Our country declared her independence in 1776. The same year, we find record of the first Baptist preaching in Kentucky, at Harrodsburg, by Thomas Tinsley and William Hickman. In 1781, the first Baptist church in Kentucky was organized at Severn's Valley
(Elizabethtown), but by the end of the century, over 100 churches dotted the countryside, boasting 5,100 members. Revival began to sweep Kentucky, especially visible in the form of the camp revival, the most influential taking place at Cane Ridge (Bourbon County) in August 1801.
It is reported that between 10,000 and 25,000 people attended the meetings, led mostly by Methodist and Baptist preachers, at a time when neighboring Lexington, the state's then-largest city, reported a population of only 2,000. From 1800-1803 Baptist membership in Kentucky had grown from 5,100 to 10,380, and by 1820, with Kentucky's population nearing 564,000, Baptists numbered 31,689 members.
In the midst of this evangelistic zeal so close to this area, a group of believers formed a church on the Elkhorn Creek, just off Sullivan Lane, and called themselves the Bethel Baptist Church.
In the years that followed, that church was to see a change of location and two new sanctuaries. It was to struggle with the rest of the Baptists in Kentucky with Alexander Campbell in the 1820's and 1830's, and was to wrestle with the problems of slavery, and experience a terrible war between brothers. Through all this Bethel came, and one of the few remarks we find concerning the church in other histories is that Bethel
"never had a time of dissension worth note".
This brief history is intended to help us understand where we come from...what price has been paid by those saints who have gone before us. We indeed have something to celebrate.
Adding to the difficulty of preparing any history is the fact that Bethel's records from its beginnings to the late 1800's are missing. What information we have comes from other sources and histories, and details that have been handed down through families.
We owe the late Woodson Duvall Sr. gratitude beyond price. Mr. Duvall served the church as deacon, teacher, clerk, building fund treasurer, and many other church offices until his death in 1990. Many years ago he began to collect and record information, much of it from his own family which had been with the church from the beginning. If not for his diligence, we would know even less about our beginnings.
In the year of 1802, a body of believers in the Baptist faith united and began the erection of a church building of hewed poplar logs on a site which had been secured on property which is now known as the Robert Penn farm near Elkhorn Creek on Sullivan Lane. The benches for the pews were made by hand, and one section of the building was set aside for the seating of Negro slaves who were members of the church.
The name Bethel was chosen for the church, and she called Rev. Jimmy Duvall to be the first pastor, in which capacity he served for forty-five years until his death.
Bethel is the third oldest church in the Franklin Baptist Association, with Forks of Elkhorn (at Duckers) beginning in 1788 and North Fork in 1801.
In 1808, Charles Macy donated one acre of land on which the first Bethel meeting house stood. There were no musical instruments used in the original church, the only music being the singing of hymns.
It was here at old Bethel Church that F.W. Hodges was converted and baptized by Rev. Jimmy Duvall on August 19, 1842, and was licensed to preach the next month.
Bro. Hodges was renowned as a minister for more than fifty years in the bounds of the Franklin Baptist Association and often during that time served as pastor of Bethel.
In 1826, Bethel Baptist Church asked permission to join the Franklin Baptist Association. The church was received and a committee was appointed to visit the congregation. Those representing the church at that meeting were W. Trotter, G. Sullinger, and G.L. (or S.) Gravitt. The following year the association met at the Bethel Meeting House on the first Saturday in August. At that meeting Bethel reported 37 members. The messengers for the church were G. Gravitt, S. Bryant, G. Sullinger, J. Green, James Hammonds, and H. B. Innes.
A letter appears in the May 2, 1844 issue of the Baptist Banner and Western Pioneer, then Kentucky's Baptist newspaper, concerning the ordination of F. W. Hodges.
The letter, addressed to the editor, W. C. Buck:
Dear Bro. Buck
A presbytery composed of Elders Blanton, Goodell, Leak, Kenney, Pitts, and Craig met with the Baptist Church at Bethel in Franklin County, Kentucky on Thursday the 18th day of April, 1844, to consider the propriety of complying with the request of said church, made at former meeting, to ordain Bro. Francis Henry Hodges to the work of the ministry.
After being organized, and singing and prayer by Bro. Kenney, and hearing his experience of call to the work, views of doctrine and salvation, as taught in the Bible, with entire satisfaction and great pleasure proceed to ordain Bro. Hodges in the following order:
1st Reading of appropriate scripture by Elder William Blanton
2nd Ordination Sermon by A. Goodell
3rd Ordination prayer by Wm. G. Craig
4th Charge to candidate by Josiah Leak
5th Right hand of fellowship by B. F. Kenney
6th Charge to church by V.R. Pitts
7th Benediction by F. W. Hodges
James E. Duvall, Moderator
William G. Craig, Scribe
In the year 1889, a decision was reached to erect a new church building (now known as the old church which is currently used as Sunday School rooms) on our present site, then known as Locust Grove.
