History of Bethesda Baptist Church
April 30, 2000
Prior to 1840 there was located in the southwest corner of
Oktibbeha County a little Hardshell Baptist church. This church
no longer exists and where it once stood, only a few leaning
tombstones remain; mute testimony in the little cemetery that
once adjoined the church. This once hallowed spot lies about
1-2 miles inside the Oktibbeha county line and about 100 yards north
of the gravel road that leads out from Crawford.
It is believed that Bethesda had an even earlier starting date than above because the house built by Holbrook was built about 10 years before the date recorded.
In 1840 a majority of the members felt they had outgrown the tenants of the Hardshell Baptist and wished to enfold the doctrines for which the growing Missionary Baptist Church stood. No doubt, there were many earnest discussions and prayers before the final break was made and the new Church was formally organized.
The Hardshell Baptist, left with only a few members, soon abandoned their old church building and built a new one a few miles south. The struggle was hard, and about the time of the Civil War, the members disbanded. However, there is one thing more before leaving the Hardshell altogether. When Alexander J. Halbert, a young man just after the Civil War, acquired himself a wife, he bought the old Hardshell Baptist Church building and used much of the timbers to build his new home. A part of the old church building remains in the old Halbert Residence.
Alexander Halbert was Mr. Halbert Cunningham's grandfather. Percival P. Halbert, father of the aforementioned A.J. Halbert, was in 1840 a member of the Salem Missionary Baptist Church, organized a few years before and five or six miles on, toward Starkville. When he heard that his neighbors were organizing a Missionary Baptist Church, he bought seven acres from the estate of Mrs. Arnold and offered it to the new church for a building site for as long as the church exists. When the church no longer exists, the land is to return to the P. P. Halbert heirs. This site is located about 3-4 miles west of the old Hardshell Church site in a beautiful grove of oak and hickory trees. P. P. Halbert soon became a member of the new church, whose members decided to call it Bethesda.
Brother Burrell Holbrook, grandfather of a former member, Mr. R. L. Carpenter, was the first pastor and remained so until his death. Some of the heads of families who were the first members were Lewis Wilbanks, Allen Brooks, Terrell Brooks, A. C. Halbert, Arnold Bentley, Dr. Burt, Church Carpenter, Henry Lawrence, George Kennard and Henry Kennard.
Brother Holbrook and his family lived in a house built on M.T. Harvey's place. While here, his family died from dysentery and were buried in the old church cemetery.
The first church building of Bethesda was an unpainted frame structure, with a shed room on the west side of the structure for the Negro slaves who were also members of the church. The partition between the two rooms was about three feet high so the slaves could see and hear the preacher. The benches were crude homemade affairs and candles in homemade candelabra furnished the only illumination at night services. Arthur C. Halbert was their first Sunday school superintendent and the mother of Mrs. Vivian Carpenter was one of the first teachers.
Soon after Bethesda was organized, it became a member of the Choctaw Baptist Association and remained a member until between 1858 and 1862, when wishing to join an Association nearer home, it became a member of the Columbus Baptist Association and was host to the Association in 1862. In 1863, the 27th annual session of the Association met with Pilgrim's Rest Baptist Church in Monroe County on Sept. 10, 11, and 12. No delegates were sent to this meeting, but the Church Letter was sent and it showed that Bethesda had a total of 75 members: 13 white male, 23 white female and 30 blacks. The amount sent to the Association was $45.05. The amount sent for missionary purposes was $489.35 and the pastor's salary for the year was $505.00. W.S. Webb was pastor at this time and services were held the first Sunday of each month. At this time Bethesda was on a circuit with three other churches.
The next year the Association met with Salem, and A. J. Holbrook, E. Gartin and J.W. Davis were delegates. Mr. Gartin was Mrs. Brooks Hayden's great-grandfather. The membership that year was 68. In 1867, 43 were baptized and the membership totaled 135, the largest in Bethesda's history and the 4th largest in the Association. There were 18 white males, 40 white females and 77 blacks. The meeting days for Bethesda then were the 1st and 4th Sundays. The following year with the South in the throes of reconstruction, the Negroes either withdrew or were excluded from membership and the number dropped to 70, consisting of 28 men and 42 women. Even through 1980, there were more women than men in the membership of Bethesda.
