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Community Working to Save Historic Church

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Story by Angela Reeves

2020 marks 136 year history for New Bethel Baptist Church, located at 801 Church Street
in downtown Bowling Green. In 1884, a group of Christian men and women, as well as some deacons from State Street Baptist Church formed the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church and roughly five years later, they bought the church on Church Street, becoming known as New Bethel Baptist Church. 

Since 1920, renovations have been taking place at the church. A vestibule was added first, then a basement equipped with restrooms, a kitchen, and dining room facilities. In the 1950s an inside remodel removed the coal stoves and replaced them with gas floor furnaces. Over the next forty years remodels included new flooring, windows, roof, railing, addition of hot and cold water to the kitchen and restrooms, glass front doors, and central heat and air.

The church has played a major role in the black community in Bowling Green, dating back to
the early 1900s when Reverend Henry Carpenter was a leader in the Bowling Green branch of the NAACP. Children and families of members from years ago have joined in membership and come together to help raise funds to revitalize the church over the years.

From 1969 - 2019 Reverend Earl J. Jackson was the Pastor of New Bethel, becoming only the seventh pastor in church history. In 2019 Rev. Jackson passed away and Reverend Ronald Williams took over his vacant position. 

Rev. Williams, realizing the church building needed some major repairs, appointed trustees, and opened an account to start raising money to restore the church. Many improvements have been made already, including a remodeled foyer, repaired windows and addition of two stained glass windows, replaced damaged brick, and a new HVAC system throughout the church. Rev.

Williams reached out to Abraham Williams with the Housing Authority to partner together to help with needed work on the church. The Housing Authority has helped clean, make needed repairs to flooring, and paint at the church.

The building next door, owned by the church, was remodeled and turned into a banquet hall, named Jackson Hall, worked on in stages by 20 employees from the Housing Authority as well.

To raise additional funds, the church has hosted events, partnered with the Kappas and Alphas in their time, creativity, and donations, and accepted donations from the community at large, but there is still $25-$30,000 needed to finish the remaining repairs. The most urgent needs include restoring additional windows and doors, new lighting, additional painting, a new roof, and new parking lot. New Bethel Baptist Church has been active in the community and working towards adding membership and building funds, however, 2020 has not made either easy. The day they received their largest single donation of $11,000 this year, coincidentally was the day churches were closed to in person services due to COVID. They have since began services back in the parking lot in September and back in the church in early October.

The church itself, but also the brick and mortar building, have so much history, including Rev. Williams favorite part, the original hand dug basement with original stone. The pulpit, piano, organ, and many tables chairs, tables, and antiques are still there, and all play a part of the history. They still ring the original church bell which can be heard around the downtown area. All the pews in the church have plaques on them with donations from community members dating back from 1965-1968.

Reverend Williams and the congregation are so thankful to everyone in the community who have played a part in the historic church’s revitalization and hope others who are able will  prayerfully consider reaching out to see how they can help with their time, talent, and/or treasure. 

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