Saint Paul Bethel Church is the merger of two congregations, Saint Paul and Bethel Baptist Churches. St. Paul Baptist Church was organized in October 1953, under the Pastorate of Reverend David T. Tate. It was located at 1001 Prairie Avenue.
Bethel Baptist Church was organized on November 14, 1954 under the pastorate of the last Rev. W.H. Harris. It was located at 1502 W. Washington St. The church had only twenty-two members. In May of 1955, the cornerstone was laid by the St. Peter’s Lodge No. 31 A.M., Prince Hall Masons. Approximately 130 members were added to the church under the pastorate of Rev. Harris. On February 11, 1956, Rev. Harris was called home.
In April 1956, Reverend Floyd Dumas of Tulsa, Oklahoma was called to Bethel as Pastor. Rev. Dumas led the church until December 1957. Several members were added to the church under his leadership. The Rev. William Harris, Jr., Son of the late Rev. W.H. Harris asked for his equity in the church which his father had paid as down payment when the property was purchased. During this time, Rev. Dumas had been called to Greater Galilee Baptist Church of Gary, Indiana to serve as Assistant Pastor. Rev. Dumas was concerned about Bethel and did not want to leave us without a Pastor. He brought to us the name of three ministers, Rev. J.J. Jackson, Rev. Isaiah Caphy, and Rev. David T. Tate. In December 1957, Rev. Tate was called as Pastor.
At this time Rev. Tate was the pastor of St. Paul Baptist Church, then located at 231 Camden St. He did not resign from St. Paul, but brought his congregation with him, thus uniting and creating Saint Paul Bethel Baptist Church.
Rev. Tate led a church of seventy-eight members. With their help, Rev. Tate enlarged the church auditorium as well as making other needed improvements. On the first Sunday in December, 1964, Rev. Tate resigned as pastor.
The 5th Sunday in January, 1965, the church sanctuary burned and so did a portion of the parsonage roof a week later. Our outlook at this time was dismal, but behind every dark cloud there is a silver lining. The silver lining was a closer fellowship among the membership, with a determination to rebuild physically and spiritually. We began worshiping in our Education Building.
On April 22, 1965, a special meeting was convened for the purpose of calling a pastor. The Deacons brought the names of four ministers to the congregation, Rev. Booker T. West, associate minister of St. John Baptist Church, South Bend, IN; Rev. Eugene Jones of Hatcherville, MI; Rev. L.C. Swan of Detroit, MI; and Rev. G.L. Thomas of Chicago, IL. Rev. Booker T. West came to serve on May 23, 1965.
The Lord sent Rev. West. He came, saw what needed to be done and did it. We took the money we had in the treasury and paid all the back debts. With the leadership of
Rev. West, the burned church was repaired. That which he and other members could not do themselves, they hired someone else to do. A concrete floor was put in the basement, and two restrooms were installed. A gas furnace, new piano, and organ were purchased. We were blessed with a better looking auditorium. But Rev. West was a man of vision. He saw greater potential in the congregation and admonished us not to become complacent because of the improvements that were made, but to strive to do greater things in the name of the Lord.
In 1966, St. Paul Bethel became affiliated with the National Baptist Convention of America, the Indiana State Missionary Baptist Convention and the Northwestern Indiana District Missionary Baptist Association, with which we are now affiliated, when it came into existence in 1967.
A Youth Council was organized and the church, through the Sunday School, began sending some of our youth to church camp. Two youths were sent in 1970 and nine in 1971. Having the belief that a healthy body makes a healthy mind, a Women’s Bowling Team, a Men’s Bowling Team and a Boy’s Softball team were founded under the under Rev. West. The church has continued to prosper.
It seemed we would have the opportunity to purchase another church building. Through much prayer and negotiation our prayers were again answered. In September 1971, the Westminster Presbyterian Church located at 621 Lindsey Street was purchased to become the new and current location of St. Paul Bethel. On October 31, 1971, we held our first service in our newly acquired building. Dedication Services for the new building were held February 13, 1972, and God blessed us to continue to grow spiritually.
During the period from 1971-1982, many improvements were made to the physical building and property. There were also several ministries added to the church at this time. In 1974, the Foreign and Field Haiti Mission came into existence. In 1977, the Junior Church began under the direction of the late Sis. Evelyn Dickerson. We also began our annual workshop, Baptist Doctrines, to precede the Church Anniversary Service. The Board of Christian Education was organized in 1979. The Lord bestowed many blessings upon St. Paul Bethel and its membership including he burning of the church mortgage in 1982.
Since that time, our history has been filled with growth and commitment. We have added several ministries including the Church Newsletter and Learning Center directed by Rev. Gilbert Washington, the Ecumenical Fellowship sponsored by the Brotherhood, the Health and Wellness Committee headed by Sis. Phyllis Syers, the Audio Tape Ministry started by Bro. Eugene Hale, the Prayer Ministry initiated by Bro. Johnie Clark and Sis. Rosa Perkins, the Westville Prison Ministry started by Bro. Alfred Bolden and the Work Release Program started by Bro. Kenny Cutler.