Bethesda was host of the Association again in 1878. This was the 41st annual session beginning Sept. 6th. Services at Bethesda were held that year on the 4th Sunday and in 1879 on the 3rd Sunday. In 1881, Dr. J.L. Crigler was Sunday school superintendent. In 1888, Dr. Crigler became treasurer of the Association, an office he held until 1893. In 1902, Dr. Crigler was elected moderator of the Association, holding this office 2 years. He was the only layman of Bethesda to hold office in the Columbus Association until his daughter, Mrs. R. L. Carpenter succeeded Mrs. E.K. Lide as Association Superintendent of the Women's Missionary Union in 1917. Mrs Lide, however, was also a former member of Bethesda.
It is interesting to know that in the early days of Bethesda, the present day Deacons were called Bishops. Later the Bishops were called Elders, and still later were called Deacons. The Association minutes show us that there was once a Colfax County in MS, northwest of Lowndes Co. and that West Point was in the northwestern part of Lowndes Co. There was no Clay Co. at that time.
It was common practice to dismiss or exclude from membership any person who was, or was known to be guilty of unchristian conduct. One lady and her gentleman friend were reprimanded before the Church because they danced on Saturday night and a man was dismissed because he was guilty of pitching pennies. Because of the hard feelings so often caused between friends and neighbors, it was gradually dropped and is never practiced. Delegates to conventions were elected by secret ballot and in 1869, two Bethesda's delegates, J.W. Davis and J. L. Crigler were publicly reprimanded for being absent without leave on a Monday during the convention and a note was made of it in the minutes. As we can see, things have changed considerably through the years.
On Friday, September 6, 1889, Bethesda again became host to the 52nd annual session of the Association. Also in 1889, the first ladies organization came into being with Mrs. J. L. Crigler as president and Miss Ellen Carpenter as vice-president. Miss Carpenter was either President or Vice-President continually, with the exception of two years (1932-33). She became President in 1898 and served as President for more than twenty years.
The year of 1892 marked the end of the longest pastorate in Bethesda history. T.G. Sellers was pastor of Bethesda for 12 years. This year was memorable for two reasons. Mr. R. L. Crigler was elected Church Clerk, an office he held for twenty continuous years. In 1912, J. D. Hollingshead succeeded him and D. A. Flournay was elected as Sunday school superintendent, an office he held continuously for 33 years. Mr. Flournay also served 12 years as Church Clerk beginning in 1915.
In the fall of 1897, the woods and fields caught on fire. Some careless person had set a ditch bank afire, which fed on the tall, dry grasses and dead leaves. The fire spread rapidly and soon the hungry flames were consuming the leaves on the ground in Bethesda's beautiful grove. A gust of wind caught up some the burning leaves, tossed them high in the air and soon there was a small blaze on the dry shingles of the Church building. In a very short time, the first Bethesda Church building was a pile of ashes.
The members were dismayed by such a catastrophe; never the less, they carried on. They constructed a brush arbor and for 2-6 months, all services were held in the arbor. The only known things saved from the fire are two pewter offering plates and a pewter communion set consisting of a covered pitcher and two goblets. The goblets show marks of the fire on the bottoms. These have Bethesda engraved on them. The old folds have told that one goblet was used for the men and the other for women because of the men's habits of either dipping snuff or smoking. The ladies didn't want to drink after them.
In all of Bethesda's long early history, only two weddings were solemnized within its portals. The first of these occurred late in the 1899 on December 5th.
A pretty wedding in which many Columbus residents were interested was that of Miss Annie Crigler and Mr. Robert Carpenter last Tuesday Evening at Crawford, MS. The quaint little Baptist Church was beautifully decorated for the occasion with palms and similax. Reverend Spencer of Starkville performed the ceremony. Promptly at eight the bridal party entered the Church. The ushers, Mess'rs William Ottley, Lucious Lide, Pierce and three brothers of the bride advanced up the aisle in couples, followed by the bridesmaids, Misses Annie Lide and Emma Halbert gowned in exquisite frocks of pink organdy and carrying bunches of bridesmaid roses.
The groom and his best man, Mr. Caldwell of Starkville, awaited the bride at the altar. The bride more lovely than in her beautiful gown of rich silk poplin, the color of "moonlight in the Lake", that exquisited shade so appropriate for a fair bride. The Bride's bouquet was of Bride's roses and maiden's hair fern. After the ceremony the happy couple left at once for the home of the groom, followed by showers of rice and good wishes. The presents were very beautiful and very many. An exquisite point lace handkerchief attracted much admiration. It was the gift of the Bride's first teacher and was, of course, the wedding kerchief. Dr. and Mrs. Crigler entertained the Bridal party at a reception the evening before the wedding and a 6:00 pm dinner on the wedding day.
