Bethel United Methodist commemorates 70th year
Published 5:11 pm Monday, November 7, 2005
By By Janet Little Cooper
"When you round the bend it's the first thing you see, the little white church over the hill. You can't pass by without looking its way. Visitors are welcome and encouraged to stay."
Peggy Quimby Weaver
Bethel United Methodist Church, the little white church on Highway 21 over the hill, had a humble beginning in the 1930's as families from Martinville gathered in a two-room school for their weekly church services.
The John T. Owens family donated the land to build the existing building in 1934. The timber cut from the property was used to construct the building as well as the altar sacraments and pews. A potbelly stove sat in the middle of the room. R. L. Lewis would build a fire before services to ensure everyone would be warm. A piano that still remains in the church fellowship hall today was floated down the Alabama River.
The independent church was organized May 5, 1935 under the instruction of Pastor Henry Grayson.
According to members, at one time there was a pastor at Bethel who taught his sermon by drawing on a big screen in the corner of the church. As he taught scripture, he would draw and color the scripture. Local families would come to church in a bus to attend his services. The family with the most members present would get to take the painting home with them.
Over the years, the original structure has seen changes. The potbelly stove was removed to make way for space heaters. The door on the north side was closed in and the balcony enclosed for Sunday school space. Additional space was added on the west end in order to have bathrooms, kitchen and fellowship area.
At some point and time in the 1960's, the church membership declined and Bethel sought help from the Alabama-West Florida Methodist Conference. In doing so, the name was changed from the Independent Bethel Methodist Church to Bethel United Methodist Church.
In 1972, the Alabama Department of Transportation purchased the right of way to four lanes of Highway 21 North. The monies that the church received for the land went toward rolling the church westward to allow for church frontage and remodeling. Additions at that time included a porch, windows, vinyl siding, interior paint, carpet, pews and altar sacraments.
At the present time, Rev. Byrd Mapoles from Milton, Fla., is the pastor at Bethel. His tenure began in June of 1996. Under his leadership the church has purchased a computerized piano, added a steeple, created a children's playground, held Easter and Christmas celebrations, implemented Vacation Bible School during summer and purchased land to construct a Family Life Center, which is near completion.
In June of 2001, Bethel was designated " A Church For All God's Children" by Alabama-West Florida United Methodist Conference. The church refers to the verse found in John 4:34 "My food is to do the will of Him who sent me, and to accomplish his work."
The church just had its 70th Homecoming Celebration. As a way to commemorate its 70th year, the ladies and even men of the church compiled a cookbook.
"We have tried to do this for several years," Bethel member, Peggy Weaver said. "When we realized that the churches 70th anniversary was coming up, we knew we had to do it then."
The cookbook named A Taste of Heaven holds 500 recipes to be exact. The recipes come from church members, family members and friends. The pastor is quick to point out that even a few men of the church, him included, are featured in the cookbook.
"I think the cookbook is great," Bethel pastor, Rev. Byrd Mapoles said. "Of course, you know Methodists love to eat. Some of the best cooks I've had have been here at Bethel. I use examples of memorable sermons Jesus preached that involved food, were he divided the fish for the multitude and how he was cooking fish on the bank. Jesus must have liked to eat also. I think it is a good way for people to mingle."
The cookbook includes a poem written by lifetime member Peggy Weaver describing the little white church on the hill. It also has an easel that stores among the pages to be used to stand the cookbook on while cooking.
The church printed 500 copies of A Taste of Heaven in an effort to assist in the construction and completion of the new Family Life Center. The building began originally for the purpose of housing Sunday school rooms and the fellowship hall, but since the damage incurred to the original church building after Hurricane Ivan and the others that followed the facility is now being revamped to house the entire church.
"The cookbook was displayed for the first time at Williams Station Day in October. We sold 81 copies of it from our booth," Weaver said. "The following day was homecoming and we were able to sell a few more then. We hope to sell a lot before Christmas. They will make wonderful Christmas gifts and even wedding gifts."
The cookbook is sold for $18 and can be purchased by calling Ann Davis at 446-1408; Regina Gohagan at 368-1744 or Peggy Weaver at 577-6696.
"I think anyone who misses it will be missing an opportunity of blessing." Rev. Mapoles said.
A Taste of Heaven gives you food for your soul according to members.