Bethlehem Baptist Church began in the year 1885 with nineteen (19) members who met in the home of Mr. and Mrs. James Fillman of Sumneytown Pike, near Spring House, Pennsylvania.
These members were Brothers James Fillman, Philip Woods, Benjamin Knox, John Gordon, Franklin Smith, Joseph Cooper, Alex Thomas, Robert Wingfield, Samuel Dean, Henry Askins, Cornelius Hopson, James Fillman, Jr., and Sidney Campbell as well as Sisters Mary Fillman, Jane Gordon, Mattie Cooper, Anita Jones, Lucinda Jones, and Sister Rosie Knox as treasurer.
After three (3) years, they decided to move to a more suitable location. In 1888 they leased and later bought a building on Old Penllyn Pike in Penllyn, Pennsylvania, between a blacksmith shop and a gristmill. The church was set apart the same year by the Reverend James Brooks of the Enon Baptist Church in Germantown, Pennsylvania.
The first significant year of the young church was in 1891 when the first pastor was called, the Reverend Caesar A. Edwards. He was ordained and began his ministry August 9, 1891 with a body of twenty-five members. In April 1896, Rev. Edwards was married to Miss Nellie Young. To this union, five (5) children were born: Virginia, Maude, Nellie, Bertha, and Harvey.
In June 1899, a building fund was initiated for the enlargement of the existing church to accommodate the growing congregation; however, the membership grew so large that the church body began to consider the idea of a new church. The older and more conservative members clung to the landmark idea, desiring to maintain the first place of worship. This debate continued for several years. Finally, in February 1904, the church body voted to have plans drawn for a new church to be attached to the existing building as a compromise.
BBC throughout the years
The History of BBC from 1905 thru 1908
The church and the community continued to prosper and grow. On February 5, 1905, a special meeting was held and the church voted unanimously to start the new church. Construction began in the spring, and on the third Sunday of October 1906, dedication services were held and continued until Wednesday evening. On Friday night, October 22, 1906, a disaster occurred; the church burned down. The origin of the fire was never determined.
In fact, it was through this tragedy that the church came to realize that they had many loyal friends. The first to offer assistance was the Mt. Pleasant Church of Ambler, Pennsylvania where the Reverend Valentine served as Pastor. A true spirit of Christian sharing was evident as they offered the use of their Chapel for worship. The Chapel was located on the corner of Penllyn Pike and Trewellyn Avenue in Penllyn, Pennsylvania, and it soon became the meeting place for the congregation of Bethlehem Baptist Church.
During the months of November and December 1906, several meetings were held to discuss rebuilding the church. In February 1907, a communication with an offer to sell the Chapel was received from Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church. A vote on this proposal was taken and defeated fifty-seven (57) to seventeen (17). The understanding was that the church would continue to pursue plans to rebuild at the fire location. However, the architect and builder informed the congregation that the conditions of the walls were such that rebuilding on them was impossible. This led to a second vote, and the purchase of the chapel was approved. The agreement was completed by March 1907. The Chapel was acquired for the price of $1, 350, and an architect was engaged for the new church at the corner of Penllyn Pike and Trewellyn Avenue. In November of 1907 the old building was torn down and the stone was readied for removal to the new site. The new church was started in March 1908. Work progressed well on the new building and the cornerstone was laid in September of 1908, less than two years since the fiery loss. The church continued to grow over the years and became a vital part of the community.
The History of BBC from 1934 thru 1962
In January 1934, after forty-three (43) years of service, the first pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Reverend Dr. Caesar A. Edwards, passed away. In September 1935, the Reverend Guy Goodwin McGee of Tappahannock, Virginia was called to the Pastorate; bringing with him his wife, Grace, and four children: Guy, Jr., Portia, Hubert, and Grace. Reverend McGee’s service included organizing various outreach clubs and supporting those members who had family in the World War. It also included installing a four speaker audio system as well as having the roof raised and the support beams encased in wood as seen today in the sanctuary. In November 1955, Reverend Guy Goodwin McGee passed away.
In May 1958, Reverend Leonard Leland Smalls became the third pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church. He brought with him his wife Edna and son Timothy. Later, a daughter Linda was born. With the same spirit as the previous pastors, Reverend Smalls was greatly involved in the church and the community. The interior of the church was re-decorated and the Nursery Ministry was started. After five (5) years, Reverend Smalls resigned as Pastor.
