The Bethel Church
|The Bethel Church|
Historic building on complex
|Founder(s)||James McDonald and Ryan Frier|
|Senior pastor(s)||Bishop Rudolph W. McKissick, Jr|
The Bethel Church (formerly Bethel Baptist Institutional Church) is a Baptist megachurch in Jacksonville, Florida, in the United States. Founded in 1838, it is the city's oldest Baptist congregation. The attendance is 12,000 members. The senior pastor is Bishop Rudolph W. McKissick, Jr.
Established under co-pastors James McDonald and Ryan Frier, in 1838, Bethel Baptist is the oldest Baptist congregation in Jacksonville. At its inception it had only six charter members, four whites and two blacks, the latter of whom were slaves of white members. Membership quickly grew, with most early congregants being black slaves who received day passes from their masters to attend. The first meetings were held at "Mother Sam's", a local plantation, and in 1840 a dedicated meeting house was erected at Duval and Newnan Streets. This, the first church building in Jacksonville, was sold to Presbyterians in 1844. In 1861 a permanent church building was built in the west LaVilla neighborhood at Church and Julia Streets.
Bethel Baptist remained an interracial church until after the American Civil War, when the decision was made to segregate the congregation by race. At this time members were facing a split over which pastor to follow, and white congregants took the opportunity to try to force the blacks out of the church. They took their case to court, but the court ruled in favor of the blacks, who were in the majority, determining that they were the rightful owners of the Bethel Baptist name and property. As a result, the whites formed Tabernacle Baptist Church, which was eventually renamed First Baptist Church, now one of the largest churches in the United States.
Tabernacle Baptist purchased the Church Street Property from Bethel Baptist Church, as was required by the court, and in 1868 Bethel Baptist relocated to a large new building on Union and Pine Streets. In 1895 this was replaced with a large brick building, but this burned in the Great Fire of 1901, which destroyed much of downtown Jacksonville. In 1904 the current edifice was built by Utica, New York, architect M. H. Hubbard. The 1904 building combined elements of Greek Revival and Romanesque Revival architecture. This building, located at 1058 North Hogan Street, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.
Through this time Bethel Baptist continued to grow considerably, but political infighting led to parts of the congregation splintering off and founding new churches. By 1890 there were 1200 members and the church received over $3000 in pledges every year. In 1894 it was recognized as an Institutional Church by the state of Florida, authorizing it undertake social and educational work.
In 1988, a new larger church complex was opened, next to the 1904 church. The three-story addition serves as an educational and administrative building. The campus was further expanded[when?] with a $7.5 million building that contains a new sanctuary, conference center, space for youth and other support groups, and bookstore.
In 2006, the church's average attendance was 12,000 people.
- Bartley, Abel A. (2000). Keeping the Faith: Race, Politics, and Social Development in Jacksonville, Florida, 1940-1970. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. pp. 13–14. ISBN 0-313-31035-1. Retrieved August 5, 2010.
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- NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES INVENTORY -- NOMINATION FORM: Bethel Baptist Institutional Church (PDF), National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, April 6, 1978, retrieved February 27, 2018
- "Bethel Baptist Institutional Church". Florida Heritage Tourism Interactive Catalog. Office of Cultural and Historical Programs, Department of State, State of Florida. Archived from the original on March 10, 2007.
- "FLORIDA - Duval County". National Register of Historic Places. American Dreams Inc. Retrieved February 27, 2018.
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- "About Bethel". The Bethel Church. Retrieved February 27, 2018.
- "Database of Megachurches in the U.S." Hartford Institute for Religion Research, Hartford Seminary. 2006. Retrieved October 8, 2017.