History of Bethel AME Church, Macon, MO
HISTORY OF BETHEL AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH
The earliest records we have found indicate that our church had its beginnings in the mid 1850’s. A small group of men and women met in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Martin near where the Old Dumas School building now stands on 5th and Rubey Streets. In 1858, those present were the Pastor, Rev. T.W. Henderson, Rueben Barbour, Henry Jones, Mahala Austin, Eliza Glenn, Goodrich and Ben Austin. We have recently located the burial plots for most of these founders in Woodlawn Cemetery.
This little band of members raised enough money to build their first church building, a board structure at 213 East 5th Street. In 1866, a larger building was constructed on the same site. The town grew; slavery ended, and the congregation grew steadily.
This abstract shows that in 1874, the present site was purchased, and a brick building was erected, at a cost of $3,000. Rev. George Gaines was the pastor. Following an early service on the evening of May 13, 1883, a cyclone went through Macon and completely destroyed the building. Some members barely escaped with their lives. Rev. Gaines called the congregation together, and counting on God’s help, they went to work to construct another building; stronger, more beautiful, at a cost of $4,000. Church membership in 1884 was around 150. Worship services continued in that building for 52 years.
There are a precious few members living who recall Sunday morning, February 21, 1937, as members were preparing to go to service, the custodian fired the coal furnace, trying to warm the church for services. The report was given that the Bethel A. M. E. Church was on fire. Our honorees recall how the fire department and all who were able, came to fight the blaze, but once again, the church building was completely destroyed.
Under the leadership of Rev. William M. Jackson, church services were held in the upstairs Masonic Lodge Hall on North Rubey Street while plans were formed to build yet another new church. Much of that old building’s brick holds us up today as it was used as wall fill in our current basement. The members and many young men and women around town pitched in to help The Johnson Brothers Construction Company as construction progressed on this building we now worship in. It was completed in the fall of 1938 and the North Missouri Annual Conference was hosted here that year.
It is my understanding that the basement was only developed to house the coal furnace and storage room for the coal. It was some time later that the dining room, kitchen, and storage rooms were developed. Seventy six years later, we continue to renovate, repair, and work to make the area more functional.
I am sure that our honorees could share hundreds of stories of projects to get, and then replace kitchen supplies, bring in electricity and lights, repair roofs, add hardwood floors, add and replace carpeting, install the gas furnace, get new pews, provide for air conditioning, tables, chairs, pulpit furniture and furnishings. Truly, we’ve come this far by faith and on the shoulders of a lot of ancestors who put that faith into action!!
48 Pastors have served Bethel over the past 156 years. We are grateful to each of them for preaching the word, keeping God as the head, leading us to Christ, baptizing us, performing our marriages, burying our loved ones, and teaching our children. Each of us has a list forever in our hearts and minds of those pastors who made the greatest imprint on our individual lives.
Through all the ups and downs, storms and fires, we have survived because of the dedication and hard work of hundreds of members who, like those we honor here today, stood in the gap and served Bethel with their whole hearts to pass on a powerful legacy for us to remember, cherish and follow. We owe them and each of you, a huge debt of gratitude. We thank you and ask God’s richest blessings on our beloved Bethel and on each of you as you serve out your remaining days, months and years.