Bethany Baptist Church was organized in the fall of 1969. Don Zygutis, a member of Bethany Baptist Church in Pleasant Hill, California, was commissioned by his church to start a new GARBC church in Salem, Oregon, when it learned Western Baptist Bible College was moving to Salem. When the move had been accomplished, Don immediately began his mission. The College then under the leadership of Dr. Fred Brock was cooperative, since it also desired to see new GARBC churches started in the area for both the students and staff.
On the 14th of September the first official meeting of the proposed new church was held. Twenty- eight people signed the Guest Register at this time. Approximately 50 people from the city and Western Baptist Bible College attended. Two weeks later, on 1 October 1969 Don Zygutis distributed an open letter inviting those interested to attend. The church was meeting temporarily at the American Legion Capital Post No. 9, 4825 Commercial St SE, in Salem.
Bethany Baptist in Pleasant Hill, CA, pastored by Melvin O. Jones, was sponsoring the church, providing not only some financial support, but also the name and Constitution.
The first worship service of the Church was held on the evening of October 5th with 52 people in attendance. In the business meeting which followed, Don Zygutis was called as pastor of the church, and charter membership was officially opened with 12 members.
The group met regularly: Sunday school, morning and evening services on Sundays, plus Wednesdaynight prayer meetings. From the initial meeting on 5 Oct through the end of November several members were added to the group so that by 30 November they totaled 25 regular members. The attendance at the morning services averaged around 70.
In the month of November the church contacted the Northwest Baptist Home Mission Board and Rev. Elvon Nelson. Pastor Zygutis visited Elvon asking him to come to Salem to assist him in the church. Pastor Nelson, at the time was serving with the Northwest Baptist Home Mission as pastor in Oroville, California.
Pastor Nelson came to Salem and was called as pastor of the Bethany Baptist Church receiving some continued support from the Home Mission Board. Don Zygutis graciously stepped aside in his role as pastor in deference to Pastor Nelson whose ministry began on 25 February 1970.
The Church was formally incorporated 7 May 1970, under the leadership of Pastor Elvon Nelson, and on May 17, 1970 the church was recognized by the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches. It was voted that Charter Membership close on this date. The charter members are listed below.
Early Development (1971)
The year proved to be one of growth for the new church, from a membership of 106 in 1970 to 144 in 1971. The Sunday school enrollment was 221 with an average attendance of 124. During this time the church was seeking better quarters for meetings. From the American Legion Hall they moved to the Leslie Methodist Church on South Commercial then to the Bethel Temple on Cottage and D in August of 1971, where they remained until the present building was constructed in 1973.
Pastor Elvon Nelson who followed Don Zygutis, ministered until May 15, 1972. Reverend Calvin Odell served as interim pastor until the church called William Bellshaw on June 7, 1972. Pastor Bellshaw served the church for a decade, leaving on October 31, 1983. Associate Pastor Richard Hammond served for a time as interim pastor.
Under the leadership of Pastor Bellshaw property was purchased on Hilfiker Lane and a new building was begun in the summer of 1973. The building was completed by the Spring of 1974, the dedication being held on April 14. The building was designed with a view of holding a day school. Within a few years the building became inadequate and in 1976 four classrooms were added specifically designed for day school use.
The decade of Bellshaw’s leadership was one of growth. The church in its initial years grew rapidly mainly from the participation of students, faculty and staff of Western Baptist College. The ministry to youth had always been a major thrust. Several individuals offered leadership in his area. In 1978, Mike Patterson was called to be the first part time education and youth pastor. In 1983 Richard Hammond became the full time youth pastor.
Music has always been an important emphasis of the church. A choir was started on Cottage and D. Several individuals directed the choir in the early years. Nancy Goree has been outstanding in that she has served faithfully for nearly 20 years.
Education has been an important aspect of the church. A number of Corban faculty/staff have served in adult and children’s teaching ministries. Although the plan to have a Christian Day School formed by the church and the education department at Corban never became a reality, the classrooms have in the past, been utilized by Salem Private School and more recently by HIS Academy.
Shortly after the resignation of Pastor Bellshaw the church voted in July, 1983 to call Reverend Keith Churilla as pastor, and in August, he began what was to be fifteen years of ministry. The church had reached its highest membership, 359, in 1979, but had suffered decline. The membership was continuing to decline when Pastor Churilla assumed leadership. The church membership reached a low of 118 in 1990, but began to recover with records showing a membership of 199 in 1997. This growth was such that under his direction a second morning service was initiated in 1996, and LIFE groups, a ministry of home Bible Studies was begun.
In 1994 Pastor Tim Baker came to Bethany as youth pastor. Pastor Churilla resigned in May, 1998, and Tim was asked to serve as interim pastor. In January 1999, Bethany called Tim as Senior Pastor. In the following years the church experienced significant growth in both new lives being reached for Christ, and in a growing program that ministers to the entire family. The church underwent significant remodeling of its classrooms and expansion of its worship center and parking lots in 2001. A major Campus Development Project was undertaken in 2004, with a new campus master plan, and over $500,000 raised for building expansion. Phase 1 of that expansion was completed in October 2012, with a new multipurpose classroom that seats 200 and a spacious kitchen.
In September 2005 Kevin Hearne joined the staff as Associate Pastor for Equipping and Discipleship. Kevin and his wife Janelle developed ministries in Disciplemaking, Upward Sports, and Mothers of Preschoolers at Bethany. In August 2011 Kevin and Janelle moved to Central Point, Oregon to serve on the pastoral staff at Community Bible Church.
In January 2001, Joe Castañeda joined the staff as youth pastor. Under his leadership, our youth ministry has grown to be a strength of the church. In March of 2013 Pastor Joe was called to serve at Lake Ann Camp in Michigan, wrapping up 12 years of youth ministry at Bethany.
Today our student ministry reaches around 50 teens per week, and is a vital disciple-making ministry at Bethany.