The History of BBC from 1962 thru 1972
In May 1962, Reverend Silas B. Holmes of Kilmarnock, Virginia became the fourth pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church. He brought his wife Helen and daughter Ruth with him. Reverend Holmes worked faithfully to strengthen the physical growth of the church. This led to the erection of the Education Building which was dedicated in June 1963; however, on February 18, 1964 disaster struck one more time.
The church was bombed. Once again persons from the surrounding communities assisted and encouraged this church body. In September 1964, Reverend Holmes resigned his pastoral duties. The members continued to keep the faith and with God’s continual guidance, were able to rebuild the church, as nearly as possible to its original likeness. The rededication of this building was held on Sunday, October 17, 1965.
In January 1966, Reverend Dr. Toussaint Davis from Worcester, Massachusetts became the fifth pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church. He and his wife Viola and their children quickly integrated themselves into not only the church life but community affairs as well. The church flourished under his leadership and plans for the erection of an Education Building began. The cost for this effort was $120,000 and the building was dedicated in June 1968. In June 1972, Dr. Toussaint Davis resigned as pastor.
The History of BBC from 1973 thru 1985
In November 1973, Reverend William McKinley Freeman from Newport, Rhode Island became the sixth pastor of Bethlehem. He brought with him his wife Carolyn and son Tyrone. He focused on strengthening and developing a more effective spiritual life within the church family and putting into effect a more effective mission program. He worked to enhance the Educational Department, rebuild the Pipe Organ, and complete major exterior maintenance. Reverend McKinley resigned his duties in July 1977.
In January 1978, Reverend Robert Scott Jones became the seventh pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church. He along with his wife Venus De Carlo Gonzalas and their daughter Nikki endeavored themselves to the church. Many programs and ministries were started or re-organized including the Youth Usher Board, Education and Scholarship Committee, Golden Age Usher Board, and the President’s Council. For the first time in the history of the church, women were appointed to the Board of Trustees. In 1980, having satisfied its repayment stipulations, the mortgage for the Education Building was burned. A year later, a loan was secured to purchase a parking area and additional adjoining area. The theme of Bethlehem was “Building and Strengthening the Structure of the Church” which is evident in the many upgrades that were made: central air-conditioning, additional lighting, re-painting of interior and exterior. Weekly Bible Study was implemented, and the church continued to experience spiritual and financial growth. In March 1985, Reverend Robert Scott Jones resigned.
The History of BBC from 1986 thru 1988
In April 1986, Bethlehem Baptist Church welcomed Reverend Charles Warren Quann as its eighth pastor. He brought his wife Clara Quann and four sons: Darrell, Todd, Marc, and Branden with him. Under his leadership, not only have multiple physical renovations (addition of an elevator, a handicap access ramp, air conditioning of Edwards Hall, refurbishing of pews, new carpeting, lighting, ceilings fans, and the installation of additional restrooms) taken place but spiritual renovations have taken place and continue to take place.
The History of BBC in the 21st Century
In 2000, Bethlehem Baptist Church was presented with the opportunity to purchase an additional place of worship from Congregation Beth Or. This began the Lifestyle Capital Stewardship Campaign which was put in place for this acquisition and was slated to last four (4) years. The focus was not on equal giving but equal sacrifice. Throughout those four (4) years, faithful members gave sacrificially over $1.0 million to the Lifestyle Capital Stewardship Campaign.
In January 2003, the Sunday worship services were re-vamped. The morning service changed to 7:30 a.m., the last service was changed to 11:00 a.m., and in a bold, God-given vision, a third worship service at 9:15 am was added. This service flourished and is the most widely attended.
The Lifestyle Capital Stewardship campaign culminated in June 2004, and now the church has started a new journey – the Mortgage Burning Initiative (MBI) which will allow the new site’s mortgage to be paid in full in half the time.
Bethlehem Baptist Church is now in its 119th year and has a long and rich history — one that will never be forgotten and one that will continue to be built upon. Church membership has grown substantially — over 1500 members and an operating budget of over $2.0 million. We are ceaselessly building on the theme: “A Christ-centered, Multi-cultural Church”. As the church grows spiritually and physically, Bethlehem Baptist Church will not only remember to thank God for His continued blessings but will remember to be a blessing to God.
On Easter Sunday, April 19, 1987, a 7:45 a.m. worship service was introduced in addition to the 10:45 a.m. service. In June of 1988 the Vision of Victory Radio ministry was launched, followed by the Television Ministry of the same title. A Wednesday afternoon Bible Study now complements the Wednesday evening Bible Study and the Church School (now renamed Sunday Bible Study) continues to grow.