New Membership Training class was created to help those incoming members learn about Christianity and to prepare them for the life work of being a follower of Christ. To assist our youth in the furthering of the education, the late Sis. Evelyn Dickerson and Dr. Virginia Calvin created the Education Assistance Committee. In an attempt to help the homeless and less fortunate, Bro. L. C. and Sis. Faye Love started the Soup Kitchen, while Sis. Bishop encouraged the membership to contribute to our clothes giveaways.
On November 22, 1995, an immense project began on our church building with the addition of a new church wing. The new addition connected the sanctuary to the Education Building and added restrooms to the main level. This project was overseen by Bro. Maxie D. Bolden, Sr., as an employee of Murdock Construction Company. The project was completed in October, 1996.
In May, 1996, a Beautification Committee was formed for the purpose of upgrading the main sanctuary to compliment the new wing. Those volunteering to lead this project were sisters Ruth Bolden, Dorothy Groves, Luverta Groves, Peaches Henry, Mae Jones, Obera McDonald, Minnie Murphy, Phyllis Syers, Shirley Watson and Betty Redmon. In addition to renovating the baptismal pool/area, the committee commissioned Mrs. Linda Williams to paint a mural above the baptismal pool. This committee also directed the paining and carpeting of the sanctuary along with the purchase of new pew cushions. Additionally, stained glass windows were repaired and renovated while the installation of a new sanctuary chandelier adorned our worship area. Furniture was purchased for the pastor’s office and the chapel. Improvements were made to our lower level restrooms. Finally, new sliding partition doors were installed on the upper and lower levels of the church. A new tile floor was laid in the lower level as well as new carpeting in the nursery. Our trustees were integral to all of these projects and to providing guidance throughout. Truly, the Lord blessed us to make these improvements and we give him all the glory and the honor.
In 1998, Bro. L. C. and Sis. Faye Love led our congregation in another foreign mission project, where the church provided needed clothing for our Haitian brothers and sisters. By the grace of God and through member and community contributions, we were able to donate 6,500 pounds of clothing toward this foreign mission project. Many assisted in the folding and packing of these items for the needy. The clothing was delivered to Florida by Bro. and Sis. Love and then shipped to Haiti. Special support and transportation was lent in this project by Bro. Curtis and Sis. Tommye Kirkendoll.
On July 4, 1999, Reverend West retired as pastor of St. Paul Bethel. He informed the church that he was leaving South Bend and that he and Sister West would be making their new home in Las Vegas, Neveda.
Although his leaving saddened the congregation, we found joy in knowing that he would receive a much needed rest after thirty-four years of service. In August, 1999, a
retirement reception was held to honor Pastor and Sister West. After the retirement of Pastor Booker T. West, the church sought God’s direction for new leadership.
During our quarterly business meeting, July 26, 1999, the Deacon Board was asked to submit a recommendation for a new pastor to the congregation at the next scheduled meeting. The Deacon Board interviewed two associate ministers of our congregation, Rev. Odell Hughes and Rev. Gilbert Washington, as potential candidates for our pastorate.
On September 27, 1999, Brother Curtis Kirkendoll chaired the church meeting. He asked Sister Bettie Schoby to read the board’s recommendation. She read Rev. Washington’s name and those in attendance at the quarterly church meeting accepted and voted the boards recommendation. Rev. Gilbert C. Washington was ‘called’ as the new pastor of Saint Paul Bethel Missionary Baptist Church.
Rev. Washington was installed as Pastor on December 12, 1999. The Antioch Baptist Church of East Chicago, Indiana was our guest and their Pastor, Rev. Dr. Vincent L. McCutcheon, led the charge given to Pastor Washington while Pastor Benny Williams gave the charge to the church. Over the next four years there was a renewed emphasis placed on empowering our members and developing true discipleship. Here a focus was placed on individual stewardship and spirituality. This emphasis resulted in a number of projects and ministries initiated by our Pastor and members of the congregation. Through member participation, play productions were initiated by the church with Sis. Bonnie Cutler and Sis. Marlene Logan directing the efforts. In addition, the church participated in the 2001 Ethnic Festival Parade and a trip to Angola, Indiana to observe the Bethlehem Market Place. We also went bowling and made a special trip to the Museum of Natural History in Chicago to view the historical Dead Sea Scrolls.
In addition, we engaged in some important renovations of our physical building including trees planted on our property by the Northwest Neighborhood Organization. We made improvements to the vestibule area on the Scott Street entrance. We also built a new ramp, put up a small ramp at our education building to make it handicap accessible.
