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Bethel Baptist Church will be celebrating their 200th year with a special service on Sunday, June 25, at 10 a.m., which will “honor those who have kept Bethel alive for 200 years.”
During that celebration, music will be provided by Dr. Judy Robbins Lemons, Wyatt Tuley and Nathan Wright.
In addition, Valerie Robbins Conley has been searching out the old stories of people and events that she will share. Others from the past and present will also take part in the celebration.
A meal will be provided for all, allowing time for fellowship and fond memories.
According to Conley, the Bethel Baptist Church is the oldest Baptist Church north of the Salt River, although not the oldest Baptist Church in Missouri .
The church has a long and proud history, having been established in 1823, well before the Lord’s Barn was established as the first church in Quincy, Ill., according to Susan Gard, who is gathering information for the event.
Originally, the church members met in a log schoolhouse before building their first log church in 1824 with land deeded them by Sally Lake and heirs of Burgess Lake.
More land was donated by Jeremiah Taylor in 1836 for a three-acre cemetery.
During those early years, others donated land to the church, mainly for cemetery purposes, including Joseph Taylor, Caleb and Jerry Taylor and Dale Redd.
A second church, according to church records, was first mentioned in April 1836.
Items purchased for this new brick church included two stoves at a cost of $60.07; hymn books, window glass, lime for plastering walls and a set of weights and pulleys for keeping the doors shut.
In November 1842, church members had begun considering enlarging the church, but by July 1848, it was proposed to “build a new meeting house to be of brick, 40 by 60 feet.”
The church would cost $1,800, and by January 1851, members had only raised $452.50, a motion was made in February of that year to postpone the building indefinitely.
However, in July 1851, there was $1,432 in the treasury and a committee was appointed to complete the plans for the new meeting house.
Bids came in too high, but the church negotiated with contractors and by March 1857, the church building was finished and debt paid.
A remodeling project was begun in 1892 with work given to the Hoehne Brothers of Palmyra for $1,800 and included the removal of the stone pillars down the center of the church, which had separated the men and women.
While the church was being built, the members met in various schools.
In addition, in August 1908, a committee contracted with a Cincinnati firm to install gas lighting at a cost of $103.50. Electric lighting would be installed in early 1920 for $590.
In the fall of 1928, a basement was put under the church and partitions were put in the Sunday School rooms, the work being done by Edgar Triplett.
The church was expanded in 1975 to include a kitchen, restrooms and more Sunday School rooms. Wayne Myers, Kenneth Lovelace and Stephen Kiefaber did that work.
According to Gard, the church has weathered the test of time well.
“The main sanctuary has individual wooden seats installed in the 1890s,” she noted. “There are two doors, and legend has it, one entrance was for the women and one for the men.
“Two hundred years ago, 23 God-fearing Christians (which included slaves), led by Jeremiah Taylor, banded together and formed Bethel Church,” she added, noting Taylor would go on to form more churches. “From meeting in a log schoolhouse to building first a log church, then a small brick church and eventually the brick structure that site on the corner of County Roads 316 and 321 in Marion County, Mo. one thing remains the same and never changes. That is the belief that the Bible is the one true word.”
The church, which once boasted a membership of 300 people, has 55 active members.
According to information from Nadine Robbins, during the Civil War a dispute over a team of horses divided the church and cut the membership.
“We were declining in members for years, then we got some new families with younger people in, and now we’re a little down again,” Robbins said. “But it’s quite an active church. We have a scholarship fund for our high school students and we give to missions.”
Gard noted the words taken from a History of Bethel Baptist Church written in 1923 by Mrs. Ladie C. Hansbrough for the Centennial Celebration still seem fitting today.
“There is something indescribably sad in seeing one generation step aside for another. But it is nature’s law, and perhaps, after all, it is the easiest way for us to understand how immortality is brought to life. For so it was in the beginning, is now and shall be, world without end.”
As a side note, the Bethel Baptist Association was formed in 1834 and named for this church after the church received permission to start a new association in order to host the convention.