BETHEL AME GAINESVILLE
Bethel African Methodist Episcopal, (A.M.E.) Church was organized and dedicated in 1901 under the direction of Bishop Henry M. Turner, Elder C.A. Wingfield, Reverend Phillips and a few other determined Christians. At that time the Bethel A.M.E. Church congregation did not have a church building, and it is uncertain where the original member met. Between 1901 and 1915, Bethel A.M.E. Church records show that the church's address changed five times.
These first fourteen years of Bethel A.M.E. Church existence clearly shows the amazing determination and persistence of its members. Despite all obstacles, they would not allow their Christian growth to be hindered. If it had not been for so many of the members opening the doors of their homes for services and fellowship and the commitment of each member to the growth of the church, Bethel A.M.E. Church surely would have failed. Thank God they found the strength to endure.
Bethel AME Church is considered one of the primary African-American institutions in the Gainesville community. Its support of civil rights, human rights and of the community at large has earned several of its members praise by the local press and awards.
Bethel A.M.E. Church experienced several pastoral changes between the years of 1901 and 1915, being led by Reverend John F. Baker, Reverend Franklin, Reverend Harrison, and Reverend Whitfield. The tenure of these pastors here at Bethel is unknown. In 1915, Bishop Henry McNeil Turner, Elder Wingfield and Reverend Phillips returned to Bethel A.M.E. Church, and the congregation moved to Palmour Street where it finally began to stabilize and grow. Between 1915 and 1935 Bethel A.M.E. Church grew slowly, but steadily, having added several new members and families to its numbers. The first marriage on record at Bethel was that of Mr. And Mrs. John and Blanche Barnette, Jr.
In 1936, Gainesville was struck by a devastating tornado that killed hundreds and destroyed several major structures. Bethel A.M.E. Church was included in the number of buildings lost, but its members quickly rebuilt at the Palmour Street location, even after suffering great personal losses themselves. The tornado threw Bethel into a state efflux, and constant change seemed to be the norm.
Between 1936 and 1953 there were several pastoral changes at Bethel A.M.E. Church. Six ministers came to Bethel A.M.E. Church during this time period. Despite the many changes in the Church's leadership, Bethel A.M.E. Church saw growth in its own intimal leadership and during this period and even recorded its first set of officers. In 1953, Reverend B.S. Roberson was appointed to be Bethel A.M.E. Church pastor. He faithfully served until his death in 1981. Under Reverend Roberson's tenure, Bethel A.M.E. Church grew, but upon his death, Bethel A.M.E. Church suffered a great loss. With the help of God Bethel A.M.E. Church persevered and triumphed over this great loss of a man and a leader.
Gainesville, Georgia, like most of the South, was still trying to understand what the end of Jim Crow and desegregation meant, but business went on as usual at Bethel A.M.E. Church. In 1972, with the help of a federal grant program, that were designed to assist the urban communities clear and rebuild blighted areas, Hall County condemned Bethel A.M.E. Church and the predominately Black neighborhood that it served through the Urban Renewal Program.
For two years, Bethel A.M.E. Church congregation did not have a regular place to meet. However, the Christian spirit of the members remained high and optimistic. During these two years, members met in each other's homes, in the Fair Street Elementary School Cafeteria, and at the E.E. Butler High School. In 1974, Reverend Roberson and the members of Bethel AME Church secured its present location at 900 Mill Street, at the comer of Mill Street and McDonald Street. After Reverend Roberson's death in 1981, Reverend Charles Wells was appointed as the Pastor of Bethel A.M.E. Church. Under his leadership the members initiated a church-remodeling program.
In 1983, Reverend Richard Mitchell was the appointed as the Pastor of Bethel A.M.E. Church. Improvements were made to the building's physical structure new pews were ordered. Also, under his leadership Bethel hosted the Athens District Conference, the District Sunday School Convention, and one of Bethel A.M.E. Church stewards, Bro. David Martin, was called into the ministry.
