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A Brief History of Bethlehem Baptist Church 1849—2015
History is a reflection of the eras, traditions, and conditions of the times referenced. Sources of data gathered to formulate the accounts of Bethlehem's history were authenticated by oral tradition and recorded information.

The Early Years
The first meeting of the group of Christians desiring to establish this church was held in 1849. Church services were held at the home of Reverend Berry Fish until it could no longer accommodate the group. A log hut was built near the Central Depot and the church became known as the Colored Baptist Church. In 1851, Reverend Toney Baker was called to the pastorate of the church and the name was changed to Bethlehem Baptist Church. Stalwart leaders of this growing and developing congregation included Henry Robinson, Joe Slaughter, Cole Johnson, John Bentley and Neat Bagby. A wooden structure was given to the church by a white fellowship in 1856. It is here that the church has met and grown. As was the practice of the era, worship services were designated for second and fourth Sundays of the month, and this continued until 1959.

The Pastors
This church has been pastored by many spiritual leaders. The Reverend Toney Baker served as pastor of Bethlehem for forty-six years, longer than anyone who has served to date. Other pastors who have served through the years were the Reverends Fambro, A.D. Williams, John Lewis, G.W. Woodson, W. Kelley, Joel King, P.R. Geer, C.W. Huff, E.L. Mitchell and the twelfth and current pastor, Rev. Hezekiah Benton, Jr.

Oldest Families
Few members remain who can trace the history from the burning of the courthouse in the early 1900s, but members who have been with the church for a long period of time include Emogene Williams, Annie Banks, Beulah Lisby, Ola Mae Gilstrap, Georgia Mae Pitts, Louise Lackey, Irene Heard, John R. Hammonds, Jesse Clements.

 

Milestones
In 1959, Reverend Mitchell felt that time was long overdue for the church to provide spiritual guidance every Sunday. It was at this time the church embarked on full-time worship services every Sunday. Inspired by Reverend Mitchell, the membership had faith in the future of the church, and its ability to meet their spiritual and educational needs, as well as those of the community. In 1963, the main sanctuary was completely renovated and an Educational Annex constructed. Reverend Mitchell served as pastor for twenty-one years.

God sent Reverend Hezekiah Benton, Jr. to the Bethlehem Baptist church in September 1978 with a concept of programming the church around active ministries. Because of this concept, many additional ministries have been established. Along with these additions, the budget was changed from "Line Items" to "˜Ministry Action Budgeting."

A Biblical scholar, he can be found in the church fellowship hall teaching Bible Study on Monday nights; lecturing at the New Era Convention, its member churches, or throughout educational institutions.

This type of budgeting was done to identify financially the greatest funding needs of the church and to point to the major emphasis of the ministering effort.

A missionary, he is actively engaged in sharing God's Word in the halls of Newton Medical Center and surrounding health care facilities; helping persons on the streets of Covington, reaching out a helping hand to Katrina survivors, or mailing gifts to children and families residing in the villages of Africa.

Other improvements under the leadership of Reverend Benton include:
  • Annual Pray-A-Thon
  • Angel Food Ministries
  • Youth And Adult Bible Classes
  • Youth Summer Feeding/Enrichment Program
  • The Creation Of The Bethlehem Scholarship
  • Purchasing Valuable Real Estate In A Growing Subdivision
 
  • New Carpeting
  • Padding Of The Pews
  • Church Library
  • Conference Room Material
  • New Organ
  • Kitchen Equipment
  • Two-Stage Heating And Air Conditioning, Roofing Repair
  • New Piano, Etc.
The Building
The church has been rebuilt, remodeled and improved many times over the years, all of which attest to the foresight of its ministers, leaders and congregants in their desire for a physical plant in which worshiping would be a treat for the body, mind and soul. Bethlehem Baptist Church has a long and rich heritage. We are living out the visions of our forefathers and are fully committed to the continuous growth concept planted in the minds of our present pastor, current leaders, and members. We have a "dream" deeply within our hearts to continue to climb and to excel.

The Quest Continues
As our forefathers, with faith in the Lord, peered into the future, and built an edifice to last 150 years, so too do we. Following the visionary leadership of Pastor Benton, the church purchased the parcel of land near the Hammond's house and the tennis court adjacent to the church. The church was further blessed with the purchase of "The House" on the corner of Emory and Usher Streets. This land will be used to construct a Family Life Center and a Personal Care Home. One hundred and fifty years from now, Bethlehem will be a Center for Intergenerational, Culturally-Rich, Holistic, Ministerial focuses on Social Action and Education. For we are A Praying Praising People Serving A Powerful God!