Friday, January 24, 2020

Why So Many Black (African American) Churches Include The Name "Bethel"

Edited by Azizi Powell

This pancocojams post provides information about the name "Bethel" and why "Bethel" is frequently used in the names of historic and present day Black (African American) churches*.

Because many of the Black (African American) churches that include the name "Bethel" are part of the African Methodist Episcopal denomination, information about that Protestant Christian denomination is given in the Addendum to this post.

The content of this post is published for education, religious, and cultural purposes.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.
This is the first post in an ongoing pancocojams series on this blog of common Black (African American) church names.

*The church names given in these posts are also given to churches that aren't historically African American or aren't presently predominately African American.

The church names featured in these pancocojams posts were selected from articles such as "10 Historic Black Southern Churches to Visit" and "Historic African American Churches" In addition, the church names that I've selected for this series is based on my experience as an African American who noticed the same church names in a number of cities I lived in or visited.

These pancocojams posts on frequent names used by African American churches don't include names whose association with religion are widely known (such as "Calvary" and "Emmanuel" or names whose meanings are generally understood such as "First [followed by a denomination]", "Second [followed by a denomination]", "Union [followed by a denomination]", or "a Saint's name [followed by a denomination]".

Click the "common Black church names" tag to find other posts in this series.

NOTE: Discussions about the history, congregations, ministry, and beliefs of Black (African American) churches that include the name "Bethel" should be very clear that those Black (African American) churches aren't the same as and aren't in any way affiliated with Bethel Church (based in Redding, California).

Furthermore, Black (African American) churches that include the name "Bethel" aren't the same as and aren't in any way affiliated with the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry (which is affiliated with Bethel Church based in Redding, California) or with the record label and music publishing company Bethel Music that is also associated with Bethel Church (based in Redding, California).

Click,_California) for information about Bethel Church (Redding, California)

"Bethel (Ugaritic: bt il, meaning "House of El" or "House of God",[1] Hebrew: בֵּית אֵל ḇêṯ’êl, also transliterated Beth El, Beth-El, Beit El; Greek: Βαιθηλ; Latin: Bethel) is a toponym often used in the Hebrew Bible. It is first mentioned in Genesis 12:8 as being near where Abram pitched his tent. Later in Genesis, it is the location where Jacob dreamt of seeing angels and God, and which he therefore named Bethel, "House of God." The name is further used for a border city located between the territory of the Israelite tribe of Benjamin and that of the tribe of Ephraim, which first belonged to the Benjaminites and was later conquered by the Ephraimites.

Eusebius of Caesarea and Jerome describe Bethel in their time as a small village that lay 12 Roman miles north of Jerusalem, to the right or east of the road leading to Neapolis.[2]

Most academics identify Bethel with the Arab West Bank village Beitin,[3] a minority opinion preferring El-Bireh.[4]

Ten years after the 1967 Six-Day War, the biblical name was applied to the Israeli settlement of Beit El, constructed adjacent to Beitin.

In several countries—particularly in the US—the name has been given to various locations...

In the Hebrew Bible
Book of Genesis
Bethel is mentioned several times in Genesis. It is first mentioned in Genesis 12 and 13,[6] as a place near where Abram stayed and built an altar on his way to Egypt and on his return. It is said to be close to Hai (Ai) and just to the west of it. More famously it is mentioned again in Genesis 28,[7] when Jacob, fleeing from the wrath of his brother Esau, falls asleep on a stone and dreams of a ladder stretching between Heaven and Earth and thronged with angels; God stands at the top of the ladder, and promises Jacob the land of Canaan; when Jacob awakes he anoints the stone (baetylus) with oil and names the place Bethel. Another account, from Genesis 35[8] repeats the covenant with God and the naming of the place (as El-Bethel), and makes this the site of Jacob's own change of name to Israel. Both versions state that the original name of the place was Luz, a Canaanite name."...
This page continues with a number of other examples of "Bethel" that are mentioned in the Old Testament of the Bible.

I added italics to highlight these words.

Excerpted from Historic African American Churches
"The African American Church has long been considered one of the foundational and most influential institutions in black America. This page is dedicated to highlighting the oldest of these institutions in states across the nation. Listed below are African American churches by state which are at least one century old (founded in 1919 or earlier) and which are continuously operating until today"...

Atlanta, Georgia
Big Bethel AME Church, 1847-

Jacksonville, Florida
Bethel Baptist Institutional Church, ca. 1865-

Richmond, Indiana
Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Richmond, Indiana, 1836-

Baltimore, Maryland
Bethel A.M.E., 1785-

Great Falls, Montana
Union Bethel A.M.E. Church, 1890-

Portland, Oregon
Bethel A.M.E. Church, 1889-

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church, 1794-
I changed the format of the locations of these churches which originally had the state on one line, followed by the city on a second line.

This is only a small sample of the Black (African American) churches throughout the United States that include the name "Bethel". For example, there's a Bethel African Methodist Episcopal church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where I live, and another Bethel African Methodist Episcopal church in the neighboring city of Monroeville, Pennsylvania.

As the above list suggest, probably most but not all of the Black (African American) churches that include the name "Bethel" are part of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) denomination.

"The Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church is a historic church and congregation at 419 South 6th Street in Center City Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. The congregation, founded in 1794, is the oldest African Methodist Episcopal congregation in the nation. Its present church, completed in 1890, is the oldest church property in the United States to be continuously owned by African Americans.[3] It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1972.[1]

History of the congregation
The church was organized by African-American members of St. George's Methodist Church who walked out due to racial segregation in the worship services. Mother Bethel was one of the first African-American churches in the United States, dedicated July 29, 1794, by Bishop Francis Asbury. On October 12, 1794, Reverend Robert Blackwell announced that the congregation was received in full fellowship in the Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1816 Rev Richard Allen brought together other black Methodist congregations from the region to organize the new African Methodist Episcopal Church denomination. He was elected bishop of this denomination. After the American Civil War, its missionaries went to the South to help freedmen and planted many new churches in the region.

In 1838, the building was damaged during the riots that followed the destruction of Pennsylvania Hall.

Allen and his wife, Sarah Allen are both buried in the present church's crypt.[4] The current church building was constructed in 1888-1890, and it has been designated a National Historic Landmark."...
*I added italics to highlight this sentence. Besides the "House of God" meaning of the Hebrew word "Bethel", I wonder if this partly explains why "Bethel" is frequently found in the names of Black (African American) churches.

"The African Methodist Episcopal Church, usually called the A.M.E. Church or AME, is a predominantly African-American Methodist denomination. It is the first independent Protestant denomination to be founded by black people.[4] It was founded by the Rt. Rev. Richard Allen in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1816 from several black Methodist congregations in the mid-Atlantic area that wanted independence from white Methodists. It was among the first denominations in the United States to be founded on racial rather than theological distinctions and has persistently advocated for the civil and human rights of African Americans through social improvement, religious autonomy, and political engagement. Allen, a deacon in Methodist Episcopal Church, was consecrated its first bishop in 1816 by a conference of five churches from Philadelphia to Baltimore. The denomination then expanded west and south, particularly after the Civil War. By 1906, the AME had a membership of about 500,000, more than the combined total of the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church in America and the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, making it the largest major African-American Methodist denomination. The AME currently has 20 districts, each with its own bishop: 13 are based in the United States, mostly in the South, while seven are based in Africa. The global membership of the AME is around 2.5 million and it remains one of the largest Methodist denominations in the world."....

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