In 1985, Reverend Henry D. Andrews was appointed as the Pastor of Bethel A.M.E. Church. Under his leadership a new heating and air conditioning system was added and the fellowship hall was extended. It was then dedicated and named the Seawright-Appleby Christian Educational Annex. In addition, Reverend Andrews established Weekly Bible Study Classes, and with the help of several Bethel A.M.E. Church members, they established a weekly official membership newsletter, "The Bethel Trumpeter." In 1992, Bethel A.M.E. Church received the local NAACP Chapter's first Annual Religion Award.
In 1993, Reverend Mark S. Pierson was appointed as the Pastor of Bethel A.M.E. Church for two years. Reverend Pierson brought fresh new ideas, served faithfully to the church, and was instrumental in bringing new life to Bethel A.M.E. Church.
In 1996, Reverend Ashford E. Hunter was appointed as Pastor of Bethel A.M.E. Church. Under his leadership, Bethel A.M.E. Church acquired the "Smith House," a property willed to the Bethel A.M.E. Church from the late Bro. and Sis. EJ. Smith. His concern for humankind served as a testimony to the AME Motto: "God our Father, Christ our Redeemer, Man our Brother."
In 2000, Reverend J.R. Butler was appointed as the Pastor of Bethel A.M.E. Church. He came to the congregation from Atlanta. Under his leadership Bethel finalized its acquisition of the "Smith House," and a bus ministry was established, which included the purchase of one bus and a handicapped accessible van.
In 2002, Reverend James L. Lawson came to Bethel A.M.E. Church and his wife Sis. Jetty Lawson. He initiated a drive to reach out to previous members and increase new membership. Under his leadership, the church added new flooring to the Sea Wright-Appleby Christian Educational Annex, repainted the church, and purchase new kitchen appliances.
In 2004, Bethel AME Church family warm-heartedly received Reverend Christopher Andrews and his wife Sis. Aletha Andrews. Under his leadership, Bethel A.M.E. Church sowed greatly into another ministry, Set Free Ministries, through the use of the Smith House. Reverend Andrews was also instrumental in increasing the attendance of Bethel A.M.E. Church Bible Study Class through his non-traditional approach in developing his bible study lessons.
In 2006, Bethel A.M.E. Church received its "singing pastor," Reverend Thomas O. Lampkin and his wife Sis. Melinda Lampkin. During this time, Reverend Lampkin along with Reverend David Martin began renovations on the Smith House. Also, under Reverend Lampkin's leadership, Bethel A.M.E. Church installed new carpeting, windows to the church's main sanctuary, painted the church, and the back door was replaced with a steel door. Bethel A.M.E. Church members were able to sponsor one of the newly installed windows in the church in memory of loved ones. These renovations were formally dedicated on September 28, 2008, by Reverend Ella Mae Samuels, our Presiding Elder. Reverend Terrance Mackey, a retired pastor of the 7th Episcopal District joined our church under Reverend Lampkin's leadership. He took an active role in teaching Wednesday Night Bible Study.
In July of 2009, Reverend David Walker was appointed as the Pastor of Bethel A.M.E. Church. Reverend Walker was joined with his spouse, First Lady Sis. Bobbie Walker. They transferred from the Wrens /Vidalia (7th Episcopal) District. He had been a Pastor for over 29 years in other states besides Georgia, which included Alabama, South Carolina, and Minnesota. Reverend Walker initiated Bethel A.M.E. Church tithing program, which resulted in a record set in tithing in the month of December.
In April 2010, history was made with the appointment of our first female pastor, Reverend
Evelyn Johnson, M.Div. Reverend Johnson transferred from the First Episcopal District (NJ) to the 6th District (Georgia), and she served on the staff at Big Bethel AME Church, Atlanta, Georgia, under the leadership of Reverend Gregory Eason. In 2000, Reverend Johnson graduated from Kean University, Union, New Jersey, with BA in Philosophy and Religion. In Newark, NJ, 2002, Pastor Johnson was a graduate of the Citizen's Clergy Newark Policy Academy Citizen's Government Academy. Reverend Johnson graduated from the Interdenominational Theological Center, (ITC), where she obtained her Masters of Divinity Degree. Reverend Johnson, a community activist, a woman of God, and a mother of two sons and grandmother. Reverend Evelyn Johnson is a veteran of United States Army.