During the ice storm of 2001 that knocked out power to more than 70,000 residents in the city of South Bend, our church served as a warming station sheltering and feeding people in need for three nights. Our Pastor noted with humor to the congregation, “We have space and people can sleep on the pews. It won’t be the first time.”
A conference and counseling room, (the Renaissance Room), was created and furnished in our Educational Building. The Renaissance Room was provided by special donations from our congregation. Those who donated had their names etched on a plaque that hangs in the room. This project inspired and confirmed our Pastor’s vision for the creation of the Multipurpose Ministry/Recreation Building (The Jabez Building ). In January, 2002 we began the Jabez Fund to help fund this project. In addition, we
installed a new lift to assist the elderly and physically challenged persons to reach the basement and the sanctuary levels of our main church building.
During the years of 1999-2002, we emphasized Youth Development Ministries, (Girl Talk, Boys To men and Partners in Learning.) We also began a collaborative ministry with Goshen College and 4-H Purdue University. We began our Praise Dance Troupe, Drill Team, Saint Paul Bethel On The yard, St. Paul Bethel Basketball Camp and a Spiritual Baseball League. Our church recognized our own special needs children and honored them with a special bulletin board. The board also served to educate our congregation and others about how we care for and accept these special ones in our congregation.
Pastor Washington emphasized prayer as a spiritual tool for ministry. In the previous three years, we added two new trustees to our board along with one new deacon. Additionally, God added one hundred new members to our congregation.
We have had two workshops on prayer and have been urged that each member of the church should have a prayer partner. We have had special prayer nights for our schools, students, teachers and administrators (pray them back to school nights) where we have had up to 60 persons in attendance. The church has initiated a shepherding program to encourage communication and the care of each individual member. We have also instituted a food collection on every fourth Sunday. This complements the food collection done on the third Sundays by the Sunday School. Young members act as altar assistance in the collection of the food and participate in the leadership of our worship as they light candles on the first Sunday of every month.
There has been an increased emphasis on Christian education through our Sunday School, Bible Study and B.T.U. This emphasis allowed us to formulate programs to identify, train, and launch new teachers and leaders in our church.
A lot of effort was made to maintain our physical church structure as well as enhance our spiritual bodies. For nearly two weeks, parts of the church were draped in plastic as ducts and pipes were installed and replaced. After years of service, our furnace was replaced. New air conditioning units were also installed.
In 2005 we learned a lot about being thankful and appreciative of the small things in our lives as we witnessed the destruction of New Orleans, Louisiana and the hurricanes that ravaged the southern gulf coasts. Our church responded in love and gave more than $5,000 to the American Red Cross for missions (relief assistance). Out of that experience our church formed a disaster task force to assist our congregation in its response and preparation for disaster. Sister Emma Robinson coordinated the collection and shipment of clothes, water, diapers and other needed items to a sister church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Several of our members, including Pastor Washington, participated in the historic Winter Board Meeting of our denomination.
four major Black Baptist Conventions met in Nashville, Tennessee for this meeting with ten thousand Baptists celebrating Holy Communion together in one room.
A new ministry was launched as Bro. Andrew Brown was appointed to direct our Cultural Awareness Ministry. Our Annual Angel Tree Ministry exceeded expectations as we provided support to more than 50 children during this annual drive. We thanked Sister Pauline Young and Sister Debbie Young for their leadership in this area. Brother Johnnie Robinson and Sister Emma Douglas were wed while Brother Maxie and Sister Ruth Bolden renewed their vows after 50 years of marriage.
While existing ministries, the following ministries were added in the year 2008. Boys To Men breakfast, held each third Saturday of the month, a partnership with the Northern Indiana Food Bank, and a Summer Youth Outreach program. Also, two associate ministers were added, the Reverend Nathan Laurence and Reverend Derrick Weaver. Two deacons were added as well, Brother Andrew Brown and Brother Greg Franklin.
On December 27, 2010, Rev. Book T. West passed away in South Bend, Indiana. His funeral service was held at the church on January 2, 2011.
On the second Sunday in January, 2011, after much consideration and careful discussion, church service was canceled due to a severe snow storm. This was believed to be the first time in church history that Sunday morning service was canceled.
In the Summer of 2011 the church was a part of a summer lunch program which was held Monday through Friday at the Booker T. West Park. The program fed neighborhood children or anyone who attended, provided activities for the children and took trips to the local library. Sis. Kelly Person, Sis. Pinkie Austin and Bro. Tom McDaniel and youth from the church distributed the food.
The Trustee Board was busy making sure much needed repairs were made to the church building. Some of the repairs in 2011 were new downspouts installed; upgraded and improved the air condition system; old plaster on east front side of building removed and re-plastered; moved food pantry to the Education Building; installed shelving in the new storage area for storing food items; the west wall of the sanctuary is work in progress.
A Child Abuse Workshop was held here at the church. The members felt the need to be more aware of child abuse and how to report it.