South Bethel Church: The "Oldest" Parish in Cedar County
The congregation of the South Bethel Church long precedes the building. Col Hardman (an early settler of Cedar County), his family, and a four others started gathering for worship in the Hardman family home July 12, 1837. Within a few weeks, membership had increased to 10, including Washington Rigby, who lived 12 miles to the northwest (at Red Oak), yet never missed a service. For six years services were held in the Hardman home. In 1856 the actual church structure was built and received some updates while in its original location including the bell tower (originally from the Moneeka church in the northwest corner of Farmington Township in southeast Cedar County), the vestibule, additional sanctuary space, a Sunday school room, and a fantastically beautiful large stained-glass window, placed in memory of Devin D. Ford. Charles Gabriel, who went on to write between 7,000-8,000 hymns, grew up in the Moneeka church. They were on the Methodist "Rockingham" circuit, which was about 200 miles - from the mouth of the Iowa River on the Mississippi to the Wapsipinicon in the north, and "as far into the interior as any white settlers were to be found." On these circuits up to 300 people came to hear the Word when the minister was preaching.
On the Sunday after Thanksgiving in 2008, the last service of the South Bethel Church was held, the congregation disbarring because of declining membership, thus ending the longest operating Methodist church west of the Mississippi river. After shutting its doors for regular church services for the last time, those who remained of the congregation, their families, and members of the congregation, forming the “Friends of South Bethel” offered the church to the historical society with two conditions. First the Friends of South Bethel would pay for the cost to move the building to its current location in the Prairie Village and second the Cedar County Historical Society would refurbish the church. In December 2009, the day after the blacksmith shop and Bedbug school were moved in, the South Bethel Church rolled onto its new foundation. Since then the church has had a new furnace, new carpet, fresh paint, refinished woodwork, new siding, and the old bell restored to its home in the bell tower where it had been taken down years before for safety concerns. Chiming bells that play hymns at 9am, noon, and 6pm, and an air conditioner have been added improvements to the building.
The church is very much a working building serving as a meeting place for reunions and cultural programs, weddings, funerals, baptisms, and other gatherings and services. On the third Sunday in September (the day after the Annual Day on the Prairie) an annual South Bethel reunion consisting of a service that includes history of the church and its congregation and a dinner that follows is held. It is a non-denominational church and anyone wishing to have a religious ceremony in the church is welcome to do so, but they do have to provide their own clergy.
Make South Bethel the Venue for Your Event
The non-refundable fee for renting the church is $200 per day with a $50 per hour additional fee for set up and clean up taking place the day before the event or after the event. There is also a refundable $75 deposit that will be returned upon confirmation the church and grounds have been left clean and undamaged.
Sunday School Room to the side of the Sanctuary
Handicapped Parking Space
Please contact Tanya Demmel at 563.886.2899 for additional information and to make reservations.
The Moore Family Hymnal Collection
This collection of hymnals was started by Otis Moore, one of the ministers of South Bethel. He passed the collection on to his son, Richard, aka Dick, who graduated from Tipton. Dick followed in his father's work, becoming a missionary and then settling in New York State as a minister. Dick also added to his father's hymnal collection, probably the biggest growth of the collection occurred while in Dick's care. After his passing his son James (Jim) contacted the Society to find out if we would be interested in housing the treasured collection and we excitedly agreed. We were in for a bit of a surprise though because what arrived in the mail were 14 cases of hymnals holding 484 volumes. This collection contains hymnals from the 1700's through modern times, hymnals of various denominations and in multiple languages. The hymnals along with a photo history of Otis and Dick are located in the Sunday School room of the South Bethel Church.