Church History of Bethel Baptist Church, Collegeville
“And, behold, the LORD stood above it, and said, I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; and thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Genesis 28:13-14. And God said unto Jacob, Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there—. “Genesis 35:1a.
March 27, 1904 is the day The Bethel Baptist Church was organized under the leadership of Reverend P. M. Johnson. The property on the corner of Twenty-ninth Avenue and Thirty-third Street was purchased under the leadership of the second pastor, Reverend Lucious Jones, where the church and parsonage on the adjoining street was erected. Reverend Hawkins became the third pastor, remaining for a short time. Reverend C. Z. Craig, one of the districts’ most outstanding preachers, was called as pastor. Reverend McKinley became pastor in 1910 followed by Reverend McDaniel.
In 1916, Reverend Milton Sears became pastor serving until 1938, a span of 22 years. A man of unusual vision and wisdom, with tireless energy, Reverend Sears brought the long awaited dream of a modern church edifice to reality in 1926. The membership was sensitive to leadership and possessed a quest for continued growth, spiritual development and community involvement. During his administration, an invitation was extended by the National Baptist Sunday School Congress to come to Birmingham in 1924. Prior to this, blacks were not permitted to the City Auditorium. The National Baptist Convention held its 1937 session in Birmingham as a result of an invitation from our illustrious leader. In 1938, after ending his pastorate at Bethel, Reverend Sears went to be with the Lord. The world knew a great soul and benefactor of mankind had passed.
Reverend J. S. Gamble was called to pastor Bethel in 1939, serving two years. In April 1942, Reverend Chester Laster, a progressive pastor and dynamic speaker for the Lord was called. All mortgages and church indebtedness were liquidated during his ten year administration. In June 1952, Revered Laster died, marking the first and only time a pastor of Bethel Baptist Church died while serving as pastor. Reverends Cornelius Brown and Reese Smith became acting pastors until March 1953 when Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth took the helm. Being the first youthful pastor of this church, he was a colorful leader of great vision, unwavering determination and relentless faith.
The church was bombed three times. The first demolished the parsonage, which was then located on the west-side of the church, coming within inches of killing Reverend Shuttlesworth and his family. The doors of the church were never closed for worship services. FAITH IN GOD and, motivated the total membership to stand united and strong during the crises.
In 1961, when Reverend Shuttlesworth was called to a church in Ohio, Reverend Herbert Gooden served as pulpit conductor until Reverend V. C. Provitt came later that year. A major development plan that included air conditioning and the purchase of the Bedell property is attributed to his leadership.
Reverend Carter Gaston, one of the sons of Bethel, became leader in 1975 and served until 1987. During this period, the Board of Deacon and Trustees approved a major renovation program in excess of $100,000.00 which was liquidated in two years.
In October 1987, Reverend William Battle accepted an interim pastor position until June 1988. In July 1988, Reverend Thomas L. Wilder, Jr., accepted leadership for this awaiting congregation. Because of his dedication and wisdom, Reverend Battle was appointed Assistant Pastor.
Continual growth in all areas—Spiritual, Physical and Financial, has been the catapult for the heights and accomplishments attained in recent years. The aging condition of the present structure sparked strong desires for a new edifice. The divine vision of our leader, Pastor Wilder, and the following of our Official Boards, led to the Ground-Breaking Ceremony held in August 1995; where hundreds were in attendance. Our dream has now become a reality!
Many properties have been donated and purchased with a net worth now in excess of one million dollars. To accommodate the new structure and parking needs, the property on the corner of 28th Avenue and 32nd Street was chosen for the new edifice.
We, the members of Bethel Baptist Church, are eternally grateful to God for His Divine order in our church history and for those families and individuals who contributed prayerfully, financially, and physically to the development of this monumental HOUSE of GOD that serves as an unfailing spring to this thirsty community.
We are committed to serve both God and our fellow men as we move from Life to Life.
For now have I chosen and sanctified this house,
that my name may be there forever:
and mine eyes and mine heart shall be there perpetually.
–II Chronicles 7:16–