The First Church
Bethel’s history dates back to 1863, when a band of farsighted Christians seeking a place of worship gathered together under the leadership of Rev, John Zorn in a two-room house.The house was located on the banks of the Ocmulgee River near Central City Park at what was known as Elder’s Lumber Yard.This body of worshippers were known only as Methodist.
Later, this Methodist body moved to 1610 Pio Nono Avenue, where they and a band of Baptist members worshipped together. The increase in this combined body prompted these Christians to separate. From this union, two churches were born; Unionville Baptist Church, Rev. Moses Pollock, Pastor and Bethel CME Church with Rev. John Zorn, Pastor.
A Church is Built
The Baptist members obtained the property of the site from Mr. Wilder, a white man, who offered it to the first group who would place a piece of lumber on its grounds. One night, Mr. Charles Ross, a Baptist member, was able to bring the timber, drawn by oxen, and lay it there. The Methodist gathered together in a bush arbor while construction of their first church building was being erected in the 1200 block of Pio Nono Avenue near Ulman’s Crossing, now known as Napier Avenue. In 1872, church construction was completed and Rev. John Zorn was the pastor.
Fire Destroys the Church
Worship continued there from 1872-1905. On Wednesday, February 24, 1905, the church was destroyed by fire. Work soon began on rebuilding the church. The conference year 1909-1914 returned Rev. B.J. Cofer to Bethel for the second time. He was known as a builder and the church was completed during his pastorate in 1909. The Pastor and church officers of the church applied for and received the first electricity in the neighborhood of Pio Nono Avenue between Napier and Montpelier Avenues.
Fire Destroys the Church Again
On February 2, 1947, during worship service, A little girl, 12 years old, (that we all know) named Willie Rene Sanders discovered that the church was on fire and alerted everyone with her screams. Mrs. Mae Miller who was the organist, continued to play the organ until everyone was out of the building. Rev. George Evans was the pastor at this time.
The ministry of Reverend George Evans was most significant in the history of Bethel for rebuilding the church a second time. The church had already outgrown itself. Rather than rebuild on the old site, they obtained the present site located at 1668 Pio Nono Avenue from the Board of Education. The move made perfect sense, as Bethel was reunited with Unionville Baptist Church, who occupied the church next door. At the 1954 General Conference, the connectional board of the church changed the name from Colored Methodist Episcopal to Christian Methodist Episcopal and Bethel became Bethel Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.