In 1871 a small group of Christians had a desire to worship together in one centrally located place and under the leadership of the Reverend Billy Cox and H. E. Cleveland, the Bethlehem Baptist Church was organized. The first church was built on the estate of Mrs. Annie Garrett. The plot of land is located between Preston and Lee streets in the five hundred block. The building was made of logs.
As the membership grew, the members saw the need for a larger and better place of worship, so in 1872 the present location was purchased and given to the church by the Missionary Society. Mrs. Calllie Davis was the president of the Society at that time.
They also purchased a small building which was used until a larger building was purchased during the pastorate of Reverend H. L. Wirdlow.
The men and women who were pioneers in this movement were Brothers Jordon Lightfoot, Henry Garrett, Sr., Henry Perry, John Edmond, T. T. Thuston, Ike Johnson, Ike Shipley, Sam Seay, Jordon Douglas, Ellic Brown and George Perry. Sisters Callie Davis, Edeline Christian, Emma Edwards, Myra Smith, Annie Garrett, Lina Murphey, Harriett Shipley, Mariah Hays, Mille Ingram, Phyllis Williams, Charolet Stimson, Bertha Perry, Polly Howard, Jennie Williams, Caroline Wagoner, Febie Cowens, Matilda Brown, Phillis Dejournett, Elivira Perry, Ann Johnson, and Lou Dupree.
The first Missionary Society was organized in 1871. Callie Davis was the first president. Other members were Sisters Edeline Christian, Secretary, and Mrs. Emma Edwards, Treasurer. Sisters Callie Davis, Edeline Christian, and Emma Edwards signed the deed to the lot along with the following trustees and deacons: Rev. E. S. Silas, J. D. Locke, Littleton Knighten, John Blackman and Green Edwards. Several years after the deed was signed other men were added to the deacon board and their names were added to the deed: B. K. Johnson, Dock Johnson, Sam Harp, Peter Johnson, Will Morley, L. G. Stull, and R. B. Chapman.
In 1875 the following men were added to the board: Dave Lock and George Moore. In 1886, Arch Beasley, Jordon Douglas and John Daily were added. About 1930 other men were added to the board: L. D. Swindall, Harrison Phillips, Edward Dupree, Charlie Phillips, and H. M. Miles. In 1945, J. L. Holford was added to the board.
In 1957, Jessie Higgs and Herbert Chapman were ordained as deacons, and later Matthew Jackson. In 1969, Joe C. Dale and Roosevelt Ross and, in 1966, Cecil R. Jones was added. In subsequent years the following men have been added to the board of deacons: Alvis Ryan, Dwight Mason, James Henson, Leon Smith, Melvin Harvey, and Charles Bowen.
The cafeteria was built in 1941 under the leadership of Rev. H. W. Cunningham. In 1949 the church was rebuilt during the pastorate of Rev. U.S. Cornelius. April 27, 1978 the church elected its first Historical committee, with Mrs. Mattie Lee Roberson as Chairman. Mrs. Roberson passed before she had an opportunity to work with the committee. She conceived the idea of preserving the history of the church. In February of 1979 Mrs. Noble Chapman presented the church a Historical Case in Loving Memory of her late husband, Herbert S. Chapman. Mrs. Noble Chapman was named Mother of the Church in 1986.
On August 26, 1979 the church extended the Call to Reverend L. S. Wilson, Sr., of Dallas, Texas. He came the following Sunday and accepted the Call. He preached his first Sermon as Pastor, October 7, 1979. The fellowship annex was built in 1981 under the leadership of Rev. L. S. Wilson. Extensive renovation of the entire church was completed in the fall of 1988.
Bethlehem has been blessed with thirty-two (32) pastors in its one hundred forthy plus (140+) years historical existence: (Rev. Alvin Walton was Pastor of Bethlehem when N.W. Dist. Ass'n was organized in 1875) Reverends: Billy Cox, H. E. Cleveland, C. H. Shaw, F. G. Davis, H. E. Curry, Abner Taylor, W. H. Claiborne, W. L. Balay, J. C. Sweendy, N. L. Wirdlow, J. W. Gray, A. Benjamine, W. H. Lynch, Felix Jones, T. H. Wilkins, Prince Jones, R. E. Jones, D. T. Trammel, Joseph Wilson, H. W. Cunningham, E. B. Hurd, E. W. Crigler, U. S. Cornelius, V. P. Perry, A. B. Simmons, B. J. Bradford, L. A. Kesse, E. J. Rhodes, James T. Thompson, L. S. Wilson, Sr., E. R. Spencer and our current Pastor, Rev. Stuart P. Courtney.
Former Assoicate Ministers: Charlie Phillips, Rod Peterson, James Henson, Cecil Jones, Alexander Prabakaran, and Aaron Williams. Current Assiocate Ministers: Charles Woods, Ronald Braxton and John Bragg
A constant source of strength and spiritual influence in the community, the church was presented an Our One-hundredth Historical Marker that was dedicated Sunday May 21, 1972. Bethlehem Baptist Church has been and will continue to be God's church doing God's work God's way.