Updated: May 2
To the Members, Family, and Friends of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church-Champaign,
1863 was a dark time and difficult time. Our nation was embroiled in a bloody civil war that would determine the physical fate of millions of Black people who were held unjustly by the system of chattel slavery. A Union victory and the end of such an evil institution was not guaranteed and no parts of this country escaped the horrors and the uncertainty of that brutal conflict.
Yet, amid this darkness, a small group of men and women would use the light of African Methodism to lay the foundation for a place that would serve not only as a hush harbor for those fleeing to the North from the Confederate South, but also those who had already found a home in a small space of land in Central Illinois. That place was Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the oldest Black Church in Champaign County.
Beloved Bethel Family, for 160 years our church has stood at the epicenter of Champaign County in general and the Black Community specifically. Before there was the University of Illinois, before there was the NAACP, before there were Black Greek Letter Fraternities and Sororities, before there were any other Black churches or community organizations there was Bethel. These roots, our roots, run deep. From the visionary group that organized the church to the dedicated members who raised the money to purchase the original property to Albert Lee to Emma Bridgewater to Cecil D. Nelson to Hester Suggs to Paul Lawrence Pope to Anna Scott Walls to 4 of the Ellis Drive 6, these roots, our roots run deep. It was through the hard work of the aforementioned men and women that our church could thrive and survive though the Civil War, Reconstruction, Post Reconstruction, 2 World Wars, the Korean War, the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements, the Vietnam War, the Post-Civil Rights era of Reagan, Bush I and Bush II, the war on terror, the COVID-19 pandemic and the Era of Trump. These roots, our roots run deep.
As we celebrate our 160th year, we have embraced the theme Rooted in Faith…Honoring the Legacy” based on Psalm 78:2-7 because we do not simply stand of the legacies and strength of those who now occupy the great cloud of witnesses, but we also uphold their legacy by continuing to show up in the world in a manner that honors God and edifies the community. From our robust youth and teenager ministries to the ways in which current members participate in civil engagement, we have just as many reasons to be proud of who we are now as who were then. Beloved family, not only did we survive 2 years of a global pandemic, civil unrest, and government maleficence, but we emerged stronger, wiser, and closer to God. Truly, in a world that seeks to suffocate us and hinder our growth, Bethel has become the place where people can breathe and grow.
As the 60th person sent by God to Pastor this great congregation, please allow me to offer my sincerest congratulations and blessings on achieving this amazing milestone. Let us continue together to be rooted in faith, honoring the legacy and being a vital part of not only Champaign County but the world!
To God be the Glory
Rev. Terrance L. Thomas