Bethlehem History

Old Bldg1

Bethlehem Baptist Church History

Organized in 1917

In 1917, the Rev. Daniel Jackson saw how the black population on the East Side of Toledo was growing and saw the need to organize a church. Rev. Jackson joined with a few of the Christian of the community; Mr. Moses Johnson, Mrs. Mollie Johnson, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Wright, Mrs. Emma Berry, Mrs. Lunie Bell, and Mr. Harvey Holden; and Bethlehem, which means House of Bread, Baptist Church came into existence. It was founded on the strength of Christ’s words to Peter.

 “…Upon this rock, I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” {Matthew 16:18}

 Under Rev. Jackson’s leadership the church began its’ ministry, feeding the spiritual needs of the growing community.  A deacon is one of good character and full of the Holy Spirit and the first deacons of the church were; Deacon Harvey Holden, Deacon Thomas Berry, Deacon Robert Wright and Deacon Moses Johnson. The church led service at the home of Deacon Harvey Holden until 1918, his home was located at 1134 Montgomery Street [This street is now named Ironwood].

In 1918, Bethlehem moved to a new location on Crystal Street where the church continued to grow and prospered. From 1920 thru 1931 the following ministers served as pastor and some of their accomplishments are noted. Under the leadership of Rev. J.H. Burns the indebtedness for the building was paid off. Rev. O.R. Deloach was pastor for two years. The fourth and fifth pastors were Rev. Weldon McWilliams and Rev. Milan. Under the leadership of Rev. I.W. Washington, the lots at 1309 Crystal were purchased. Rev. Washington also founded the choir and served as music director. From 1927 to 1928 the Rev. J.A. Dotson was pastor, succeeded by Rev. Ethridge and Rev. William Thomas.

In 1931, Rev. George A. Gabriel was called to pastor, under his leadership the basement of the church on Crystal was built as the beginning of a new church building. The building was completed in two phases between 1931 and 1938. During his seven year tenure the church continued to grow and prosper spiritually.

Rev. R.D. Wess became pastor in 1937 succeeding Rev. Gabriel; Rev. Wess was from Cincinnati, Ohio and was president of the Ohio Baptist Convention. During his tenure an addition, which included a pastor’s study, choir room, and baptismal pool was completed

The Rev. C.L. Wofford succeeded Rev. Wess in 1942. He was well versed in the scriptures and very effective in building the membership during his years as pastor.

In 1947 Rev. Z.L. Jones accepted the challenge and call as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church. Rev. Jones served from 1947 to 1977. A few of his many accomplishments include, Organization of the Chorus, the Sunday School Choir, Children’s Choir, Young Matron’s, and he served as music director for many years. During his tenure, a parsonage was purchased on Ironwood Avenue, the sanctuary was refurbished with wood paneling and the old windows were replaced with stained glass.

In 1968, many of the members and the residents of the community had relocated leaving the church with little or no potential for growth. In the summer of 1968 Bethlehem moved to its’ present location and the church building and parsonage in east Toledo was sold.

It was Rev. Jones’ desire to pay off the church’s indebtedness however, it was not God’s will that he would see that goal reached. Rev. Jones was called home to be with the Lord June 30, 1977. As a memorial to Rev. Jones the congregation paid the church’s indebtedness, and on December 18, 1977 a Mortgage Burning Service was held to retire the debt and burn the mortgage papers. Mother Octavia Green and Deacon Wilbur Lewis were the chairpersons of that fundraising committee .

On October 14, 1977, Rev. Fred Blanton accepted the pastoral leadership of the church. Under his leadership Bethlehem would continue to grow and prosper. The church had undergone an extensive renovation. The pastor’s study was added; a choir room with lavatories, baptismal pool, a complete renovation of the lower auditorium, and the sanctuary were enlarged to seat approximately 300. Looking to the future the church continued to acquire property for future growth.

Rev. Blanton had a special interest in the youth of the church by always exhorting them to give their best to the Lord at an early age and to remain faithful. He was a firm believer that tithing was the way that God planned for his Church to be financed. He eliminated all rallies and fundraisers and challenged the membership to show their love and obedience to God by giving. Rev. Blanton also believed every Christian should be a student of God’s word. After a lengthy illness Rev. Blanton was called home to be with the Lord on September 13, 1993. His legacy remains to this day.

 “I shall give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding.”  {Jer. 3:15}

 After a season of prayer and fasting, Bethlehem was blessed with its’ next and current pastor, Rev. Dr. Derek A. Arnold, I. He assumed the pulpit April 3. 1994. Under Rev. Arnold’s leadership, the membership has continued to grow spiritually, financially and numerically. Over 800 people have united with the church during his tenure.

Rev. Arnold is also a firm believer in discipleship training, tithing and sacrificial giving to support the work of the church. He is a great teacher and continually challenges the membership to strengthen their faith through the study of the word. Through the movement of the Holy Spirit, several ministries were established, a bi-annual

Clothing Give-a-way, a Food Pantry, Clothing Closet, the Fred R. Blanton Institute, Children’s Choir, Men’s and Women’s ministry, Single’s ministry, Spiritual Recovery, After School Program, and Summer Camp.

In December 1996, Rev. Arnold shared with us God’s vision for the future of our ministry here at Bethlehem. The Stewardship Campaign for Vision 2000 began in June 1997, with the theme, “Doing the Impossible with God” Luke 1:37. In obedience to the word, with faith in the promises of God, members pledged to give sacrificially to fund this momentous project. The acquisition of land and houses over the span of eight years made us the biggest or major landowners in the immediate surrounding area of the church which positioned us to build the New Life Center. On Sunday, November 19, 2000, Rev. Arnold and members broke ground for the New Life Center. The groundbreaking culminated a four-year stewardship campaign and a new chapter in the history of this church. The construction for the New Life center began in May 2001 and was completed in February 2002. Dedication services were held April 4, 2002.

 “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” {Prov. 29:18}

 In 1995, the House of Bread Ministries, Inc. was organized as an outreach arm of the Church to serve the community’s spiritual and physical needs through the New Life Center. The NLC would become the centerpiece of our ministry and witness that would offer a variety of family services by focusing on empowerment and spiritual enrichment. Since its inception, we have provided the following programs and activities: pre-school, latch-key, KidZone summer camp,    mentor-ship, after-school, G.E.D. classes, ballroom dance lessons, exercise training, health fairs, legal aid and home-ownership seminar. We give all glory and honor to our great God and for all He has done.