By Sherri Coner
Inside a two-story feed supply store at the intersection of Troy Avenue and Carson Street, the first sermon took place on Jan. 21, 1923.
Every member of the small congregation understood that walls don’t define a gathering for God.
On that humbling day, Bethany Evangelical Lutheran Church officially began.
Three years later, the growing congregation relocated to a parsonage chapel on Shelby Street near McKinley.
On June 24, 1961, the church made a forever home on U.S. 31, near the I-65 Interstate.
As the congregation grew and community needs became apparent, the church decided in 1981 to add a two-story education wing and a gym for church members.
An expanded, thriving daycare
In 1994 and 1995, more expansion happened.
By 1996, an outreach children’s ministry was launched, accepting children between the ages of 6 weeks and 5 years.
“It is a very thriving daycare,” said Ilze Buy, a 47-year member of the church.
While the church is currently searching for a new pastor, Sister Barbara Collins remotely conducts services, Ilze Buy said. “We’ve had a total of nine pastors and now an interim deaconess, Sister Barbara.”
With the size of the loving hearts in these pews, providing safe, structured and educational daycare was not enough.
Serving the needs of the community
But what community needs could the congregation help to provide?
“We, as a congregation, met with 24 community members and interviewed them about community needs,” said Ilze’s husband, Bruce Buy, also a 47-year member.
During that meeting, they learned that “at least for one day every month, at least one person, including children, go hungry for one day,” Bruce Buy said. “The community garden idea came out of those meetings.”
It’s not just a few stalks of corn and maybe some green beans and squash thrown into a few rows, either.
This garden venture, started six years ago, is 10,000 square feet of produce to put food on family tables.
It takes a village
And all 50 community volunteers take that commitment very seriously, Bruce Buy said.
“Each year, we give away between 5,000 and 5,100 pounds of fresh, organic vegetables,” he said.
Every spring, free public gardening classes and food preservation classes are offered at the church by Purdue Extension professionals.
A community meal is prepared and served by congregation members to surrounding neighbors.
“Most of the garden volunteers are from the community; they aren’t members of the church,” Bruce said.
Each year the garden plan is based on community requests.
This year, sweet corn was a popular new addition.
But also, seeds are bought according to unique needs.
Helping local refugees
When volunteers at Mt. Pleasant Christian Church asked if the Bethany garden could plant some culture-specific vegetables for Burmese families visiting their food pantry, Bethany garden volunteers happily agreed to take on the project.
A leafy vegetable similar to eggplant, called sour leaf, is one of several vegetables this garden produces specifically to help feed Burmese families.
All the dirty hands in this garden are dedicated to providing produce for those in need, no matter where they might reside.
“We also have a raised garden for the children attending our daycare,” Bruce said. “It is included in their playground area.”
Along with many of their parents, children learn from their teachers how to plan a garden, plant the seeds, weed and water the garden and proudly enjoy the harvest.
Through the years, the Bethany garden has won awards in the community, recognizing their dedication to providing fresh produce.
In September of 2022, the church officially registered the “Southdale Neighborhood Association” with specific areas of coverage.
Monthly association meetings are conducted in the fellowship hall of the church since the building is not only centrally located but also provides easy access and plenty of parking.
And soon, this proud congregation of 61 members celebrates 100 years.
“We love and respect God, and we know how important it is to help those in need,” Ilze Buy said. “We might be small, but we feel we are very mighty.”
Bethany Lutheran Church Open House
Saturday, Sept. 30, 1:30 to 2:15 p.m.: Pastor Nancy Nyland provides a service in the sanctuary.
Cake, ice cream and fellowship follows the service