Since neither Bethel Church records nor Quarterly Conference minutes before 1800 are available, the time of Bethel’s founding has been determined from the history of Champaign County which shows that the church was organized in 1863. The Quarterly Conference Journal of 1891 stated that the Church was 28 years old. Using this date, the time of origin would be 1863.
In 1864, a small group of people, who had been holding prayer meetings and other religious meetings in their homes, got together and raised funds in the amount of $600 and erected a small frame building on the property of Mr. Jake Taylor at 405 E. Park Avenue.13 years later, in 1877, the property at the southeast corner of Fourth and Park Streets was purchased and the frame building at 405 E. Park Avenue was moved to 401 E. Park Avenue, making both building and ground the property of Bethel A. M. E. Church.
Bethel has a history which includes activity in the community as well as in the church. During the early part of the century when segregation was a fact of life, Bethel maintained a park for the neighborhood children on Ellis Street equipped with volleyball, croquet and tennis. The church also maintained a Reading Center located in the 100 block of East University Avenue in Champaign. The church also established a library, had a church orchestra, and served as a meeting place for Black students attending the University of Illinois.
The church has had many active groups which include the Steward Board, the Trustee Board, the Stewardess Board, the Sunday School, the Lay Organization, the Helping Hand Club, the Fleur de Lis Club, the Luana Riley Women’s Missionary Society, the Usher Board, the Willing Workers Club, the Men’s Club, Men’s Bible Study, Biblical Arts Players, Benevolent Committee, the YPD, Adult/Youth/Young Adult Choirs, Women’s Ministry, Temple Shapers, Fitness Club, Calendar Club, S.O.L.D.I.E.R.S. (Step Team), Imani Liturgical Dancers, Stewardship & Finance Committee, Allen Christian Fellowship, and Scholarship Committee.
We can look back and be proud of our Bethel Family and the progress made. It is important to remember that we, Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, are a growing church and that our history will never be complete. We continue to move onward and upward, in the spirit of Sankofa, so that the future generations will be proud of us, following in our footsteps and fully enjoy the blessings and glory of God.
First Church (1863-1892)
Rev. Henry Depugh
Rev. J. W. Jackson
Rev. William J. Davis
Rev. A. Burleigh
Rev. Richard Holley
Rev. Charles Holmes
Rev. E. P. Moore
Rev. Harry Lackey