Old Bethel Presbyterian Church Dissolved After 150 Years

On Saturday, October 17, 2020, marked the end of 150 years of a black Presbyterian Church in Dillon County, South Carolina.
According to the HISTORY of DILLON COUNTY South Carolina by Durward T. Stokes: Old Bethel located on Route No. 1, Hamer, was organized in 1870, among the charter members were C. B. Alford, Virgil Blue, Mrs. Pender R. Blue, Mrs. Judie B. Alford, (Alfredo) Nathan Butler, Mrs. (Mariah) Marie Butler, Dennis Carmichael, Mrs. Lottie Green, Mrs. Lucy Green, Jesse McKinley, Mrs. Patsy McLellan, Sam McLellan, Mrs. Melvina McEachern and Nathan Townsend.

Photo by Helen Wiggins

They were established as Bethel Presbyterian Church in then Marion County and when Dillon County was incorporated became its oldest black Presbyterian Church. Other important families during that time were: Clark, Hines, Inman, Leach, McCants, McIntyre, McKellar, Page, Thompson and Waters.
In the Worship Service as Commissioned by New Harmony Presbytery:Today our Worship Service is to give thanks to our Lord and Savior for the rich history of faith and service of Old Bethel Presbyterian Church, Hamer, South Carolina and its Dissolution while acknowledging the gifting of the property and cemetery to Old Bethel Church, Inc.
Statement of Purpose: As we gather for worship let us acknowledge with solemn joy God’s gift of this place, to have Old Bethel Presbyterian Church’s removal from the rolls of New Harmony Presbytery and have a public declaration of her dedication and support of the different Presbyteries from her founding in the 1870s until the present. The allowing of her ministerial descendants to have an important role in this Dissolution service bears testimony to her role within the Presbyteries, remembering with gratitude all who have worshipped here, the faith professed at the font, the gospel proclaimed from the pulpit, the assurances received at the table and souls comforted at the mourning bench. Let us also reaffirm our faith in our sojourning God as this building is now being transferred to Old Bethel Church, Inc. That which we have received from God let us now return to God with thanksgivings.

Photo by Helen Wiggins

In our Prayer of Confession: Merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart and mind and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. In your mercy, forgive what we have been, help us amend what we are, and direct what we shall be, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name, Amen. We sang three of the many songs sung at Old Bethel: Give Me That Old Time Religion, Amazing Grace and What A Friend We Have In Jesus. Our sermon was delivered by Rev. Dr. Franklin D. Colcough. (The entire sermon was uplifting to those in attendance and especially to the 12 descendants present). Some of the highlights: Good morning to all of you my siblings in Christ. We have gathered on this 17th day of October in the years of our Lord 2020 to celebrate the life and witness of Old Bethel Presbyterian Church and to officially dissolve the congregation. I want to thank the members of the Administrative Commision for the invitation to share this worship experience. As I stand to deliver this sermon, I say to you as Elizabeth Taylor said to her fifth husband, I won’t keep you too long.
Today as we worship our Lord on these hallowed grounds, I can hear the voices of those saints who worshipped here from around 1870 when the church was established down through the years to Elder Ruby Page, the last Clerk of Session of Old Bethel, who died on February 18, 2014. Yes, I can hear their voices saying, “To God be the glory great things God has done” The love these saints had for this church was epitomized in the devotion and faithfulness of Elder Ruby Page who kept the doors of Old Bethel opened when the membership had dwindled to just her family and a few others. She was a descendant of the Blue family, a very prominent Old Bethel Presbyterian family.
Like every other church that the presbytery has dissolved over the years, Old Bethel had its hey-day. The church hosted meetings of the Georgia-Carolina Presbytery, which included all the PCUS African American churches in Georgia and South Carolina. There were years of challenge. As just one of four PCUS African American churches in this part of South Carolina they were often treated like an orphan, without the support and oversight of the presbytery and synod. During the late nineteenth century all the way through the 1960s when the members of Old Bethel were fighting for equal and civil rights, they were also fighting with Pee Dee and Harmony presbyteries to be recognized as an equal partner in ministry.
Dr. Charles Raynal, in his book, Presbyterians in South Carolina 1925-1985, wrote the following: In 1967 Thomas J. James (Rev. James was 86 years old, and the retired pastor of Cousar Memorial Presbyterian Church and Mt. Pisgah Presbyterian Church, was still preaching and teaching among the African American churches). Dr. Raynal reported the following: “Rev. James, representing the Presbytery of Georgia-Carolina and seven remaining South Carolina African American churches, reported to the Judicial Committee appointed to deal with the dispute of 1964 between Pee Dee and Harmony presbyteries and the General Assembly:”Mr. Moderator, Fathers, and Brethren, I bring you greetings and goodwill from the Synod of Georgia, in behalf of the Presbytery of Georgia-Carolina and the seven churches in its bounds:Cousar Memorial at Bishopville, St. James at Kingstree, Mt. Pisgah at Hartsville, New Bethel at Florence, New Bethel at Dillon, Old Bethel at Hamer and Mt. Hebron at McColl. These churches have been organized some eighty or ninety years ago by our fathers of both races. These churches desire to come under the banner of the Synod of South Carolina, where they can have communion and fellowship with the saints. We beg your prayers that we might grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
“His eloquent request persuaded the Committee. Finally, in 1968, Pee Dee and Harmony Presbytery received the few African Americans congregations that had been segregated since the nineteenth century.”

Photo by Helen Wiggins

And so, as I reflect back over the history of Old Bethel and its years of ministry in this community, there is a song that is very popular within the African American church that is entitled: May The Works I’ve Done Speak For Me.
May the works I’ve done speak for me.
When I am resting in my grave,
There’s nothing more to be said;
May the works I’ve done speak for me.
On this occasion, as we come to speak, to officially lay to rest the active ministry of Old Bethel, I just want to say that the works and ministry of Old Bethel Presbyterian Church over these 150 years will speak for her. It might seem small to some and to others who passed by as they traveled the Kentyre Highway and looked over at this historic building and may have concluded that nothing much was happening here. Yet, I would argue today that a great work for the Lord was happening in this place. Her works and ministry will speak for her.
And so, I just want to thank the saints, the saints whose bones lie in the cemetery behind this church, I want to thank them for keeping the light on throughout these past 150 years. For the work and ministry of Old Bethel Presbyterian Church will continue to speak for her.
A ceremonial presentation of the Deed/Certificate was given to the following representative of Old Bethel Church, Inc., Mrs. Andrena Vassar-Atkins, Mrs. Annie J. Smith and Elder Robert Luther Carmichael, who, with the committee of descendants and friends have accepted the project of restoring, preserving the church and upkeeping of the cemetery.
We wish to thank all participants, visitors and friends for their attendance.