Our Beginnings - 1950s Bethel
The real beginning of Bethel was in the hearts of many concerned Christians who saw the need for a church in the Half-Way-Tree area in the 1950's. As a result, the Bethel Baptist Church was founded on November 11, 1954 with a group of 15 young, fervent Christians led by a Southern Baptist Pastor and his wife, Dr. and Mrs. Charles McCullough.
Dr. McCullough was the representative from the Foreign Mission Board of Richmond, Virginia, USA The Articles of Faith were adopted and the Church Covenant was signed by 15 members. They adopted the Articles of Faith, signed the Church Covenant and elected the following officers Pastor: Charles W. McCullough Clerk: Heather Parkinson Treasurer: Ronald Forbes.
The church started upstairs the Rainbow Restaurant in the Half-Way-Tree area now occupied by Fabric de Younis and subsequently moved to a nearby dwelling house at 6 Hope Road, Kingston. The fellowship was dominated by a warm and friendly atmosphere. The style of worship, the shape of the fellowship and the scope of witness were a reflection of the church's young leadership and youth participation.
In 1957, the McCulloughs returned to the United States. For a 5-year period, Bethel did not have its own Pastor. Rev. S.E. Leslie Larwood overlooked the church until 1958 when Rev. J.A. Leo-Rhynie took over as moderator until late 1960. Moderating involved conducting business meetings and administering the Lord's Supper. The Deacons and Church Officers looked after all other church activities, evidence of active lay leadership in the life of the church.
The Flourishing Church - 1960s Bethel
In April 1961, the members of the fellowship, being led of the Lord, called one of the Deacons, Mr. William Edwards (now Rev-) to the Pastorate. He was young, in a young church and was one of the few, if not the only 'Lay' Pastor of a church in the Jamaica Baptist Union at that time. During his tenure of office, the church flourished and achieved a number of milestones.
The membership was increasing, and so the fellowship approached the Jamaica Baptist Union, which had originally purchased the property at 6 Hope Road, and was given the right to erect a chapel on the site. In August 1963, ground was broken and the fellowship embarked on an ambitious project of building the chapel.
The Lord rewarded wonderful their efforts and with the generous help of Pastor Curtis Cole, who supervised the building program (Pastor Cole offered his services free of charge), the chapel was finished and furnished in time to be opened on the 1st Sunday in February 1964. Dr. and Mrs. McCullough were invited specially to the function and Dr. McCullough had the privilege of opening the (MAIN) front door of the new chapel.
The next project of this new church was the acquisition of the adjoining lot and the construction of the Christian Education Building. This building was opened in October 1965 by Sir Clifford Campbell, then Governor General of Jamaica. This was the first established Christian Education Building in the Jamaica Baptist Union. It was used for Training Union and Sunday School.
A number of other projects were initiated and developed during the decade of the SIXTIES. The adjoining lot was acquired in January 1967. In 1968, the first organ was purchased at a cost of 1,050 pounds sterling. In 1969, Certain Sounds, a contemporary singing youth group was formed. It complimented the Adult Choir and performed in many congregations within the country.
When Barbican Baptist Church was housed in a small building which needed much repair, it became the missionary concern of Bethel. Much help was given to it in those early years. Bethel started a Child Evangelism Project at the Barbican Baptist Church by operating a Good News Class there. The teachers included Yvonne Hill and Sonia Gallimore.
Bethel assumed responsibility for conducting weekly prayer meetings at the Hope Hill Baptist Church at Bull Bay (Seven Miles). There also was a regular commitment to an unpastored work in Buff Bay which continued for many years. A lot of assistance was given to both North Street and Porus Congregational Churches.
The church was also involved in social issues. In the late 1960's, Dr. A. Allen and Prof. Errol Miller played leading roles in the ecumenical demonstration against the National Lottery before Gordon House when the government was contemplating introducing the National Lottery. In 1969, Pastor and Mrs. Edwards accepted a call from the Tarrant Baptist Church and so resigned from Bethel. Thus, a most fruitful 8-year pastorate ended in September that year.
New Era - 1970s Bethel
The decade of the SEVENTIES began with Bethel seeking a full-time Pastor. On May 1, 1970 Rev. Burchel Taylor accepted the call to be Pastor of Bethel, which had a membership of 250. Rev. Taylor then became the FIRST Jamaica Baptist Union ordained minister to be Pastor of Bethel. He brought with him fresh perspectives and insights from which the fellowship continues to benefit.
THUS THE SECOND PHASE OF GROWTH BEGAN. In 1973, fire destroyed the Christian Education Building. Pastor Taylor challenged the congregation to see this event as a challenge of being put through the fiery test and exercising of Faith in God Almighty and not as an adversity. To cope with the growing attendance, the church decided to rebuild the Christian Education Building in keeping with the original design for a 3-storey complex. The chapel was extended to join the Christian Education Building (ground floor), thus, increasing seating capacity by approximately 300.
Within 2 years, the 3-storey Education Complex was built. This opened the way for a number of new and exciting projects, such as The Healing Ministry in a' wholistic' approach, sought to satisfy the needs of the total man. The use of the building as a JAMAL (Jamaica Movement for the Advancement of Literacy) ADULT EDUCATION CENTRE - to offer remedial literacy and numeracy skills particularly to older adults.
