“The Church with A Rich Past, An Exciting Present, and A Glorious Future”
“To win the lost at any cost”
Two Hundred and Twenty Nine years ago, the hand of God providentially guided to the shore of Nassau, Bahamas a small band of men, marginalized by society, who would be instrumental in laying the foundation for the Baptist denomination. Records suggest that Prince Williams, Sharper Morris and Sambo Scriven (freed slaves) were the architects for what is now Bethel Baptist Church, when they purchased lots 20 and 21 in Delancy Town upon which they erected a wooden chapel. They called it “Bethel Meeting House.” According to tradition, the “society” of negro men and women met in a thatched building on which the present Bethel Baptist Church stands, until the signatures of five free men could be obtained to sign the deed. The Chapel was probably constructed by Prince Williams who was listed on the deed as a carpenter.
Ground breaking ceremonies for Bethel’s Meeting House commenced on Monday, August 1st, 1790. Bethel was the first church in the vicinity and the first building ever erected in an undeveloped area. Prince Williams served as the pastor of Bethel Baptist Church for 44 years. In 1833 Prince Williams departed from Bethel and established St. Johns Native Baptist Society, and Sharper Morris then became pastor of the Bethel Baptist Church.
In 1833 Rev. and Mrs. Joseph Burton, the first Baptist Missionaries arrived in the Bahamas from London. Rev. Burton and Kilner Pearson, another missionary, reorganized Bethel in 1834. Only people who would be accepted into the Baptist Churches anywhere in the world were accepted into Bethel. In 1834, fifty-two (52) members were accepted into Bethel. During the same year, the Baptist Missionary Society, London, became co-trustees of Bethel Baptist Chapel. Consequently, the missionaries became the pastors at the chapel. The first missionary pastor was Kilner Pearson with whom the church experienced some problems. In 1834, Joseph Burton was made pastor and remained in office until he left the Bahamas in 1838.
The arrival of Rev. and Mrs. Applegate and Rev. and Mrs. Leaver in 1837 and 1838 respectively, caused great damage to the work done by Burton and others in the Bahamas. Disinterested in working with the black people, Leaver alienated the Bethel congregation. In contradistinction, a man named Francis McDonald kept Bethel intact during this period. With the arrival of Rev. Capern, Rev. Leaver was removed and the Bethel membership secured a promise from Rev. Capern that they would not be treated again in the manner Leaver had treated them.
In 1847 Bethel Baptist Church commenced the construction of its first stone building. This was completed in 1848, and was summarily destroyed by the hurricane of October 1st, 1866. A parliamentary grant of two hundred pounds and the efforts of Bethel’s congregation, resulted in the construction of a new building that was officially opened on March 14th, 1869. Mr. William McDonald became elected “preacher” of Bethel, and served until ill health forced his retirement in 1885. He died on July 21st, 1886. With the resignation of McDonald, William Theo Willerup was ordained and installed as pastor of Bethel Baptist Church on August 13th, 1885. He was succeeded by J.W. Sweeting on December 25th, 1898. Upon the death of Rev. Sweeting in early 1903, Charles A. Poitier was ordained on April 26th, of the same year. After a lengthy illness, Rev. Poitier died on October 13th, 1911 and was buried in Bethel Baptist Church Cemetery.
In 1919, Rev. Robert T. Johnson was installed as pastor of Bethel. Born on November 1st, 1862, Rev. Johnson was the son of Pastor Lunnon Johnson of St. John’s church in Cross Harbour, Abaco. Rev. Johnson married Arabella Elizabeth Carey from Abaco who bore him four daughters: Alice, Marion, Beatrice and Francina. A son Charles predeceased him. Rev. Johnson’s oldest living relative was the Late Nathalie Hutcheson, his granddaughter born to Beatrice and Eugene Russell of Abaco. Nathalie Hutcheson was born June 11th, 1923 in “Mission House”, the pastor’s residence. She was the first baby to be born at the home built for Rev. Johnson by the Church. By trade, Rev. Johnson was a boat captain and farmer. He died in office on April 15th, 1938 at age seventy-five.
In February of 1939, Harcourt Whitfield Tyndale Brown was installed as pastor of Bethel Baptist Church. Born May 28th, 1910 to Mr. and Mrs. John Thomas Brown in Alice Town, Eleuthera, he was one of fourteen children. In 1938 Rev. Brown graduated from the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, Tennessee with a Bachelor of Theology Degree. He was ordained that same year in Nashville and returned home where he assisted Bishop A.C. Symonette at St. James Baptist Church. Rev. Brown was called to pastor Bethel on Sunday, February 4th, 1939. Pastor Brown introduced many innovations in Bethel such as classes in various subjects and the outreach program called “Serving the Whole Man”. This program introduced controversial and timely messages and catered to the less privileged in the community when parcels of foodstuff were distributed. During Rev. Brown’s pastorate, the membership of Bethel grew from one hundred to two thousand. In late 1939, Rev. Brown formed the Bethel Baptist Association and became its first moderator.