A wedding of great interest to their large circle of friends was that of Miss Mary Ellen Moorehead, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. M.A. Moorehead of Crawford, MS, to Mr. Coke Moorehead of Brooksville, MS, which was solemnized yesterday afternoon at the Bethesda Baptist Church. Chrysanthemums, ferns and similax made beautiful the cancel before which the Reverend W.W. Whitfield, pastor of the bride, performed the ceremony. The strains of Lohengrin's Wedding March, rendered by Mrs. R.L. Carpenter, was the signal for the Bridal Party to advance to the altar. Messrs. Glover Wilkins and Bill Moorehead, the latter the bride's youngest brother, followed the Bride and her brother, Mr. Hunter Moorehead. The groom and his best man, Mr. Bill Walker, met them at the altar. The lovely bride was handsomely gowned in autumn brown silk trimmed in velvet, a lace of the same shade, hat and accessories to match. Immediately following the ceremony the bridal couple left for Brooksville where their friends wish for them a long life of happiness.
In 1905, the Sunday school was a low ebb as the scholars are given as only 9 and the Church membership is 63. In 1909, the Church membership was only 40, yet the Sunday school had an enrollment of 30. 1920 saw the end of the Columbus Association and Bethesda met with Brooksville. The following year, Bethesda was a member of the Oktibbeha Association, which met at Bethesda in 1927 for it's annual meeting..
The following year, Bethesda, in attempting to have a graded Sunday School, found itself handicapped by having no place for the classes to meet except in the auditorium. It was decided to build the needed rooms at the north end of the Church. The members contributed whatever they could in time, money or talents and five Sunday school rooms were added to the building.
There have been only three years in Bethesda's history when the flock was without a shepherd: 1876, 1903, and 1909. The two years of largest membership were in 1867 when it numbered 135 and included Negroes and in 1872 when it numbered 102. The smallest membership was in 1913 and 1914 when it numbered only 33. The salary in 1864 was $505 per year, paid to W.S. Webb. In 1921, Mr. James Street was paid $100 yearly, believed the lowest salary ever paid at Bethesda. Many years the regular salary was $125 and $150 yearly. The largest amount in early years contributed to missions was $899.80 in 1920. In 1865 and 1967 only $4.50 was given. In 1890, it totaled $537.95 and in 1892 had shrunk to $10.00. In 1920, Bethesda gave to all purposes $1507.75 and in 1928, $1246.89 was given. The W.M.U. had a peak year in 1918 when they gave $629.28 and in 1920 when $224.61 was given.
When James Street first came to Bethesda, Mr. R.L. (Bob) Carpenter met him at the train. Mr. Bob was surprised to find the young "preacher boy" from the Blue Mountain wearing knickers. They had to wait until everyone left to be sure they were there to meet each other.
When the present building was erected in 1898, the interior walls were painted blue and remained so until 1938 when the interior of the Church was painted pale green and cream. This was changed to Sandalwood and paneling in 1967 and carpet, new pews, new altar furniture and drapes were added. The interior was also changed with two sets of pews instead of one long section and two short, which was the earlier order of pews. Also, the steps were changed so that only the double doors in the center are used. The Church was also leveled at this time and double flooring and gas heat was installed. The coal heater was taken out, saving Mr. Hillman Gentry trips in the cold to try to have the Church warm before the rest of us arrived.
Some of our pastors took on the extra job of building the fires through the winter.
Electric power lines were erected throughout the county in 1939 and keeping in step with modern progress, Bethesda installed electric lights.
All during 1939, everyone's thoughts were turning with increasing frequency toward 1940 and Bethesda's 100th birthday. As ideas for a celebration of the event crystallized, the pastor, Mr. Childress, announced June 5th as the date for the all-day celebration. The committee consisted of R.L Carpenter, A.H. Childress, Miss Carrie Triplett, T.C. Gray, Mrs. M.T. Harvey Sr., and Mrs. Emma Halbert.
There were many meetings and discussions held, plans made and letters written. Finally, all invitations were issued, both verbal and written and final preparations were made until the day and hour arrived.