In August 2011, Reverend Johnson attended the City of Gainesville, Georgia, Citizens Public Safety Academy, at the Gainesville Police Department. In 2012, The Sixth Episcopal District, (SED), was favored with a new Episcopal administrative team. The Bishop Preston Warren Williams, Jr., the 119th the elected and concentrated Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and Supervisor Dr. Wilma Delores Webb Williams was appointed to the SED, (Georgia). October 25, 2012, as part of the welcome, Reverend Johnson had the privilege of being the Bishop's and Presiding Elder Samuels driver for the Augusta/Athens District Church visitations, God Be Praise.
Accomplishments under Reverend Evelyn Johnson’s Tenure:
• Outreach ministry saluting Military Veterans. City Councilwoman Myrtle Figueras delivered a heart felt message saluting our U.S. Veterans for the sacrifices made in defense of our country both at home and abound.
• The installation of a Handicap accessible ramp, sign and sidewalk. Thanks to the Gainesville City Officials and Department of Public Works, and the women of Bethel A.M.E. Church for reframing the landscape at Bethel A.M.E. Church. Our new handicap accessible ramp, side walk and handicap parking space provides worshippers a greater opportunity to come and fellowship with the Bethel Family as well as ride on the side walk rather than in the street, which gave a sense of safety.
• The Harper Smith House Bethel's Education Building is in receipt of its 501(3) c. Nonprofit status.
• Beautification: The officers and members painted the lower area of Bethel A.M.E. Church that included matching the old and new ramp and sidewalk together. The Church sign also received a fresh coat of paint and enhanced its landscape with fresh flowers.
• Education 2012: Leadership Workshops, Christian Education, and Theological Training at Mid-Year 2012 New Ministry initiative: Social Media, Cell phone ministry. This year has proven to be the year of God's favor with the best yet to come. I thank God for the members of Bethel for their willingness to catch on to the vision.
• We started 2013 year on December 31, 2012, with Watch Night Service. Singing and praising the Lord and reenacting how a church would get together on the New Year with all the lights out. The preacher would talk and then asked, watchman, watchman, what was the time. And with flashlights and watches one at a time one would say, watchmen, watchmen, what is of the night and the last person would say, the hour, 12:00 a.m., a New Year, and all is well. This is how Bethel A.M.E. Church brought in the New Year 2013.
• On the Second Sunday in March, we had Men’s Day, the last of our conference year program before Annual Conference.
At the 2014th Annual Conference Reverend Ella Mae Samuel, stepped down as Elder of the Augusta Athens District. The District was re-organized and Bethel is assigned to the Athen/Vidalia District with a new Elder, the Reverend Catherine Mathis. Things changed quite a bit being in the new District.
Now in June we had Family and Friends day, the Reverend Johnson arranged for the street to be blocked off, and she arranged for the city to bring a fire truck out for everyone to inspect, take pictures, and to talk to the firemen and firewomen. It was a good day. We got to try on the firefighter’s equipment, and their equipment was quite heavy. On the Second Sunday in August 2014, we had our Women’s Day, which was a good day. I think the ladies came up with the best theme, “There Is A Story Behind My Praise”.
On the Second in October, we had Homecoming, followed by our Annual Fall Revival, the guest church St. John Missionary Baptist Church in Cleveland, Georgia. It is a good day every time these two churches worship and fellowship.
The 2016 year started out as a normal year for Bethel A.M.E. Church, with Watch Night Service on December 31, 2015 until 12:00 a.m., marking the beginning of the New Year, January 1, 2016.