A decision was also reached at this time to tear down the old church building and have the poplar logs, which were still sound and well preserved, sawed into timbers to be used in the new church building. The contract for the erection of the new building was let to Mr. Nick Graham, a member of the church having united with Bethel at the age of twelve. He was a member of Bethel for twenty-four years before he completed the new building in August of 1890. During this building period, church services were held at other places, and a great part of the time the meeting place was at the Thorn Grove School.
On Sunday after the third Saturday in August of 1890, the new building was dedicated. On Saturday the day before the dedication, Rev. John H. Burdin was ordained as pastor of Bethel, in which capacity he served for the next seven years. After an interval of a few years, he was again called as pastor, serving another seven years. Again there followed an interval after which he was called again, serving four years, and thus serving Bethel for a total of eighteen years.
In August 1891, the trustees were authorized to sell the "old" house and grounds with the proceeds to go toward the new meeting house.
Until 1860, whale oil lamps and candles were used to light the church. From 1860 to the early 1920's, kerosene lamps were used, and then carbide gas was used until electricity was installed around 1940.
It was during the above mentioned intervals of service of Bro. Burdin(e) that Rev.
L. D. Stucker, another minister of renown in the Franklin Baptist Association, served as pastor of Bethel, being called three times and serving a total of eleven years.
In 1894, the church voted to fix the pastor's salary at $ 125.00 per year.
In 1896, a wire fence was constructed between the rear of the church lot and the road to prevent unnecessary travel across the church yard. In 1991, a chain link fence was installed for the same purpose in the same location.
In 1902, a grave yard was added to the church property, which in 1925 became a self-supporting church cemetery. Visitors have often been attracted by its beauty and neatness. In 1991, the control and administration of the cemetery and cemetery property, which in 1935 had been declared separate from the church and controlled solely by the trustees, was returned to the church to be administered by the trustees under guidelines set forth in our Constitution and By-Laws.
Throughout the pages of the old church history, there runs a thread of church discipline, for from time to time down through the pages of the church minutes there runs a story of committees being appointed on many and various occasions to see that certain members appear before the church in regard to their conduct, actions, or absence. Many of these were restored, but some were excluded.
The following article about Bethel Church was taken from the History of the Franklin Baptist Association from the years 1815 to 1912.
"Constituted in 1802, one of the oldest churches in the Association, and except for Frankfort, the largest in point of numbers.
One of the landmarks of the denomination - well abreast of the times and usages of the Baptist.
Holding at all times distinction of being a New Testament Church.
Neither irregular in practice, nor heretic in doctrine.
Forward in missionary and Sunday School work; her light not hid under a bushel of selfishness or bigotry.
The descendants of her founders still abide and worship among her environments.
Was the spiritual birthplace of one of the oldest and most revered of all the ministers of the Franklin Baptist Association, the Rev. F. W. Hodges, who for more than fifty years lived and labored exclusively within the bounds of this Association, and often as her pastor.
Her membership has always been large in numbers and devoted in all Christian Work."
Other pastors who have served the church are: Rev. Sharp, Rev. Robert L. Murphy, Rev. Ernest C. Upchurch, Rev. Carl E. Epperson, and in 1950, Rev. Charles E. Taylor.
During 1942, the church went from half time to full time preaching, calling Bro.
J. S. Thompson to start on March 29, 1942. In the year 1945 the church voted to start a building fund for a church parsonage. At the time, no suitable building sites were available, but the fund was kept alive by prayers, constant diligence, and some contributions for the next two and a half years.
At that time the Lord provided the site by reaching the hearts of the two daughters of the Rev. L. D. Stucker, who had just received title to the farm adjoining the church. When approached in regard to the matter, they gladly deeded to the church the tract of land on which the new parsonage was erected, being completed in 1949, except the finishing of the upstairs rooms which were completed in 1952.
Thus during the preceding fifty years, the church climbed from quarter time to full time preaching, and from a one room auditorium to eight Sunday School rooms added to the main auditorium. Progress was also made on the pastor's salary, from $100.00 per
year without a parsonage, to 42,600.00 per year with a parsonage. The church went from no stated missionary budget to that of twenty percent of church receipts to the Cooperative Program in addition to designated gifts.
