
She said, “A slide show during the worship reflects the use of today’s technology to enhance our worship. Our worship services begin with moments to centering and deep breaths which enables us to focus on God's presence and is a wonderful practice to develop and use every day.”
Sunday activities include Adult Bible Study at 9 a.m. and worship at 10 a.m.
Member Vivienne Kerwin chimed in, “I think we’re more involved with local missions than we ever were before.” (She also likes that the church is “friendly” but not “smothering.”)
Asmus said, “We do a lot with missions and food pantries in Hamilton County.”
She said the congregation is committed to giving to missions locally and around the world by serving Good Samaritan Network of Hamilton County, Come to Me Food Pantry at Fishers UMC, Fall Creek Township Food Pantry, all in Hamilton County. The church also supports UMCOR, the United Methodist Committee on Relief where 100 percent of donations serve communities in crisis all over the world. In recent years, funds have been directed to UMCOR Hurricane relief efforts in the Southern United States.
She said the church is attracting more young members. In 2018, the church began children's and youth group which meets monthly for service projects, fellowship and prayer.
“We have young people now, which before I came, we didn’t have children and youth,” Asmus said.
One attraction could be the church’s size.
“What we offer is a smaller worship experience. Not everybody wants to be in a big auditorium. So we know each other, and we know people’s names. And people are incredibly friendly. We’re a multi-generational congregation … People are invited to come and experience God in their life and to know Jesus and discover how to follow Jesus in terms of others and loving one another.”
The church’s best advertisement, Asmus said, is “word of mouth and inviting people to church.”
-Contact Betsy Reason at betsy@thetimes24-7.com.