In 1851, a Swedish Lutheran pastor, Gustaf Palmquist, came to America to be the pastor of a group of believers who had preceded him here. Upon arriving in New York, he found that his congregation had scattered and that he now had no job. He journeyed on to Rock Island, Illinois and began to minister to his Swedish countrymen, both physically and spiritually.
In the spring of 1852, he heard of a great revival in Galesburg, IL, at the American Baptist Church, and went to experience it for himself. He had been doubtful about infant baptism for several years and while in Galesburg he became convinced that the Bible taught immersion following salvation. He then chose to be baptized on June 27, 1852.
Ordained and commissioned (without salary) by the Galesburg church to preach the gospel to his fellow Swedish countrymen, Palmquist baptized three persons in the Mississippi River, exactly 47 days after his own baptism, and thus organized the very first Swedish Baptist Church in America, in Rock Island, on August 8, 1852. At the second baptism, two Moline residents were baptized, hence the beginning of the Moline branch. Services were held in the two towns sometimes on the same Sunday and often alternately.
In 1866, a small meetinghouse was built on the corner of 13th Street and 6th Avenue in Moline. Praying believers experienced spiritual harvest here over the next ten years. After much prayer and careful consideration, the decision was made to organize the “Svenska Baptist Forsamlingeni Moline” (Swedish Baptist Church of Moline) on May 7, 1876 with 76 charter members transferring from the Rock Island church.
In 1883, a larger church with a beautiful sanctuary was built at the same location. It was later remodeled in 1916, adding a basement for additional space.
Sunday School provided a consistent program of Bible Study and concern for the salvation of the children led to the early usage of English for their programs. In 1910, a chapel on 26th Avenue (location now occupied by the Garfield School addition) was purchased by member John Swanson and given to the church for an extension work there.
In the 1930’s, the Swedish language was phased out and the church’s name was changed to Bethany Baptist Church.
In the 1940’s, inadequate space led to the planning for combining the church and chapel in a new location. In 1953, our present site was purchased under the leadership of Pastor Don P. Shogren. The next few years were difficult as Pastor Shogren suffered a severe stroke. Lay leadership chose to carry on, though, while continuing his salary for a year. The Lord saw us through this challenging period and in 1956 we occupied the then-unfinished church and Pastor Richard Turnwall accepted our call to lead the congregation.
In the year of the U.S.A. Bicentennial, 1976, Bethany celebrated its own Centennial. In 2001, we observed 125 years of ministry. Over these many years Bethany members have been committed to serving selflessly while giving sacrificially to many ministries through the church, such as prayer, missions (including summer missions trips), Bible study, Sunday School with teacher training, fellowship, men’s and women’s work, youth and children’s work, Vacation Bible School, camp, music, aid to those in need, leadership training, outreach, and many more. A number of members went into pastorates, missions, and other Christian leadership positions around the world.
It is our prayer and desire that we continue, “guiding people to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ” in the future as has been done in the past.