Pastor Brown was a fiery pulpiteer and was outspoken on the political issues of the 1950s and 1960s. When many Bahamians were reluctant to press for equal rights because of the presence of racial intolerance and victimization, Pastor Brown was a voice fighting vigorously against this and all other injustices of the day. In 1965, Pastor Brown was a member of an eight man delegation to the United Nations to present the case of the official opposition against the United Bahamian Party Government and its gerrymandering of electoral boundaries. This delegation was led by luminaries such as Lynden Pindling and Milo B. Butler. In 1967 the official opposition Progressive Liberal Party came to power, and Pastor Brown was recognized as a hero of the struggle for Majority Rule. He was appointed the Chaplain to the House of Assembly, the first Baptist minister to hold the post and was a founding member of the Bahamas Christian Council. Pastor Brown authored two books, “From the Squirrel’s Cage of Obscurity into the Open Sea” and “Marriage and Divorce.” Pastor Brown died at midnight on April 10th, 1979 after an illness of several months. He was sixty-eight years old.
On August 15th, 1979, Rev. Wellington A. Johnson was elected as a pastor of Bethel Baptist Church. Rev. Johnson received a B.A. Degree from the American Baptist Theological Seminary, Nashville, Tennessee; and a M.S. Degree in Applied Psychology from Tennessee State University; an ED.S. from George Peabody College Nashville, Tennessee and was a candidate for the D.Ed in Human Development Counseling. Rev. Johnson was installed as Pastor on November 1st, 1981, and set about structuring the organization of the church such as the church council, and detailing specifications for the various positions. Pastor Johnson developed and ratified the church’s constitution and established a Bible Study Institute on Wednesday nights. Pastor Johnson resigned the pastorate on April 1st, 1982.
Rev. Timothy Stewart was ordained in August 1977 at Mt. Zion Baptist Church. He received a B.A. Degree from the American Baptist Theological Seminary and attended Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Rev. Stewart was elected pastor of Bethel Baptist Church on November 3rd, 1982, and was installed on November 26th, 1982. The Eastern Theological seminary conferred the Master of Divinity and the Doctor of Humane Letters in Lynchburg, Virginia.
Under the leadership of Pastor Stewart, Bethel Baptist Church is continuing to make an outstanding contribution to the spiritual growth and development of the congregation, the community and to the country.
Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the leadership of Jesus Christ, the church employs two full-time Associate Ministers, who along with three other Associate Ministers, assist the pastor in dealing with the responsibility of ministering to the needs of the congregation. Also, an administrative team for the church office was employed to effectively and competently carry out the administrative work of the church.
The church continues to expand because of the role it plays in the community. The church has undergone extensive renovations, administrative offices have been built, and properties acquired to meet the needs of the growing demands of the church.
The church has recently undertaken the challenge to evangelize and minister to the needs of the members of the community where the church is located in particular, and this ministry will continue to expand throughout the entire nation, as the Lord directs.
Pastor Stewart until May, 2019, served as the Moderator for the Bethel Baptist Association, made up of a consortium of churches situated in New Providence, Grand Bahama, Eleuthera and Andros. During his tenure he embarked on a program to strengthen member churches throughout the family of islands. He also participated substantively in national development with his appointments to:
Pastor Stewart has served as 2nd Moderator for the Bahamas National Baptist Missionary & Educational Convention.
Internationally, Pastor Stewart has served as International President of the Progressive National Baptist Convention with responsibility for some three thousand churches in Africa, Europe, Haiti and Cuba. As a result of this relationship with the Progressive National Baptist Convention, he was able to host the first National Baptist Convention Winter Board Meeting in the Bahamas in 1991. This was the first time the Convention was held outside of the U.S.A. Again in January, 2018 the PNBC Winter Board Meeting was held in Nassau. Pastor Stewart up to August, 2018 served as First Vice President of the Progressive National Baptist Convention. In August, 2018 Pastor Stewart was elected, and currently serves as President of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. History was made as he was the first non-American to hold those posts in such an august body.
The church will commit to receiving all that Cod has promised for his people to become. We want our members to grow individually and collectively to the point that Cod can use us to fulfill any assignment he wills for us.
Alas, as a ministry of the church of Jesus Christ, we are preparing ourselves to assist in dealing with the difficult challenges that confront the family, the community, and the country as a whole.
These objectives would be met through the pastoral care ministry, the preaching of the gospel, the teaching ministry of the church, evangelism, the youth and children’s ministry of the church, and the necessary expansion of the church’s facilities to effectively meet the spiritual demands of our times. We will win the lost at any cost!