Little did we know changes we was about to go into in 2016. As the year progressed, the usual events start, such as Black history Month. The Reverend Ernest Johnson from Rushing Springs Baptist Church Birmingham, Alabama was the guest preacher for the Black History Program. in February, the SED held the A.M.E. Founder's Day in Savannah, Georgia.
On second Sunday in March, the Men's Day Worship Service was held and it was followed by the Annual Conference. At the Augusta Annual Conference Reverend Johnson was sent back to Bethel for her seventh year. Reverend Johnson brought back news, that several Churches had been moved to the North Atlanta Conference. Now not knowing what the next move would be, we had to wait several months for the final results. It was announced in all the Annual Conferences, and approved at the 50th Session of the General Conference, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Bethel A.M.E. Church Gainesville, Georgia, along with four other Churches, which were in Athens District of the Augusta Conference were moved, to the Atlanta East District of the Atlanta North Georgia Annual Conference. Bethel A.M.E. Church met our new Presiding Elder September 2016.
On the Second Sunday of August, we held our Annual Women’s Day program. On September 10, 2016, at our First Quarterly Conference, Bethel A.M.E. Church met our new Presiding Elder, the Reverend Dr. Earle H. Ifill, Presiding Elder, Atlanta East District, and the President, Presiding Elder Council of the A.M.E. Church.
Our Church cookout was held at the Ruby Wilkins Park in Newtown. The park is name after Mrs. Ruby Wilkins the mother of two of our Church members Bro. Clyde Wilkins, a Steward, and Bro. John D. Wilkins, Sr. an Usher of Bethel A.M.E. Church. Thanks to Carolyn Mize, the Chairperson and organizer of this event, it was a great day of fun and eating!
Homecoming was the Second Sunday in October, and the Annual Fall Revival Monday to Wednesday, which gave the Church a much-needed lift in spirit as we settle in to the new district. On the Second Sunday in November, our Church 114th Anniversary was held in November. But postpone the 80s and 90s and 100s program this year in December. It will be back.
2016 started out as a normal year for the Bethel A.M.E. Church. Beginning with watch night service on December 31, 2015 until 12 o'clock January 1, 2016. Little did we know about the changes that awaited us in 2016. As the year progressed, the usual events start, such as Black history month. The Reverend Ernest Johnson from Rushing Springs Baptist Church Birmingham, Alabama was the speaker of the program. As scheduled and recognized by the A.M.E. Church connectional wide, we celebrated the A.M.E. Founder's Day program locally and with the SED.
On November 13, 2016, the 115th Church Anniversary was held, and the Reverend Rodney Lackey, Pastor of Antioch Baptist Church, Gainesville, Georgia, next door to Bethel A.M.E. Church was the guest preacher. It was Reverend Lackey’s first time at Bethel A.M.E. Church. During days following our Anniversary, our congregation celebrated Thanksgiving and, of course, Christmas in December. Now at the end of the year we worshiped together at Watch Night Service as we welcomed in 2017. the New Year.
February was Black history month and Founders Day. We had a lot of history shared during black history mouth and Sis. Sharron Wilson was the director of black history month. It was something different every week and the decoration that she had orchestrated was outstanding. On the Second Sunday, March 13, 2017, we celebrated Men’s Day. The men came together and had an excellent program.
The Annual Conference was upon us and being in the Atlanta North Georgia Conference for the first time since the change. We found out our first year could be our last in the Atlanta North Conference. Apparently, we were being placed in a new district, Athens District, with a new Presiding Elder, Reverend Claude James. So Bethel waited for the rest of the story. By the planning meetings Bethel was back in the Atlanta North Georgia Annual Conference and the Atlanta East District once again. All is well and since that day everything has been running relatively smoothly.
Paulette aka (Missy) and members of the Women Missionary Society did their Annual Breakfast at the senior citizen center. The members of the center look forward to this day. In all, this was a good year, because all the programs ran according to plan. In 2017, we did not have Family and Friends Day. Women's day went as planned.
