New Bethel CME Church Established 1923
The origin of the name “New Bethel” is Hebrew and translated as “House of God.” New Bethel CME Church was founded in September 1923 by Rev. M. L. Love, Rev. Hopps, B. J. Brown, Oscar Beckley, Augustus Miller, Amos Hutchinson, Genovese Perkins, and Wallace Evans. Founding member, Rev. Hopps, later relocated and started what is now Hopps Memorial CME Church in Syracuse, New York.
Rev. John Davis converted to Methodism from another denomination; and he and Estelle Hutchinson were the first new members to join.
The new church was registered as New Bethel Colored Methodist Episcopal Mission. While the church began meeting in a living room on Delavan Street, it moved several times to accommodate required larger meeting spaces that included: a building on Orman Street, 5 Leopold Street, and 29 Leopold Street.
Inspiring pastors led the young congregation after Rev. Love that included: Rev. J.A. Fuller, Rev. C.L. Leath; Rev. B.J. Brown; and Rev. O.J. Myers. In 1942, Rev. F.E. Bell was assigned to New Bethel. By 1945, the membership had grown to more than 200 and the Leopold Street church could not accommodate all attendees at one time.
In 1952, Rev. T. R. McBeth was assigned to New Bethel from Philadelphia. He realized the church’s need for a new facility, and began looking for a new church home. Founding member, Amos Hutchinson, was a janitor at the Second Reformed Church of America located at 270 Scio Street. He alerted Rev. McBeth that the building where he worked was going up for sale.
Under the leadership and guidance of Rev. McBeth, New Bethel purchased the Scio Street church in March 1954. The Presiding Prelate was Bishop W.Y. Bell and the Presiding Elder was Rev. F.B. Bell. The membership continued to grow in the new church building and the communion altar was consecrated during Rev. McBeth’s administration. Rev. McBeth was followed by Rev. D.A. Bell from Washington, DC in 1961 who was a warm and inspiring pastor.
The Quadrennial CME General Conference convened in 1954 and changed the name from Colored Methodist Episcopal Church to Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.
In 1963, a theologian and versatile administrator, Rev. Raymond L. Graves, and his wife, Mrs. Pauline Graves, were assigned to New Bethel from South Boston, Virginia. Their tenure was the longest in New Bethel’s itinerant pastoral history for 42 years (1963-2005). Rev. Graves was an influential figure in the community as an outspoken advocate for social justice and a strong community leader for more than four decades. During Rev. Graves’ leadership, the church formed a Cherub Choir, a Young Adult Usher Board, and a Student Minister Program that provided leadership and spiritual guidance for the young adult membership.
In 2005, Bishop Charles L. Helton was the Presiding Prelate of the Seventh Episcopal District. That year marked the arrival of Rev. Dr. Weldon G. Thomas and his wife, Mrs. Marilyn Drew Thomas, from Washington DC. Bishop Helton assigned Rev. Thomas as interim Pastor from July to September; and officially appointed him as New Bethel’s Pastor in October 2005.
During Dr. Thomas’ leadership, Bible teaching and prayer have provided a spiritual nurturing infrastructure that started new, and re-energized various church ministries to uplift members and the health of the church. A few include: the Family Ministry that keeps track of members; published a photo church directory; published the quarterly New Bethel Communicator newsletter that captures the church’s living history of ministries and accomplishments; acolytes, liturgical dancers, rites of passage, and the health and pastor’s aid ministries. The music ministry was enhanced with all the choirs and a new music director, Fredrick Dicks; and the formation of the Voices of Praise young adult choir through the initiation of Jamaal Peavy and Naronda Smiley. The Young Adult Council’s ministry employs Bible-based approaches to address life issues and fellowships.
Boards and Auxiliaries were empowered to try new ideas and were encouraged to collaborate with churches of the same and different faiths that shared the same goals and objectives. They became stronger and more supportive of the life of the church. In 2012, a Capital Improvement Campaign was launched to beautify the church edifice and make repairs to the sanctuary, fellowship hall, restrooms and roof. The Trustee Board with Bobby Kirven, Chair, leads the physical improvement efforts.
As a connectional church, New Bethel always had strong representation at Connectional, Regional, and District Conferences. Also, both clergy and members have represented New Bethel in leadership roles for many years. Recent leaders include: Dr. Thomas has served on several CME Connectional Commissions. On the New York-Washington Region: Rev. Graves- chaired the Committee on Ministerial Examination (Dr. Thomas was one of his students); Tommy Jackson-Vice Lay Leader ; Dr. Thomas and Arlene Hardaway-Director and Secretary, Board of Christian Education; Pauline Graves-President, Missionary Society; Marilyn Thomas –President, Ministers’ Spouses & Widows; Jamaal Peavy- Chaplain, Young Adult Council. New York-New England District: Judie Myers-Gell - Zone 3 Leader, Board of Christian Education.
