One hundred and forty years ago, the Rev. Samuel K. Taylor gave birth to Bethlehem Baptist Church. He didn't have a pulpit to preach from, and his followers didn't have a building to worship in. Yet their beliefs and perseverance were the foundation that gave rise to the existing church, which just celebrated its 140th anniversary.
The building at 7836 Fordson Road, Gum Springs, lies on the same corner where Taylor and his followers erected the first building in 1865. A second building was built in 1884, which surpassed the original structure. Since then, the church has grown many times, both in size and in numbers.
Today, Bethlehem Baptist Church is stronger than ever, and church-goers have just completed a whirlwind couple of weeks to commemorate this special anniversary.
Muriel Wallace coordinated the anniversary celebrations and said, "We are grateful to the good Lord for letting us be on that corner for 140 years. We have been a beacon for the community and are proud of that."
Starting with a healing service and week-long revival by Dr. Harry Blake, Bethlehem kicked into high gear over the weekend. On Friday evening, members enjoyed a Family Fun Night at Mount Vernon Recreation Club. Wallace said they had food, games, face painting and more. "We just had a good time," she said.
THE BIG ANNIVERSARY banquet was held the following evening. Wallace said that more than 350 people attended, including Del. Kristen J. Amundson (D-44th), Sen. Linda "Toddy" Puller (D-36th) and United Christian Ministries (UCM) executive director Sharon Kelso. They also received congratulatory letters from Gov. Mark Warner and Mount Vernon District supervisor Gerry Hyland.
"It was a great success," said Wallace. "The food was great, and everybody was dressed in their finest."
The weekend ended with an anniversary service on Sunday. The Rev. Calvin Matthews, pastor of the Isle of Patmos Baptist Church, was the guest speaker.
Wallace said she was relieved that everything went well and added, "Now we're waiting for the next challenge."