In 1950, Rev. Charles Taylor began his ministry at Bethel. He was pastor of the church in 1952 when the church celebrated its 150th anniversary. He served as pastor for a period of five and one-half years. During this time, the inside walls and ceiling of the sanctuary were newly plastered, a new pulpit with an enlarged platform to include room for the choir was installed, and new church steeple and bell tower combination were built atop the church, a new vestibule was added to the front of the building, and a new piano was purchased.
Rev. Jack Thrower became pastor of Bethel in the latter part of 1955, serving a bit over three years. During this time, new rooms were added across the back of the church with a hallway between the sanctuary and the new addition, which included four rooms with sliding doors, a kitchen and a lavatory, and four rooms in the basement, and a furnace added to the building. Also during this time, a cistern was installed with an electric water pump in the basement, and water was piped to the upper part of the building.
Rev. Thrower felt the call to become a missionary and requested to be released as pastor of Bethel to become a missionary in Brazil.
Rev. Charles R. Gaba followed Rev. Thrower as pastor, serving during the years 1959 and 1960. During his tenure a recreation field was prepared on the grounds to be used for various games of sport as needed.
Rev. Otto Spangler served as pastor of Bethel during the years of 1961 and 1962. During this period, the church was incorporated, and a committee composed of the following members was selected by the church to compile and write the Constitution and By-Laws for the church: Rev. Spangler, Woodson Duvall, Floyd Shelton, Paul Smith, and Leslie Graves, with Etta Long as Secretary. This was completed during this period and was approved by the church.
Rev. Robert Kendig served as pastor during the years of 1963 and 1964. During this period, a Sunday afternoon missionary Sunday School, with Deacon Floyd Shelton as Superintendent, was held on the Smither Brother's farm, located on what is now known as Steele Branch Road, three miles from the church on the Kentucky River. The church reported forty-four baptisms during this time.
Rev. Ross E. Lishen became pastor in 1965, serving until 1972. During the latter part of 1965, consideration was given concerning the building of a new sanctuary. The decision was reached to build in the early part of 1966, to be paid for by the selling of bonds paying interest of six percent. Gray and Coblin of Frankfort were the architects chosen, and T. C. Pitman was the contractor. Ground breaking was held May 1, 1966, and the new building with all new furniture, wall-to-wall carpeting, and modern facilities was completed at the end of the year 1966, and dedicated on February 5, 1967.
During 1969, three new Sunday School rooms were constructed down the right side of the former sanctuary to which the new building had been joined directly in front. The nursery was enlarged and more completely furnished with modern necessities, and a speaker system from the new sanctuary was installed.
Rev. Ted. C. Wigglesworth, ordained into the ministry by the First Baptist Church in Frankfort, was called as pastor in September of 1972, in which capacity he served until 1976. During 1973, the church was air conditioned, a bus ministry was started, and a total of 200 attended Vacation Bible School.
In early 1975, the church ordained Rev. David A. Smith, son of lifetime members Raymond and Ethel Smith, into the full time gospel ministry, and he served Bethel as assistant pastor until 1977, when he was called as pastor of the Mt. Carmel Baptist Church in Franklin County. He is currently serving as pastor of the North Frankfort Baptist Church, which was founded by former Bethel pastor Ted Wigglesworth.
In August of 1976, Rev. Larry W. Gray was called as pastor of Bethel. From October 1975 to July 1977, 34 new members were added to the church by baptism and letter. A choir room was also completed along the hallway of the old sanctuary.
The parsonage was remodeled on the inside with $3,000.00 worth of materials. The labor for the Sunday School rooms, choir room, and parsonage was furnished by the voluntary labor of the skilled and talented members of Bethel.
The 1977 Vacation Bible School registered a total enrollment of 142. James Shackleford, a student at Georgetown College, was called at the beginning of summer as Minister of Youth, serving until the end of summer.
In April of 1977, the church hired member Raymond Smith Sr. as custodian, a capacity in which he served faithfully until his retirement at the end of July 1992.
In August 1977, the church held a 175th anniversary celebration, with the morning message by Bro. Bill Leonard, Professor of Church History, and an old-fashioned service in the evening.
September 1977 saw the purchase of cushions for the pews at a cost of $2,300, and the hiring of Bro. Charles (Chuck) Russell as Minister of Music and Minister of Education, holding those posts until April of 1979.
In June of 1979, Rev. Larry Gray gave up the pastorate at Bethel to accept the call as Clinical Pastoral Intern at Baptist Medical Center in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Rev. Gray has since returned to Kentucky and served as Chaplain and currently serves as Vice-President of Administration at Central Baptist Hospital in Lexington, Ky.
Rev. David Jackson of Louisville was called as pastor in July of 1979, to assume his duties on September 1, 1979.