Many of the people have always traveled long distances to come to church at Bethesda. In early years, people came in buggies and usually ate lunch at the church and then had afternoon services. For years, it was a custom for most of the visiting preachers to spend the day with Miss Annie and Mr. Bob Carpenter since they had the only home that was large enough to accommodate them and also had a cook to prepare nice chicken dinners. Even now, many of our people travel many miles in order to come to Bethesda, with the church field extending over three counties.
Most of our pastors have been amazed to find our church field covering 50 miles, which creates quite a problem with visitation.
A BYPU was organized in about 1938 or 1939 but last move than a few years. Bible School at Bethesda began prior to 1947 but no one remembers the exact year. Some of the people who are now in the early sixties remember attending Bible School here.
Training Union began in 1962 on a regular basis and though attendance has often been very low, sometimes only two families, it has continued consistently. In 1980, there were 45 on roll with about 30 in regular attendance.
WMU has been active since the early 1940's but now with many ladies working and other activities, it is usually discontinued during the winter. Our WMU is responsible for our Social activities were all special offerings. They take care of the flowers for sick, showers for our newly wed and new babies.
Walter Oakley, Jr., remembers going to WMU with his mother before he started to school. Miss Belva and Miss Carrie Triplett would ask him who came with him and his mother and he would say “Miz Sanie" meaning Miss Annie Carpenter, who rode with them.
Several times we have tried to have an active Brotherhood and RA's but it has never been active over any period of time.
One of the big events of Bethesda was in 1948 when there was a dedication service for the new Portico on the front of the church. Mr. Bob and Miss Annie Carpenter donated this.
Since 1960 many things have taken place at Bethesda. First the people decided that Bethesda could support a full-time pastor and Brother Jerry Wise was called back to the Church. He had served as a part time pastor before. During his pastorate the parsonage was built and cyclone fence was put around the cemetery.
During 1966-67 when Brother Charles Guy was pastor, we leveled the Church and put in double flooring, carpeted the floor in dark green, put up drapes and paneled part of the walls. Also at this time we bought new pulpit furniture and pews.
Vinyl siding was installed on the Church in 1995 - after much discussion. In 1996, new drapes were installed in the sanctuary at a cost of $2,914.00. In February 1997, through a donation by Lillie Boykin, the church purchased additional chairs and tables to have on hand for special occasions.
During the summer in 1998, the church was re-landscaped around the entrance and on the east side of the church grounds. In March 2000, the sanctuary received another facelift in the form of newly sanded and varnished wood floors under the pews and new carpet in the remaining areas.
Bethesda is also active in recycling. All used Sunday school books are collected and donated to Brownridge Church in Crawford.
This is to list a few and not to give special recognition to anyone, but simply to say we can see God's love through gifts to His Church building. We now have several activities at Bethesda on a regular basis. We have an annual barbecue on the last Saturday in June, a Halloween party, the annual Homecoming and our monthly fellowship. We also celebrate each fifth Sunday with a Saturday night singing, followed by fellowship.
Bethesda has had many pastors over the years, but until 1960 did not have a full-time pastor. Some pastors who have served Bethesda in the past are:
1922-1924 Brother H. B. Williams
1924-1927 Brother R. D. Pearson
1928-1930 Brother H. H. Link
1931-1936 Brother A. H. Childress
1944-1945 Brother Harold Douglas, who was B.S.U. Secretary at M.S.U. While at Bethesda
1947-1948 Brother John E. Barrow
1949-1950 Brother J. F. Stanford
1952-1953 Brother Everette Denton
1954-1955 Brother Wilson Winstead
1956-1957 Brother Jerry Wise
1958-1960 Brother Lemuel Jayroe
1962-1964 Brother Jerry Wise, who was Bethesda's first full-time pastor
1966-1967 Brother Charles Guy
1968-1971 Brother Wayne Long, who was our first pastor to be married while pastoring at Bethesda
1972-1973 Brother Troy Bankston
1974-1975 Brother J. D. Davis
1976-1978 Brother Marvin Ferguson
1978-1979 Brother Paul Blanchard
1979-1980 Brother Cecil Jones
1981-1984 Brother Marion “Bubba” Dees
1985-1994 Brother R. L. Honeycutt
1994-Present Brother James Hutcherson
Click images for larger view.