A Brief History
(As taken from the 175th anniversary celebration pamphlet handed out on August 1, 2004)
The Name – Bethel
Bethel (Beth-el – House of God) is the place where Abraham built his second altar; Jacob had his vision of angels, ascending and descending on a heavenly ladder, and where, after twenty years, he returned, according to his vow, to set up an altar and call the place “Bethel” “Because there God appeared to him” (Gen 35:2-7).
The History of Bethel Baptist Church
In the year 1829 Bethel Baptist Church in Meriwether County, Georgia , was constituted with a grand total of 26 members, of which nine were new converts. From the best records which can be checked or verfied the original location was Elder P. Eldridge was our first and founding pastor. Bethel joined the Western Baptist Association on its inception in November of 1829, which was the first meeting of the Association. The original Committee to compose the Association started its work on November 7, 1828 and met in LaGrange, Georgia.
Bethel has been involved with the Western Baptist Association over the years, with the Association meeting with our church five times, in the years 1867, 1903, 1948, 1958, and 1981.
The present church building was build in 1902 and 1903 by two brothers by the name of Yarborough. They were carpenters, but not from around this area. They also built the present hand-hewn pews.
Marvin Keith, Sr., brother of our “Keith sisters,” was going to school at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, at that time, and saw a church there which he liked very much. He later drew the blueprints for Bethel from that church.
Members of Bethel cut the timber from Glanton Woods over near Alvaton, Georgia, hauled it to a Senoia, Georgia, sawmill to be sawed. J. D. Godfrey helped to haul the lumber by mule and wagon to the church site where the Yarborough brothers completed the church and pews in 1903. The estimated cost was approximately $3000. This was information entered onthe church letter to the Association in 1903.
The previous church building was located just behind the present church. It was somewhat smaller than the current building with two front entrance doors, with a divider down the middle on the inside. One side was for the men and the other for women. No records indicate when the previous building was build or how much it cost, nor is it indicated what happened to the building prior to the present building.
There are no records that could be located on the type or location of the original, first building for Bethel Baptist Church, but some believe it was a log building.
A brief history of Bethel Baptist Church in the 1844 minutes is as follows: “Bethel – In Meriwether county, 14 miles N.E. of Greenville, now removed to a house 14 miles northeast of the county seat. The church has 69 members and is served by Elder N.H. Williams. Not having any history from the church, we cannot give a minute detail.” All reports prior to 1844 show the location of the church as 10 miles N.E. of Greenville, the county seat.
Membershihp at Bethel has been great the past years, but like many other churches it has been up and down. In 1829 there were 26 memberson the rolls, and in 1979 there were over 150 members. The high and low years in between were 1835 with 17 members and 1893 with 264 members, with 90 being baptized that year. Records indicate white and black membership at Bethel from 1847 thorugh 1870. (Example: 1865 – 98 white members and 36 black members, with 35 baptized.)
Property records show that the spring at the baptismal pool has been there all the time; however, there is no indication when the pool was first built. One of Bethel’s oldest members, Mrs. Annie Kee, was baptized in the pool in 1900 by Rev. W.P. Head. The pool at that time was built with wooden clapboards. In 1903 the walls were rebuilt with bricks. In 1925 the pool was again repaired and was plastered over the bricks with cement.
The church furnishings and equipment have all been added since the last church was built. Records indicated G. W. Kee as organist with Irene Dodd as assistant organist in April 1921. The church purchased the first piano in January 1920 for $328.00. There is no record of what happened to the organ.
There is no record of where the church bell came from, but it is known that it was first tolled, for a funeral, in 1904.
The communion table and lamp were presented to the church by the WMU in September 1907, with the names of the ladies as follows: Mrs. Anna Clark, Miss Annie Fuller, Miss Sallie Stone, Mrs. Ella Stone, Mrs. Hula Estes, Miss Mattie Lee Estes, Mrs. Cora Godfrey, Mrs. Wille Miller, Mrs. Lula Lambert, Miss Ophelia Lambert, Mrs. Sallie Rebecca Almon, Mrs. Kittie Cochran, and Mrs. Mattie Dunlap. The WMU also gave the church a large clock in 1907, but it was missing from the church in October 1934.
A bit of trivia: Records for 1912 and 1913 showed individual donations in the amounts of $0.04, 0.05, 0.25, and some as much as 0.60 or $1.00 for a total of $11.60 to pay the pastor. Records for several months during the same time period showed amounts for the pastor, such as $5.75, 1.00, 2.00, and one as much as $13.05.
The communion set was purchased by the church in December 1912. At that time one cup was used for the male members and the other for the female members.
The table and wooden water bucket with a glass dipper were used until 1931. It is said that the bucket and dipper were donated by Otis Reid. The bucket finally came apart, and Rev. Wesley F. Lassiter, Pastor, made butter paddles from it and gave them to the ladies of Bethel.
On April 7, 1939 the first electric lighting was installed in the church building.
The first Vacation Bible School was held in 1944.