On June 22, 1980 the church held a Homecoming Celebration along with a ceremony to commemorate the retirement of the mortgage on our current sanctuary and the retirement of the bonds which had been used to finance the construction. A mortgage burning ceremony was held on the grounds, with former pastor Ross Lishen in attendance for the ceremony.
Aluminum siding was installed on the old sanctuary in the spring of 1980, at a cost of $12,147. In March of 1980, a paving committee was selected, and in August the church voted to grant a 4-foot easement on property adjacent to Bethel Lane for the purpose of widening the roadway in exchange for removing two trees on church property which had been deemed dangerous to the building. In January 1981 the church awarded the contract for concrete paving of the parking lot to Bethel member J. R. Adcock, with completion in April 1981 at a cost of $14, 161.
On September 12, 1984, Rev. David Jackson resigned as pastor to become a foreign missionary, and in November the church voted Bro. Sam Isgett as interim pastor through January 1985.
Rev. Michael Young, a Louisville native, was called as pastor of Bethel on January 20, 1985, having served as associate pastor at Temple Baptist Church in Kokomo, Indiana for six years. During the spring of 1985, Bro. Mike, who had worked as an architectural draftsman prior to entering the full time ministry, added a family room, bedroom, stairway, another full bath, and aluminum siding to the parsonage. Also during this same period a concrete slab for a basketball court was poured on the playground, and a new lighted sign was constructed near the highway in front of the church.
In November 1985, the building of a fellowship hall was proposed by Bro. Mike and the Deacons, and in December the church voted to construct a fellowship hall adjacent to the sanctuary, bricked on all sides with a fireplace.
Once again, much of the labor was provided by the pastor and members of Bethel, greatly reducing its cost. The fireplace was built in honor of James and Addie McClure, two of Bethel's oldest living members, and funded by a donation by their daughter and son-in-law, Julia and John Helm of Louisville.
The fellowship hall was completed in April of 1986, having been built under the direction of Bro. Mike Young with labor provided when possible by the members of Bethel, at a cost of nearly $45,000. A new piano was purchased for the fellowship hall in August 1986.
1986 also saw the dedication of the front porch and steeple for the sanctuary, which was made possible by a donation from the estate of the late members Frank and Hallie Tracy.
1987 brought the building of a handicapped ramp in the hallway between the old and new buildings, the striping of the parking lot, and the installation of new carpet in the sanctuary to replace the original carpet installed in 1967.
The spring of 1989 saw the hiring of Greg Howard, formerly our pianist, as Minister of Music. A new playground was built next to the fellowship hall, with playground equipment built by Bro. Mike, and surrounded by a chain link fence installed by the Men's Brotherhood.
The remainder of 1990 saw the installation of a new roof on the old church in July, and the purchase of a new organ for the sanctuary in October. Our second pictorial directory was published in December. Also in December, a donation by an undisclosed member made possible the installation of air conditioning in the old church building, which is now used as Sunday School rooms and our nursery.
During the spring of 1991, a new gable roof was constructed by our pastor and church members over the hallway between the old and new church to replace the original flat roof, which had leakage problems in recent years. It also provided for an overhang over the side entrances to the church.
On November 24, 1991, the dedication was held for the new carillon bell system, which had been purchased partly with contributions made in memory of Bro. Herschel Nesselrode, with the remainder donated by his wife, Grace.
In July 1992, a reception was held to honor Raymond and Ethel Smith, who were retiring as custodians after 15 years of faithful service.
Events of 1993 included a note-burning ceremony on January 24th commemorating the retirement of debts on the fellowship hall, and the decision to purchase a 1992 GMC van for the church. On January 31, the church ordained Chris Brewer and Greg Howard as deacons.
Despite the many achievements and improvements made, the 1990's unfortunately saw a gradual but steady decline in membership, decisions, and dedication to the Lord in many areas.
On September 26, 1993, Bro. Mike Young tendered his resignation as pastor after 8 1/2 years, citing the lack of growth and decline over the past few years as an indication that a change was needed. After discussion with the deacons, Bro. Mike agreed to stay as interim pastor until a new pastor was called.
Shortly following his pastorate at Bethel, Bro. Mike encountered a time of serious illness, and later accepted an associate pastorate at Northside Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. During the latter part of 2000, he served as interim pastor at Statesville Road Baptist Church in Charlotte, and in July 2001 he accepted the pastorate at Westport Baptist Church in Denver, North Carolina where he continues to serve as senior pastor.