The Advice Service - a legal aid/ consultative centre. The church experienced phenomenal growth in membership. The regular attendance pushed the church to institute two morning worship services in 1975 to complement the evening service. In 1977 there were 850 members. In 1976, a group of members was commissioned to establish the Mona Baptist Mission.
Commissioned by the Jamaica Baptist Union and under the leadership of Dr. Barry Wade, Mr. and Mrs. Ken Christian, Mr. and Mrs. Al Brown, Rev. A. E. Brown, Mrs. Maxwell and Mr. Phillip Lynch, meetings were held in the Lecture Theatre of the College of Arts, Science and Technology (now UTech) in Papine. Thus Mona Mission became the Mona Baptist Church and became a part of the Bethel Circuit.
In 1982, construction of the Mona Baptist Church was completed. The building was dedicated and opened to the community. Jointly with the Tarrant Baptist Church, the church's missionary thrust extended into Balmagie. In the mid-seventies, the Bethel Church initiated and still supports a Basic School in Rema, Trench Town. By 1979, there was an enrollment of 221 students and 5 paid teachers.
Expansion - 1980s Bethel
With the changed realities of the EIGHTIES, there have been modifications in its life and fellowship. There are now:
- A Social Worker's Department which deals directly with issues of employment, food and shelter.
- Lunch Ministry which seeks to provide a high quality meal at a low cost price.
- Skills Training Ministry which was started in the SEVENTIES but is now expanded to include more skills such as craft, sewing, catering and metal work.
- The Healing Ministry is now a full-fledged Medical Clinic. (Other ministries under Pastor Taylor's leadership and which are still active are the Drama Group, Ushers' Board, Church Council and Youth-Related Ministries).
Bethel Church continued its service to the community and in 1986 the property at 2B Suthermere Road was purchased. The property was acquired to facilitate better the Skills Training Programme. In that year also, a core group from the membership was asked to form the nucleus of members to support the ministry of the Jamaica Baptist Union in New Haven, St. Andrew. These members were Mr. and Mrs. Patrick Howell, Miss Hyacinth Campbell, Miss Betty Higgins and Mr. an Mrs. Ferdinand Hinds. Since then the church has been supporting this mission.
The membership continued to grow (1,325 member in 1984) and so the chapel was again extended. In 1987, the new wing was dedicated to the memory the late Deacon Oscar Barrett In 1988, Rev. Taylor was called to serve as President of the Jamaica Baptist Union. Rev. Stephen Jennings was called to serve as the President's Assistant. In that year also, he was called to join the Bethel/Mona circuit as Associate Pastor.
The Planting of Churches - 1990s Bethel
The Mona/Bethel circuit was divided in September 1992 as Mona had the membership base, financial means and leadership to attend to its ministry needs. In January 1993, Rev. Jennings assumed the Pastorate at Mona.
Due mainly to the size and scope of the work of the church, (membership in 1994 was 1,985), part-time services in a number of areas ceased to be effective. There was also the higher cost of living (in economic terms) which resulted in more persons availing themselves of educational opportunities, hence the replacement of volunteers by paid staff.
Ministry and outreach activities are still the mainstay of the fellowship. These have caused much embarrassment due to lack of space. To provide much needed space, a multi-purpose building was constructed in 1994. This building houses the administrative offices, a pharmacy and provides space for Sunday School classes and other activities.
Several members of our fellowship were led to be trained to become Pastors. Rev. Peter Morgan led the way in the 1970's when he was trained at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky, USA. He now serves as the Pastor of the Covenant Community Church.
In 1986, two (2) members, Keith Stevenson and Dylan Toussaint, were called to be trained as Pastors at the United Theological College of the West Indies. They now serve in Hanover. Doreen Wynter, who broke ground as the first woman to serve in this Pastoral ministry in Jamaica, and Bill Graham were the other members to be trained as Pastors and now currently serve in Jones Town and Old Harbour Bay respectively.
Bethel has been blessed greatly by God. The challenges that face us may be those of integrating and involving all members of the fellowship to function as a part of the family of God and to continue the great mission of our Lord.
Forging into the new millenium - 2000s Bethel
The new millenium brings with it, tremendous challenges as more and more are in search for some meaning to life. There can be no time in the life and history of a church in Jamaica that the church needs to do what it alone can do. Our Pastor, Rev. Dr. Burchell Taylor has a vision for our Church in the 21st Century:
'One which will be more aggressive, with out being offensive; extensive yet comprehensive that we will be an all embracing church. We are committed in facilitating men and women, the community and society to which we belong. We intend to be facilitators by allowing persons to encounter God in the liberating and transforming manner through the word, through witness of life and through service and sharing.
We believe that we are in a transition period: the end of an era.. and the beginning of another.'
Our Millenium Mission
Under God, and in the name of Jesus Christ
Evangelise our community and nation through the consistent presentation of the gospel in word and action, and constantly review that presentation to ensure that we communicate in a manner that remains relevant
Provide opportunities for opportunities for holistic development of our membership through exercise and practice of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in service, worship, active study of the Word of God, prayer and Fellowship
Actively challenge the people of our community to accept principles of justice, love, mercy and service as the appropriate bases for dealing with each other.
Finance our internal programmes and selected community outreach activities based on the sacrificial giving of our members and
Challenge the society to contribute to the achievement of community development objectives.