Rev. Heinrich Toelke was born in 1818 in Germany and educated at Barham Missionary School. His passage was paid to America in 1843 by the Langenberger Verein Association.
In the 1840’s, Rev. Tolke came by horseback from Evansville periodically to minister to the spiritual needs of the German community in northern Knox County. On October 27, 1847, he organized 21 families as an Evangelican Lutheran and Reformed Church. These families were the charter members of Bethel Church. He divided the congregations into four districts and held prayer meetings in each district, one each week, meeting in members’ homes. In 1848 a 20’x25’ log church was erected on ground owned by Herman Wagner which was later purchased by Carl Volle. The church then purchased 10 acres from Carl Volle for $70. Children were baptized and preparations were made for confirmation classes. His first confirmation class in 1851 consisted of 14 children. In 1849, Rev. Toelke settled in Widner Township on a 40 acre plot where he remained for 2 years. He wrote in a letter dated February 24, 1851, that he had organized the Bethel Congregation on Presbyterian principles.
The members of the 1851 Confirmation class consisted of names still familiar to the Freelandville area today. Some of these include Dickman, Begeman, Wagner, Brockschmidt, Schuckman, and Meier.