Big Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church is celebrating its 165th Anniversary with varied events. The theme is “Transformed by God, Moving Forward by Faith.”
The oldest black congregation in Atlanta, Big Bethel was established in 1847 and since that time, has been a leader in Christian and community services, education, and economic development and as the steeple reads atop the historic landmark “Jesus Saves,” it has been saving souls since 1847.
The 165th Anniversary pre celebration events began with a Youth Festival on September 8, sponsored by The Sunday School. On Friday, October 5, 2010, SISTERS, a play inspired by the lives of three women and their shared trials, tribulations and TRIUMPHS in the face of cancer and as a tribute to health and Breast Cancer Month was performed before a packed house. The play was written and directed by Bradley L. Candie.
Upcoming events include: The National Children’s Sabbath Celebration Saturday October 27 at 8:30 a.m. and worship services Sunday, October 28, at 7:45 a.m. and 11:00a.m.. Also on Sunday, the 28th, at 4:00 p.m., the Anita Brown Glover Concert will feature Philip V. Skerrett, Jr., a renowned organist, with a reception immediately following. The Moller Organ at Big Bethel features the finest in organ design and craftsmanship in the United States.
Big Bethel has hosted guest speakers, President William H. Taft in 1911, Marcus Garvey in 1917, Nelson Mandela in 1990, Dr. Martin Luther King in 1957, during the Emancipations Jubilee Day Services and Presidential candidates Bill Clinton in 1991 and James E. Carter in 1976. The 1919 NAACP National Convention convened at Big Bethel and also The 1929 Convention of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. The first school for black children in Atlanta was established in 1864 by the church.
Big Bethel was the location for the establishment of the first free and accepted Masons Lodge in Georgia in 1871 as well as it was the site for the first public school Gate City Colored School in 1879. During AME North Georgia Annual Conference proceedings, Morris Brown College was founded in 1881.
As a community economic leader, the church established The Daughters of Bethel, a beneficial society in 1870. In the past 44 years the church purchased Bethel Towers, a low income residence, then in 1995, the Nehemiah Project preceding (PROCEED) Prayerfully Reclaiming Our Community through (Emphasizing Economic Development) was introduced.
Big Bethel Trinity House was established for transitional housing, a rehabilitation program for drug addiction. Big Bethel Village, an independent living facility was built. The church partnered with the Integral Group to revitalize Auburn Avenue and built The Renaissance Walk, an upscale condos and retail establishments.
Thirty-five distinguished clergy have followed Brother Joseph Wood, lay pastor as pastors of the church since 1847. Six have been elected to the highest office in the AME Church as Bishops. They include; Wesley John Gaines, (16th): Joseph Simeon Flipper, (33rd): Isaac N. Ross (41st) Harold I. Bearden, (83rd): McKinley Young (109th) and James L. Davis (123rd).
Dr. Gregory Vaughn Eason has been Senior Pastor since 2005.Today, a new initiative FOCUS-(Faithfully Obeying Christ with Unwavering Stewardship) has been introduced to save, strengthen and provide for future growth for the church.