History of Bethlehem Baptist Church (1881-Present)
For over 137 years, Bethlehem Baptist Church has been worshipping and serving the Lord Jesus Christ and sharing the Good News of Jesus with its community. It’s rich history of faith and vision continues to this day, as the Lord Jesus Christ leads His church into the future.
In the small community known as Allen’s Level, Buckingham County, Virginia, twenty-six people met to organize the Bethlehem Baptist Church on October 11, 1881 and associated with the James River Baptist Association. Land was given by Jordan Taylor, who later at age 99, had the ice broken to be baptized in Troublesome Creek. At the time, they met under a brush arbor on the current church site. The original building stood in front of the present sanctuary. It was small in structure and described as follows: “the planks ran up and down for the weather boarding, there were crude benches and no inside ceiling–oil lamps were used for lighting.” The church was built by P.W. Banton, Matt Taylor (Jordan Taylor’s son), P.S. Garrett, Jack Gough, and Alfred Taylor.
Since that time Bethlehem has experienced many changes. In 1906, a committee was appointed to explore building a new church building. By 1913, Mrs. P.E. Tucker led a campaign of children’s mite boxes and a series of “lawn parties”, where cakes, chickens, eggs and anything else was sold for the building fund. Men came to build with hammers and saws in one arm and an old hen or rooster tucked under the other arm. Soon, the original wood frame church was being torn down and under the guidance of contractor John Taylor, the new building began to take shape. Trees were cut down and the logs hauled to the mill. In 1915, the new wood frame church building was completed and is in fact our current sanctuary building. Curtains were used to divide the sanctuary into classes for Sunday School. That same year, Bethlehem hosted the James River Baptist Association meeting in its new building. At that time, the church was having one worship service per month. In 1920, the church combined with Enon, Dillwyn, and Cedar to form a field of churches. The church was subsidized by the Virginia Baptist Mission Board until it became self-supported in the late 1930’s.
Bethlehem continued to grow, leading to the construction of eight new Sunday School classrooms between the years 1942-1947. During that time, a partial basement was installed and central heat was added. In 1952, the stain glass windows of our current sanctuary were installed. Between 1950-1957, a new piano was purchased, concrete sidewalks were added, a new water pump installed, new pulpit furnishings purchased, and the front of the building was extended to provide a vestibule. Also, during this time, in cooperation with Dillwyn and Cedar purchased a lot at the Summer Assemble, Eagle Eyrie, and the Beth-Ce-Dill Lodge (1957) was constructed. (Bethlehem’s share was sold in 1965). In 1957, on a lot donated by Mr. and Mrs. R.E. Newton, the church built the parsonage across Rte. 20 from the church. The parsonage was dedicated on Sept 8, 1957. In 1959, in consultation with the Virginia Baptist Sunday School Department, the church building committee with funds provided from Mrs. R.E. Newton built a new, brick Sunday School building for a nursery, primary, junior, and intermediate departments, as well as restrooms and a kitchen. The Newton Educational building, dedicated in April 1960, is currently used as the pastor’s study, Sunday School office, and Youth Ministry.
In 1964, the sanctuary was completely renovated, adding acoustical tile ceiling, new drywall, new pews, pulpit furnishings, an elevated choir loft, a baptistery, new Sunday School rooms, and an electric organ. In the 1970’s, the church installed a steeple with chimes, added storm windows and air conditioning to the educational building. In 1985, the church exterior was bricked, exterior lighting added, a new piano purchased, and a new sound system installed. A Fellowship Hall was built in the mid 1980’s, connecting the Newton Education building with the Education building behind the Sanctuary. Interestingly, it was not until 1987 that a telephone line was installed at the church. That same year, the church remodeled the parsonage which included new carpeting and new heating and air conditioning.
In 1993, the church installed a Rte 20 slate sign with the church name and establish date included and completed additional improvements at the parsonage. By 1994, the church had a computer and photo copier purchased for the pastor’s study. In 1995, the original Fellowship Hall was redesigned to include a new Sunday School classroom and expanded Nursery. That same year, a picnic pavilion was built behind the Newton Education building. In 2005, the pavilion was enclosed as three Sunday School classrooms complete with heat and air and dedicated as the Polly Steinruck Building. In 1999, playground equipment was added for ministry to our children. Around the year 2000, a handicap accessible restroom was added to educational building, just off the sanctuary. In the same year, the baptistery mural was painted.
In 2002, a memorial statue of an angel was added in memorial of past members and loved ones.