Dr. Thomas formed a ministerial staff of local preachers and exhorters, who were encouraged to seek higher education in the ministry and learn more about the C.M.E. church. Today, New Bethel continues its commitment to community and ecumenical partnerships with the Rochester Better Life Collaborative, Rochester Faith Collaborative, Joint Lenten Season services, and health awareness initiatives, to name a few.
New Bethel’s 90 year history is testament of the dedicated Lay members and pastoral leadership that exemplifies the church motto—
God’s corner in Rochester: Here to share, here to give, and here to serve!
The History of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church
The Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, familiarly known as the CME Church, was organized December 16, 1870 in Jackson, Tennessee by 41 former slave members of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Composed primarily of African Americans, the CME Church is a branch of Wesleyan Methodism founded and organized by John Wesley in England in 1844 and established in America as the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1784. As such it is a church of Jesus Christ adhering to the basic tenets of historic Methodism, welcoming into its fellowship any and all desiring to “flee from the wrath to come and be saved from their sins.” It holds that Jesus Christ is the Incarnate Son of God whose life, teachings, sacrificial death on the cross and glorious resurrection from the dead reconciled humankind to God, overcame sin and conquered death, procuring thereby eternal salvation to all who believe. The CME Church believes that the Holy Spirit is God’s continuing presence in the world empowering the church to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and fulfill its mission of saving and serving all humankind. Basic to the faith of the CME Church is the conviction that the Bible is the inspired Word of God containing all things necessary for human salvation. Presently the church reports approximately 850,000 communicant members in the continental United States, Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, D. R. Congo.
The CME Church came into being in the tumultuous aftermath of the civil war and throes of Reconstruction. Beginning in 1619, the enslavement of native Africans, captured in their homeland and transported to America under horrendous conditions known as the Middle Passage, became integral to the American way of life. By the 19th century chattel slavery, especially on the cotton, cane and tobacco plantations of the South, had become the "Peculiar Institution." Despite the principles and precepts of Jesus Christ, however, the Christian churches of the South not only approved and advocated slavery, but even accepted it in their midst. Foremost among them was the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, which in 1844 had separated from the Methodist Church over the issue of slavery. When the Civil War began in 1860, it had more slave members than any other religious denomination. At the end of the war, amidst its devastation, almost 100,000 members remained in the M. E. Church, South. It was of these members that in 1866 the General Conference of that church asked, “What shall be done to promote the religious interests of our colored members?”
The answer was predicated on the expressed desires and requests of those “Colored” members. For example, Isaac Lane of Tennessee, and later Founder of Lane College, said, “At once we made it known that we preferred a separate organization of our own . . . established after our own ideas and notions.” Lucius Holsey of Georgia, and later Founder of Paine College, wrote, “After emancipation a movement was at once inaugurated to give the Negroes a separate and independent organization.” Aware of these desires, James E. Evans, chair of the committee considering the issue, said, “The General Conference believed that the colored people, now that they are free, would desire a separate church organization for themselves.” Accordingly, the General Conference authorized the bishops of the church to organize their “Colored” members into their own “separate ecclesiastical jurisdiction.” Between 1866 and 1870 the bishops carried out the dictates of the General Conference. In May 1870 they reported that all necessary and legal steps had been taken to organize a separate church the following winter. So it was that those 41 former slaves gathered in Jackson in 1870 were duly elected and properly authorized to organize their own separate and independent “Colored Methodist Episcopal Church“(changed to “Christian Methodist” in 1954) they elected William Henry Miles and Richard H. Vanderhorst, the first bishops.
The CME Church is organized into eleven Episcopal Districts, nine in the Continental United States and two on the continent of Africa. Each Episcopal District consists of geographical Regions presided over by a bishop elected by the General Conference. Several connectional departments under the authority of a General Secretary carry out the ministries of the church, such as Christian Education, discipleship, evangelism, and missions. Its theological school is Phillips School of Theology, which is a part of the Interdenominational Theological Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia. The CME Church sponsors four liberal arts colleges: Lane College, Jackson, Tennessee; Paine College, Augusta, Georgia; Miles College, Birmingham, Alabama and Texas College, Tyler, Texas. The Connectional Headquarters and publishing operations of the CME Church are located in Memphis, Tennessee.
By Bishop Othal Hawthorne Lakey
The History of the CME Church, Othal Hawthorne Lakey, CME Publishing House, Memphis, Tennessee: 1985.
The Rise of “Colored Methodism”: A Study of the Background and Beginnings of the CME Church, Othal Hawthorne Lakey, Crescendo Press, 1972.
Is God Still at Mama’s House? The Women’s Movement in the CME Church, Othal Hawthorne Lakey and Betty Beene Stephens, CME Publishing House, Memphis, Tennessee, 1994.
A History of the Women’s Missionary Council of the CME Church, William C. Larkin: 1910.
The History of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church (1870 – 2009): Faithful to the Vision, Ore L. Spragin, 2011.
An Ex-Colored Church: Social Activism in the CME Church, 1870 – 1970,Raymond R. Sommerville, Jr., Mercer University Press, Macon, Georgia, 2004.