Following a spring Revival conducted by Rev. Bob C. Litton, the church voted to call Rev. Litton as pastor beginning July 10, 1994. Rev. Litton is a native of Western Kentucky, attended Western Ky. University and worked and pastored in the Western Kentucky and Evansville, Indiana area. He came to Bethel from the Utica Baptist Church in Utica, Ky. in Daviess County.
Rev. Litton is a past member of the Kentucky Baptist Convention's Executive Board, and a member of the Temperance League of Kentucky. While at Bethel, Bro. Litton also completed his Doctorate of Theology degree in May 1998.
1995 saw the passing of longtime members Jim McClure and Esther Burke. In June, the Southern Baptist Convention celebrated its 150th anniversary in Atlanta. (Bethel was one of the original 3,000 churches of the SBC upon its founding.)
In June of 1997, the church called Truett Cohorn, son of former member and music director Ronnie Cohorn, as Youth Director. Also in June, Bro. Litton attended the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas, Texas.
January 1999 saw the installation of new carpet in the sanctuary, and in February the church voted to begin accepting donations to purchase new hymnals. The hymnals were dedicated on October 17, 1999.
Our Youth Director, Truett Cohorn, resigned in March, 1999, and on October 5, Tim Driskell was accepted as our new Youth Director. Tim unfortunately also resigned at the end of January 2000, primarily due to health reasons
On August 27, 2000, our Minister of Music, Greg Howard, tendered his resignation, feeling he was being led by the Lord in another direction. Interim music leaders filled this capacity through the end of the year.
December 2000 held the ordination of Bro. D.L. Perkins as Deacon, and on December 24, former pastor and missionary David Jackson delivered the morning message.
Moving forward into the new millennium, the church began to exhibit resurgence in 2001, with several new members added. Bro. Bill McGibney, a native of Owen County whose father pastored in the area for many years, was called as music director in September, and under the direction of Bro. Danny Brewer, a renewed effort toward an active youth ministry was begun.
Despite a promising beginning, Bethel slipped into a slow but steady decline in attendance and growth during the new millennium, and in 2007, began to incur financial difficulty. That fall, the deacons surveyed the membership for their comments and suggestions on what they believed to be the needs of the church .
On October 28, 2007 Rev. Litton announced before the church his impending retirement, and the following Sunday, a special business session was called by the deacons, recommending the acceptance of Rev. Litton’s retirement and selecting a Pulpit Committee to seek a new pastor. Rev. Frank Farley served as supply pastor in December, and Rev. Charles White from January through May 2008.
After several months of reviewing over 75 applications, and much prayer and deliberation, the pulpit committee visited and felt divinely led to seek Rev. Jeff Sargent as Pastor. The committee was unanimous in their belief that Rev. Sargent’s beliefs, vision, and dedication are the direction the Lord wishes for Bethel’s future.
On March 16, 2008 the church voted unanimously to call Rev. Jeff Sargent as our new pastor, effective June 1st. Rev. Sargent had formerly served since 2004 as pastor of the Mason-Crooked Creek Baptist Church in Harrison County. He and his wife Lori, and daughter Jesse have been a welcome addition to our church family and community. Bro. Jeff has sought to prepare Bethel to meet the future, and a renewed vision and resurgent attitude has prevailed, leading to an organized visitation program and greater community involvement, resulting in a steady growth in membership and dedication.
In June 2009, Bro. McGibney and his wife Martha tendered their resignations as Music Director and Pianist respectively. In April 2010, following several months of supply musicians and volunteer music leaders, Henry Carr was called as our current Music Director, and Debra Allen as our pianist, with Debra assisting with the choir and special choral arrangements.
Looking back over the years, an example comes to mind concerning transportation and the church grounds. At one time, the entire church grounds were enclosed with a five foot high plank fence with a gate at the front entrance.
Transportation to the church was by horse and buggy, or horseback, which was done by a number of women as well as men, the women riding on side-saddles. A side-saddle platform, five feet high, was built beside the fence, with steps on one end next to the fence. The woman rider guided her horse up to the platform on the side her feet were on, and stepped off the horse easily and safely. The horse was then hitched to the fence a short distance away. When ready to leave, the horse was led to the platform to stand in the correct position for the lady to sit on the saddle.
Of course we know that transportation has changed greatly over the years, but the plan of God for the salvation of the human race, through faith in Jesus Christ, has never changed, and is open to all who will accept it through the grace of God.
Bethel has changed and grown, but there is much room for improvement, growth, and progress, "for the fields are white already unto harvest and the laborers are few; pray therefore that the Lord of the harvest will send forth laborers".
If Bethel Baptist Church shows progress in carrying out the Great Commission in the future, each member must be faithful and loyal to the church in every phase of the work.