CELEBRATING 200+ YEARS (1808 – 2017)
The History & Legacy of
BETHEL AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH
2720 Webster Avenue, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15219
The FIRST African Methodist Episcopal Church West of the Allegheny Mountains and the OLDEST “Negro/Colored” congregation in the City of Pittsburgh. In 1808 a Church known as the “African Church” was organized in a home on Front Street. By 1812, there were twenty members in the Church. In 1818 three freedmen, James and George Coleman and Abraham Lewis organized a Sunday School in a home in an alley near the Way House located between Third and Fourth Avenues near Smithfield Street which is now known as the robust business section of downtown Pittsburgh. Bethel received its CHARTER in 1818.
Legendary Leadership: Early History
The Baltimore Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church was petitioned in 1818 to receive the Church as a congregation and to send a minister. Minister David Smith arrived in the fall of that year; remained a short time and went to organize our Church in Washington, Pennsylvania. In 1822, the Conference sent a full time minister, Bishop Paul Quinn. The Congregation grew and reported 84 adult members in 1824. The building proved inadequate; the Congregation purchased the Church building vacated by the Methodist Church on Strawberry Way in 1827. In 1830, a church was purchased on Front Street. Also, in 1830, the Conference met at Bethel under the leadership of Bishop Morris Brown, the second Prelate of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Rev. Lewis Woodson served as Pastor for many years and was deeply involved in the Underground Railroad. In 1831, Rev. Woodson started a school for Negro children which then culminated into the present Miller School, originally located at 61 Reed Street in the Hill District and is now The Miller African Centered Academy newly relocated on Bedford Avenue in the Hill District. In 1844, Bethel A.M.E. Church hosted the 8th General Conference. During that meeting, a Resolution was passed calling for the creation of a Seminary of Learning. That Resolution led to the establishment of Payne Theological Seminary and our work at Wilberforce University.
Through Tragedy to Triumph:
In 1845, a Great Fire destroyed Bethel Church. Shortly thereafter, the Congregation purchased property at Wylie Avenue and Elm Street. The building was erected in 1906, the third edifice owned by the Congregation, and remained there until it was torn down in 1957 because of the Urban Redevelopment Project. The Civic Arena now stands on that property previously owned by Bethel. From 1957 until July 1959, Bethel Congregation worshipped in the Seventh Day Adventist Church then located on Center Avenue at Morgan Street. Under the pastorate of Rev. Charles S. Spivey, Jr. land was purchased at Webster Avenue and Morgan Street. The Church was completed and dedicated under the leadership of Rev. J. G. Harris and they marched into the Church in July 1959.
Bethel A.M.E. Church continues to play an important role in the life of the total community. The Bethel Food Pantry provides food to neighborhood families monthly. Under the leadership of Rev. Dr. James H. McLemore, the Scholarship Program has provided scholarships for over 25 young adults in the church since it began and the Transportation Ministry now has three vans. Bethel’s 501©3 organization, Small Seeds Development, Inc. Mother to Son Program has served over 100 families in 4 different areas; East Liberty, Hill District, Rankin and Wilkinsburg assisting single mothers raising sons ages 9-13 years of age. The Christian Education Department provides training for youth and adults. Our Youth Ministry includes: Young People Division (YPD), and Y.E.S. Lord Ministry. Many organizations can trace their beginnings back to Bethel Church. Bethel, through the years, has been the guiding influence for moral, spiritual, and cultural improvement.
Recent Pastors of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church include:
The Reverends James Hatcher, T.M. Greene; John D. Bright (who became a Bishop of our A.M.E. Denomination in 1960); Andrew A. Hughey; Charles S. Spivey, Jr.; J. G. Harris; Reuben C. Eberhardt; A. Sumpter (for a three-month interim); Rufus Arterberry; Presiding Elder Arthur L. Maura; Presiding Elder Samson M. Cooper; Presiding Elder James H. McLemore, Rev. Nathaniel Colvin III, Presiding Elder Charles Holmes (for a brief interim), Rev. Dr. Steven A. Jackson and our current Pastor, Rev. Dr. Dale B. Snyder.
Excerpted from materials of: Presiding Elder W.S. Hopson, Lois Lee Dorsey, and Church Historian, Betty Lee Moore