In 2003, the building and grounds committee presented a plan to remodel the church sanctuary. The remodel included adding architectural details in the vestibule, new pews, chandeliers, sconces, carpet and paint. The plan was approved and completed in June 2003.
In 2012, the church commissioned Dan and Sharon Beardsley to the mission field in Haiti where their primary work included water projects, evangelism, discipleship and health care. Over the next 4 years, members of Bethlehem travelled to Haiti to help with various projects and support the Beardsley’s in their work.
In 2011 the church purchased an Enclosed 6×12 Utility Trailer and furnished it with tools and equipment for Disaster Relief and Missions Projects.
In 2011, the church came together to raise $474,000 to build a large, multipurpose building that would serve as a fellowship hall and recreation building. The church was enthusiastically generous its pledges and only borrowed $150,000. The loan was paid off in just 41 months. The building contained large bathrooms, a full kitchen, and 3 classrooms upstairs. A contest was held to name the newbuilding. The winning entry was the “Twelve Stones Center” inspired by Joshua 4:1-11. The building has since been utilized weekly for Sunday School, church meetings, and regularly for conferences, large worship gatherings, concerts, basketball games, mission endeavors, youth activities, and community activities. Additional storage was added in 2008, when a 12 x 24 Storage Building was purchased and placed behind the church.
Technological improvements included installing Projectors and screens in the sanctuary in 2006 and expanded again in 2008 and 2016. The sanctuary sound system was upgraded in 2013. Part of this plan was to remove two of the side, back pews, replacing them with a sound booth, complete with cabinet and racks to contain the electronic audio and video components. In 2015, new, state of the art, electronic chimes were installed in the steeple. The chimes ring out hymns across Buckingham county every hour, 9am-6pm Monday-Saturday. People from miles away claim to hear the chimes. WiFi was added to the Parsonage in the Summer of 2016. Improvements to the Twelve Stones Center in the Spring of 2017 included installing a large screen TV (55”) in the large upstairs classrrom for Children’s Worship Ministry and other trainings, installing WiFi, designing and building a storable stage, and installing projector/screen capabilities for conferences and large events. Late in 2017, security cameras with security monitor, recorder, and mobile phone app were installed for safety and security of the property. Also, as the music ministry expanded, the non-working sanctuary church organ was placed into storage, making room for multiple musical instruments, such as electronic guitars and drums.
In August 2014, Nowlin Gough sold the church his property on Rte 20 adjacent to the church. He was given living rights in the dwelling until his death in 2014. Though part of the parcel had already begun to be used for parking, upon Mr. Gough’s death, the lot was cleared for future development. That same year, the church’s petition was approved by the Virginia Department of Transportation to close the portion of Winfrey Inez Road between the church property and the Nowlin Gough property. This allowed for more parking and improved safety.
Between pastors in 2015-2016, the church parsonage underwent a significant remodel, with volunteers from the church as well as hired contractors working to reconfigure the first floor with a master bedroom/bath suite, as well as new kitchen, and cosmetic improvements. A new septic system was installed, along with a new backyard fence. The loan of $36,000 was paid in full February 2018. The aforementioned 12 x 24 storage building was moved from behind the church to the parsonage lot for additional storage. The following year, a propane tank was reinstalled allowing the gas fireplace to resume use.
In the Spring of 2017, a new 12’ cross was constructed from rough sawn cedar for use in Easter celebrations and other presentations and times of worship. The cross was specifically designed with the capability of being temporarily installed in the sanctuary or Twelve Stones Center as needed. Later that Spring, several members went on mission to Southwest Virginia to minister to hikers on the Appalachian Trail during the Trail Days Festival. In the summer, Bethlehem partnered with a Liberian church plant in Richmond to rebuild its fellowship hall.
In 2017, the church voted to remodel the Youth meeting area in the upstairs of the Newton Education Building. The ceiling was replaced and rooms were rewired and reconfigured, complete with new drywall and paint, new flooring installed, and a flat screen TV mounted for Bible training.
In July 2017, the church gathered on the banks of the James River, on Jimmie Crew’s property at Howardsville, to celebrate a Day on the River. Services at the church on Rte. 20 were suspended for the day as the church family and guests enjoyed Worship, Baptisms, Lunch, and Kayaking on the James River.
In 2017, a New Church Sign (in addition to the 1993 slate sign) was installed on Rte 20 with changeable letters for advertising church service times and events. The church men installed the sign.
The foregoing history of Bethlehem Baptist Church (1881-2002) is a compilation of the many years of diligent service by church historian Mamie Cheseldine and others. Additional Events and Milestones (2002-Present) were obtained through church documents as well as submissions by a number of Bethlehem Baptist Church members.