History of Bethel United Methodist Church
This church has a simple yet proud heritage. Its history is written in the courage, endurance and faith of its members for nearly two centuries. Methodism came to this area at the end of the 18th century when early settlers came who had been influenced by the Wesleyan revival. Most of these had been won to Christ and His church by the evangelism of the newly formed Methodist Episcopal Church at the Christmas Conference in 1784 in Baltimore, Maryland. The influence of this group spread to the west very rapidly.
In 1798 Francis McCormick, an immigrant lay preacher from Virginia who was living near Milford, went to the seat of the Western Conference in Kentucky and persuaded Bishop Asbury to organize Methodism in "the Ohio Territory." As a result Rev. John Kobler, the presiding elder of the Kentucky District, was sent to form a circuit. Rev. Kobler crossed the Ohio River near the mouth of the Little Miami River on August 1, 1798, and began his work and travels. On December 24 and 25 of that year the first Methodist Quarterly Conference in the Northwest Territory was held in the cabin home of Francis McCormick. Norma Harlow, a member of this church, is the great-great granddaughter of Mr. McCormick.
In 1802 Rev. John Collins visited this area and purchased a tract of 1,000 acres of land in the horseshoe bend of the East Fork River. The following year he moved his family and a group of settlers from New Jersey to this land. He began holding services in his cabin and in 1805 the first church was built on the site of the present "Old Bethel", now included in the East Fork State Park. Also, in 1805 Michael Ellsberry of North Carolina came to Bethel. Soon after coming he began holding Methodist meetings in his home. In 1808 Houton Clark gave the lot and Michael Ellsberry built a small brick meeting house on the east side of Union Street across from the old school building, and across the alley from the Robert Frame home, 120 N. Union St. This building was soon outgrown and in 1815 a larger building was built on the same site. This building was used until 1830 when a better and larger church was erected. In 1860 a tornado passed through this community which tore to pieces this building. At this time the church decided to relocate on the present site on W. Plane Street.
John and Sarah Simpson, the parents of Mrs. Jesse (Hannah) Grant and maternal grandparents of President U.S. Grant, are buried in the "Old Bethel" Methodist Cemetery. The Grant family were first members of the Point Pleasant Methodist Church. When they moved to Georgetown, they joined and became faithful members of the Methodist Church there. Then in 1844 they moved to Bethel where in 1851 Jesse was elected the first mayor of the village. The family became members of the Bethel Methodist Episcopal Church and Jesse served on the Board of Trustees during the time that the first parsonage was built at 402 W. Plane Street in 1855.
The first section of our present church building at 402 W. Plane Street was built in 1860. It was a one-room structure with a stove on each side, the pulpit in the north end and two doors in the south end with a bell tower over the comb. This part still houses our main sanctuary. In 1907 an addition was constructed consisting of the vestibule, bell tower and overflow room. In 1937 a further addition was made. This part housed the parlor, basement class room and storage room. The two story educational building was erected in 1953. The land north of the building was then purchased for a parking lot. This lot was completed in 1966. The lot west of the church was purchased in 1967 and seeded to lawn in 1968.
Included in our heritage is the union of the memory of five previous building sites. The oldest is "Old Bethel," donated by John Collins; then comes the North Union Street site given by Michael Ellsberry; Clermont Chapel at the corner of Swings Corner-Point Isabel Road and Bethel-New Richmond Road; later the Sugar Tree Run Wesleyan Methodist on North Main Street. These last two were anti-slavery churches which were formed prior to the Civil War and were discontinued in the latter part of the eighteenth century.
This rich heritage challenges us to serve the present and future years. We look back, not to glorify the past, but to prepare ourselves to face the future. We, like Jesus Christ of old, "Came not to destroy but to fulfill." As we launch our KEY 73 program of evangelism, we remember the faith of our fathers and the message of Jesus: "Go ye into all the world and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit." John Wesley said: "The world is my parish." We interpret the word "World" to include everyone outside fellowship with Christ, either next door to us or half-way around the globe.
On November 22, 1972, we joined with the Bethel Ministerial Association in a united effort dedicated to "CALLING OUR CONTINENT TO CHRIST." Our minister takes an active part in community activities and inter-church cooperation. Likewise this church has all through its history been closely associated with the public schools. The first school in Bethel was held in the Methodist church building on North Union Street and continued there until the first school building was built across the street. The church building on North Main Street was abandoned in 1885 and used as a community opera house and later remodeled for a school building. In 1915 this building was torn down and the present school annex built and opened for school in 1918.
The most important time in the history of our church is the "HERE and NOW". The scriptures say: "Now is the Day of Salvation." We remember the past, we look to the future, but we act in the here and now with the leadership of Almighty God.
Ministerial leadership for Methodism in this area began with presiding elders and circuit riders. The presiding elder was the man appointed by the Annual Conference to oversee the work of a large district. Under his direction were "Circuit Riders." They were ministers who traveled to the various churches and "preaching places" in a given area. Beginning in 1798, Bethel was served by the Miami Circuit. This assignment continued until the White Oak Circuit was established in 1808. This circuit was divided in 1852 and Bethel became part of the West White Oak Circuit. Later (1856) Bethel was assigned to the Moscow Circuit. In 1868 Bethel became the head of a circuit and has remained so ever since.
Resident pastors since then have been:
T.E. Fidler Charles Briggs
R.E. Smith Frank C. English
W.E. Hines William C. Mitchall
D.D. Cheney Isaac R. Marshall
W.P. Mappin John H. Davis
A.D. Maddox Abbott G. Newton
J.H. Middleton Evans Lewis A. Washburn
Thomas Cundy David S. Eury
Wallace Humphries J. F. McColm
The following are the pastors who have served with the dates which each served.
C.N. Fisher................1920 John H. Elwood……..1968 Aaron A. Brown - Assoc Pastor 1984 -93
W.E. Roberts.............1927 Fred C. Moore……..…1976 Thomas R. Schwind - Assoc. Pastor 1993 -98
D.P. Holt....................1930 Lowell D. Crabtree.....1979 Keith Luke - Assoc. Pastor 1998 – 2004
Boyd Browning........1933 Rob Dauber……….....2001 Steve Fultz – Assoc. Pastor 2004 - present
B.E. Wright........... ...1935 Interim Pastors: 2005 Bill Krody
C.N. Fisher................1937 2005 Lowell Crabtree
G.L. Fox.....................1943 William Bowdle…......2005
John N. Bice……......1944 Tim Reeves………......2014
Edward H. Jones......1949 Doug Stockton............2017
Benjamin D. Loan....1951