In the Beginning…
From our humble beginnings, Bethel has strived to remain true to God’s calling for our church. We’ve sought to be willing to step out in visionary faith and take risks for God, and He has blessed us for that. In looking back at Bethel’s history, we can clearly see God at work. This gives us hope for the future and inspires us to continue to seek to impact Morris County and beyond with the love of Jesus Christ.
In 1841, several families left the Presbyterian Church of Morristown under the leadership of Mother Frances Freeman Ray to form the Bethel Mite Society, which was later incorporated as the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church of Morristown in 1843. Bethel’s first Pastor was Bishop Willis Nazery, who was born a slave in 1803 in Isle of Wight County in Virginia. For eight years the congregation met in each other’s homes until funds were raised to construct the Carpenter Gothic church on Spring Street in 1849. Bethel’s first building was dedicated with Bishop Paul Quinn officiating, assisted by Pastor Thomas Oliver.
Bethel served as the only school for Colored and Native American children in Morris County and needed to expand its facilities. In 1874, a new lot on Spring Street was purchased from John R. and Cornelia Piper for the sum of $2,000. A new church was constructed at an estimated cost of $3,000. Gifts from Mrs. Mary Anne Cobb (wife of George T. Cobb, first Mayor of Morristown) of pews, doors and windows from the old Methodist Church [on the Morristown Green] helped in this great work. The existing house on the lot was moved next door and used as a parsonage. The church remained in that building for nearly 100 years.
Under leadership of Pastor A. Lewis Williams, groundbreaking ceremony is held for a new church on August 12, 1967. The congregation worshipped in the Lafayette School auditorium for two and one half years until the construction of the church was completed. After numerous setbacks and financial difficulties, the present church was completed and dedicated November 8, 1970. Rev. A. Lewis Williams subsequently served as the Editor of the Christian Recorder from 1973-1976.
Changes in a Historic Church
In 2010, Pastor Sidney Williams became the 51st pastor in the church’s history. Prior to that, he served as a missionary with his family in Cape Town, South Africa. The church was not having the impact on the community that its members desired. To increase the impact on the community, Pastor Sidney Williams, with his wife Teresa, and the leadership team of Bethel discerned a new vision for community outreach, spiritual growth and evangelism. The church became more “community oriented” to serve both believers and unbelievers. Bethel Church was also working to transition from a small family church to a growing church with decentralized ministries, focusing on newcomers, small groups, and discipleship. The goal was to give people biblical truths that helped our congregants Live the Mission.
In 2014, Bethel Church introduced a set of Core Values. Prayer. Love. Respect. These are the three words our congregation chose as its core values. These ideals should inspire Bethel members to make our congregation what it is and what it will be —the most loving and spirit filled congregation in the world.
In 2014, it also introduced the current vision statement:
Encouraging, Equipping and Empowering God’s Children for Kingdom Building
The Core Values define and guide the church while ensuring everything it does is aligned with this vision.