Adelaide’s population from the 1830s included a number of German Lutherans. This is apart from Pastor Kavel’s congregation in the separate village of Klemzig.
Missionaries Teichelmann, Schürmann and Klose - working among the Kaurna people on the Native Location on the Torrens - tried to gather this scattered and shepherdless European flock. It was not until 1846 that the first congregation in Adelaide was formally established. Yet from the outset, Trinity Church suffered from the tensions of doctrinal differences among its members. Eventually this led to the formation of a separate congregation in 1850.
Two years later Trinity Church experienced further difficulties when most of the men left to seek their fortunes in the Victorian goldfields.
The definite beginnings of the Bethlehem congregation can be traced to 1860 when about six families withdrew membership from Pastor Borgelt’s Klemzig congregation on scriptural and confessional grounds. Together with several families who had been members of the Trinity congregation, as well as a number of others who were not affiliated with any group, they formed the nucleus of Bethlehem Lutheran Church.
The first meeting was held on 3 October 1860, and the new congregation appealed to the Australian Lutheran Synod (later ELCA) for pastoral care and services. A call was extended to and accepted by Pastor Johann Meischel who had been working among the Tamils of South India for the Dresden Mission Society, but left because of the caste dispute. He was installed at Bethlehem on 14 October 1860, remaining until August 1863 when he accepted a call to Mount Gambier. It was five years before another full-time pastor was installed.
On 18 April 1861 the members purchased the former Primitive Methodist church in Waymouth St on Light Square. However, by 1866 they had outgrown this building, so it was decided to build a larger church.
As one member of the congregation at the time stated:
We should now look to the future and plan a stately building far larger than the present needs of our congregation and in keeping with the standards of churches of other denominations, so that we may induce new arrivals to our colony as well as fellow citizens to worship with us in the Lutheran faith.
As a result of this decision, land was purchased and the present Bethlehem Lutheran Church was erected. It was dedicated in 23 June 1872 after the congregation marched from the old place of worship in Waymouth St to the new church in Flinders St. Pastor Teichelmann, who had conducted the first Lutheran service in Adelaide in 1838 preached the English sermon at the afternoon service.