‘Old Bethel’ celebration scheduled for Aug. 18

‘Old Bethel’ celebration scheduled for Aug. 18

By Brian Koonce
Staff Writer

JACKSON – August 18 marks the culmination of a dream for many Missouri Baptists: the dedication of the reconstructed Bethel Baptist Church.

Gov. Matt Blunt and Southern Baptist Convention President Frank Page, along with Second Baptist, Springfield, Pastor John Marshall and Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) Interim Executive Director David Tolliver will be on hand as the Missouri Baptist Historical Commission (MBHC) hosts a celebration marking the completion of the reconstruction project. 

The event will be held on the site of “Old Bethel,” the first non-Catholic congregation to meet west of the Mississippi River. Dedication events are open to the public. Activities are planned to start at 9 a.m. with speeches and worship.

At 8 a.m., there will be a prayer breakfast for local churches at First Baptist Church, Jackson, with Page. For more information, contact the church.

Bethel Church became a congregation 201 years ago on July 19, 1806, when 15 people joined together to charter their church. Their constitution states, in part: “We the members of the Baptist Church having been a long time destitute of having the privilege of being in any Church order, do feel it our duty to embody ourselves together in the fear of God as a church, hoping that God will bless us in so good an undertaking with the teaching of His Holy Spirit and enable us through grace to live to the declaritive [sic] glory of Him, and the praise of his Gospel.”

They built a small building, but soon outgrew it and constructed a larger 30-foot-by-24-foot building. The church grew as they served the Lord and reached out in the area, establishing nine other churches in 17 years and serving as a foundation church for the Bethel Baptist Association, constituted in 1816. The decline of the congregation happened when the church members decided to insulate themselves and quit doing mission activity. The last entry in their minutes was in 1867.

After the church disbanded, the property on which it was constructed reverted to the family of Thomas Bull, one of the founding members who had donated the land. The property was deeded to the Missouri Baptist General Association (now Missouri Baptist Convention) in 1943. During this time, the log building was moved and served as a farm outbuilding, and later the logs were dismantled.

In 2001, Second Springfield purchased the recovered logs from a nearby property owner, and the push was on to reconstruct the building. In 2005, the MBHC began a fundraising drive to reconstruct the church. Groundbreaking was held on Oct. 14, 2005, and the rebuilding effort, spearheaded by Melvin Gateley and coordinated by Steve Strom of Cape Girardeau, hit full steam in the spring of 2006. The logs were in place and the building was ready for an open house at the MBC annual meeting in Cape Girardeau last October. Since then, a covering was added to protect the roof from the elements, and the building was chinked (spaces in between logs filled) in the spring of 2007.

The Missouri Baptist Historical Commission is looking for descendants of the original Bethel Church founders. If you are a descendant or know someone who is and can provide contact information for them, please contact Joanna Perkins, MBHC archivist, at 800-736-6227, ext. 205 or jperkins@mobaptist.org.

Many volunteers gave time and energy to this reconstruction. To honor those workers, a picnic is being planned Aug. 17. Those who worked on this project and would like to be included in the picnic should contact Gateley at (573) 334-1303 for further information.