In August the Steward board met and we wanted to have something for the people to get together and have a little fun. Bro. Robert Clark brought a great idea to the Steward Board about an ice cream social. The Stewards would make ice cream sundaes and banana splits for all. After eating ice cream, we played a movie for the crowd, it was great. Everyone loved it. Seeing that it was good, we kept this going because everyone wanted to play games and see other movies. The first movie was “The War Room”. It was received very well, and we decided to rename it, “The Ice Cream Social” which will occur every two months. On Friday Evening, October 6, 2017, we had our second Social. We served nachos and cheese, sodas and ice cream. The movie shown was “The Shack” and once again everything was great, the participation was outstanding. The next thing we need to do is get a handle on Operating the movie projector. Someone asked if we could do more of this, they like having something to do, with the Church Family, on a Friday evening after a long stressful week.
In September the Gospel Choir celebrated their Annual Anniversary with a nice crowd. At this time, we were back at the 116th Church Anniversary, in November, and the preacher of the hour was, Reverend Dr. Earl H. Ifill, our Presiding Elder. We postponed the 80s and 90s and 100s program this year in December. In 2017, still under the leadership of Reverend Evelyn Johnson, we prepared breakfast for over 90 to 100 seniors, held at the Community Center.
In May, 2018 Bethel AME Church attended the Atlanta North Georgia Annual Conference. The SED Post Planning Meeting was held May 30th to June 1, 2018, and Reverend Evelyn Johnson was given a new appointment by Bishop Reginald T. Jackson, Presiding Prelate of SED.
On June 7, 2018, Bishop Reginald T. Jackson appointed the Reverend Dr. Michelle R. Rizer-Pool as the Pastor of Bethel A.M.E. Church, Gainesville, Georgia. Prior to coming to Bethel A.M.E. Church, she was the Pastor of mount Zion A.M.E. Church, Shady Dale, Georgia, which was in the Macon North District of the Macon Georgia Annual Conference. On Sunday, June 10, 2018, Reverend Dr. Michelle R. Rizer-Pool’s first Sunday with us in worship. She came with an open-heart, kind smile and ready to work. We welcomed Reverend Dr. Rizer-Pool with open arms. We are excited to have her with us.
On July 29, 2018, our First Quarterly Conference, with Reverend Dr. Earle H. Ifill, Presiding Elder, Atlanta East District and the new Pastor was held immediately after our Worship Service. Presiding Elder Earle H. Ifill preached. After confirming the Steward and the newly elected Trustees for this Conference Year, 2018-2019, he gave financial assisted to Bethel A.M.E. Church for the air duct project.
Thus far under her leadership, she has approved for the software to be upgraded. She started a pledge drive in August 2018, which resulted in getting the duct work completed for the heating and air system before Homecoming, which was on October 14, 2018. We look forward to completing other projects under our new pastor Rev. Dr. Michelle R. Rizer-Pool. Since her appointment the following special worship services has been celebrated:
• August 4, 2018: Women’s Day Breakfast where the Honorable Barbara Brookes, Councilwoman of Ward 3 of the Gainesville, Georgia City Council, was the Keynote Speaker.
• August 12, 2018: The Annual Women’s Day – Theme: “It’s My Winning Season” (Pastor Michelle R. Rizer-Pool was the preacher of the hour).
• September 9, 2018: The 53rd Choir Anniversary – Theme: I’ve Been through the Fire and the Flood”
• October 14, 2018: The Annual Homecoming – The Theme: Returning to God - The Reunion (YPDers returned to remember where it all started.)
The people of Bethel eagerly wait as God unfolds His Divine plan for us, and we solicit your prayers and support as we seek to fulfill His word for another year.
Bethel African Methodist Episcopal, (A.M.E.) Church was organized and dedicated in 1901. Bethel AME Church is considered one of the primary African-American institutions in the Gainesville community. Its support of civil rights, human rights and of the community at large has earned several of its members praise by the local press and awards.
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