Bethel Baptist celebrates sesquicentennial
By Staff Reports
With fewer than a dozen charter members, what is known now as Bethel Baptist Church got its start in Hartselle 150 years ago this Sunday. Church members are celebrating its sesquicentennial with a special service that will honor its humble roots and the many changes seen through the years.
According to church history, the original church is significant to the history of the Baptist movement in Hartselle because it was established more than a decade before the organization of any other Baptist church in Hartselle, and 5 years before the City of Hartselle was incorporated in 1877.
Established the day before the first Sunday in October 1872, Bethel Baptist came into being from a conversation between J.D. McClanahan and George Hartselle, who donated the land on which the church’s first building was erected. Records available about the church indicate that in 1872, the two men were standing in front of a small log school building at Bethel, discussing the need for a Sunday school. As a result of that conversation, a Sunday school was started in the log school building, which stood on the present church site near the back of the present educational building.
Church history sites McClanahan as the first Sunday school superintendent. In a short time, the fellowship grew into an organized church. Baptizing for the church was done at Hartselle Pond until it one day disappeared. Then the baptisms were moved down the road to Collier Pond until the new church with a baptismal was constructed.
On August 25, 1914, Bethel Baptist Church met to decide on building the first church building to move out of the log school building. On January 17, 1915, the church had its first service in the new building. During this time the church overcame many difficulties. A tornado ripped through the community and unroofed the church in 1917, the Spanish Influenza riddled the congregation for months causing services to be cancelled, and a few years later Typhoid fever swept through the area. On November 8, 1931, a fire destroyed several parts of the building. It was also during this time the Great Depression had struck the nation.
Still, in the face of these trials, Bethel Baptist persevered. In 1952, on land donated by C.T. Stevenson, construction of a new and even larger sanctuary began, and was completed in 1953. The educational building was built in the mid 60s and provided much-needed classrooms for an ever-growing church.
In March 1970, the congregation voted to annul its affiliation from the Southern Baptist Convention, the Alabama State Convention and the Morgan County Baptist Association; Bethel then became an Independent Baptist Church.
In 1973, Bethel Baptist Church had its first ever missions conference, and the birth of Faith Promise missions giving was experienced. During that time, the church sanctuary was renovated and a modern vestibule was built. Throughout the early 1980s, Bethel experienced another wave of growth. By 1990, a larger nursery facility was constructed, and the current sanctuary and gymnasium had been built.
In the decades since, Bethel Baptist has continued to grow and change – as well as remain a constant in many people’s lives. Church members will gather Sunday to celebrate 150 years of history with a special service Oct. 2 beginning at 10:30 a.m.
The service will include singing, a brief history and feature evangelist Harrell Noble. Attendees will receive 150th anniversary memorabilia and view a church history photo timeline wall with photos, documents and newspaper articles from each decade. A fellowship meal will follow the service and the public is invited to attend.
Bethel Baptist Church is located at 1301 Bethel Rd. NE in Hartselle.