Bethesda Moravian Church arose from the uniting of two Sunday schools in the late 1890’s.
After two Sundays of preparatory meetings, the Hamburg Sunday School was formally opened on July 7, 1895. Six teachers, 42 scholars, and 12 visitors were in attendance. The school was two miles from Salem on the Shallow Ford Road (now known as Country Club Road at its intersection with Plymouth Road). Since it was just down Shallow Ford Road, nearby New Philadelphia Moravian Church gave assistance, and one of its members, Br. Julius Slater, was Hamburg’s first superintendent.
On Sunday, May 10, 1896, two earnest young men, the Brn. William O. Senseman and Parmenio Tesh, held a prayer meeting about 3 1/2 miles southwest of Salem in a schoolhouse called Oak Ridge. About 50 people filled the building. Though only about one-third professed to be Christian, interest was high for a Sunday school in the area, and so the Brn. Senseman and Tesh appointed the next Sunday, May 17, as the date to organize the Oak Ridge Sunday School.
Almost immediately the two Sunday schools, Hamburg and Oak Ridge, were linked. On September 26, 1896, Bishop Edward Rondthaler journeyed from Salem to New Philadelphia to receive 20 people into the church. “They were the fruit,” the bishop wrote in the Salem Diary, “of the revival services held in the Oak Ridge and Hamburg school-house.” And when Oak Ridge’s Christmas entertainment that December caved the floor in, evidently the thought arose to combine the two Sunday schools into one commodious new structure.
On Sunday, May 16, 1897, Bishop Rondthaler laid the cornerstone of the new Bethesda Church, about 2 1/2 miles west of Salem on the Old Shallow Ford Road (now Maplewood Avenue). The new church united the Oak Ridge and Hamburg Sunday Schools. The first services in the new building were the Christmas exercises that December 27. Two years later, on October 22, 1899, Bishop Rondthaler consecrated the church.
For a time in the early 20th century interest waned, but during a revival led by George A. Blewser Bethesda was re-organized on June 25, 1922. The church was on the move — literally — in 1936 when it was hauled about 200 feet northward to a better site. A parsonage was constructed in 1952. With the addition of Christian education facilities and enlarged sanctuary in the 1960’s and new stained glass windows and organ in the 1990’s, Bethesda has embarked upon its second century of service to the Lord. Helping in that service is the original church, built in 1897 to unite two Sunday schools.*
Moravian Archives, 2002
* – On December 31, 2017, Bethesda voted to close its doors as an active congregation.