A small group of twenty Christians met in Portland, Oregon in 1889 at the home of Brother Phillip Jenkins. It was at this time that Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church was organized and later admitted into the Connectional Church by Bishop B. F. Lee, and received the appointment of is first pastor, Rev. S. S. Freeman.
Worshipping initially at Southwest 6th Avenue and Stark, Bethel’s growing congregation began to require additional space. Bethel moved to at this site where Bethelites worshipped for over forty-four years.
Moving to this site was a memorable day in Bethel’s history and the city’s history. Bethel was the first black church built in the city, which started in the basement in 1915. In 1922 the second floor sanctuary was added. This marked the beginning of continued growth.
Because the Memorial coliseum was to be built in the area, Bethel’s Larrabee site was purchased by the city in 1958. The present structure on Northeast 8th Avenue was completed in 1959 under the pastorate of the Rev. Harley Akers, who served as pastor from 1959 to 1962.
Bethel has been served by the following ministers from 1899 to present: Reverends Greene, Clark, McKenna, Whaley, Bailey, Makiel, Viney, Howard, Simmons, Freeman, Seabrooks, Collins, Biggers, Tolsen, Toliver, Barr, Craw, Prince, Isaacs, Foy, Runyon, Hill, Ralph King, Martin, Browning C. Allen, C. N. Austin, Roberts, Jesse Boyd Sr., Harley Akers, Grady Brown, A. Lee Henderson, L. Fisher Hines, Matthew Watley, Milton Green, Dorsey McCullough, Ronald L. Williams, I, and Robert L. Ned.
Bethel is also pleased to recognize it off springs that were called into the ministry, some of which are currently serving as pastors. They are: Reverends, Ellis Casson (retired presiding elder), Richard Parker, Leslie White, Spencer Barrett, Fred Wilson, Helen Bowden (deceased), Warren Robinson, Jr., Dennis Payne, Dion Jordan (Bethel’s youth pastor), Tricia McClendon, Lou Franks, and Maurice Wright.
Bishop H. Hartford Brookins appointed Rev. L. Fisher Hines in 1976. Under Rev. Hines’ pastorate, a book on the history of Blacks in Oregon, entitled “A Peculiar Paradise”, was published. Bethel’s Inspirational Choir was also organized during his service.
Bishop Brookins appointed Rev. Matthew A. Watley in 1981. Under his leadership the Bethel Community Care Food Program, the Matthew Watley Scholarship Fund and the Alpha I Choir were established. In addition, new furnaces, a copier and an additional van were purchased for the church. God called Rev. Watley home in April of 1987. Following Rev. Watley, Rev. Milton Green was appointed pastor by Bishop Henry Wendell Murph in October 1987. Rev. Green labored in both work and doctrine that Bethel might grow in grace and knowledge. Under his leadership, two bible study classes were organized, as were the President’s Council and the Sons of Allen. The church records were computerized, a new Xerox copier was purchased, the church lounges and bathroom facilities and pastor’s office was renovated. The Bethel Economic Development Fund was also organized.
In the conference year 1988-1989, Bethel celebrated its 100th church anniversary.
In October 1991, Bishop Vinton R. Anderson appointed Rev. Dorsey McCullough as pastor of Bethel. Under Rev. McCullough’s leadership many improvements to the church building and grounds were made.
With the sale of the existing parsonage on Northeast 10th Avenue, a new parsonage was purchased on Northeast Holman and serves as a gathering place for activities sponsored by Bethel’s auxiliaries. In August 1993, Bishop Vinton R. Anderson visited Portland to dedicate the new parsonage.
Also under the leadership of Rev. McCullough, an emphasis on community outreach has been made. Bethel has become very active in the Walnut Park Neighborhood Association. In September 1993, Bethel became an educational facility for the Oregon Outreach program, which is an alternative educational program for youth at risk. The Community Care Food Program continues to serve the people of the community through its food distribution three times a week. The Bethel Busy Bees Auxiliary spearheaded the stained glass window project.
In October 1998, Bishop Vernon R. Byrd assigned Rev. Ronald L. Williams, I, as Bethel’s new Pastor. With him came his wife, Dori and their four children, Aubrey, D’Andrea, Wesley, and Ronald, II. During his tenure, many new members joined the church. On Easter Sunday, 1999, a fifty-year panoramic match to the Easter 1949 photo was taken and has become a permanent part of Bethel’s attendance. Rev. Williams assigned Rev. Dion Jordan as Youth Pastor of the church which created a strong emphasis on youth ministries and increased the number of young people participating in Sunday morning worship and Wednesday night Bible Study. During this time, the Sunday school attendance dramatically increased.
Rev. Williams established a new organization called “Singles Over Sixty” which focuses on the interest and activities of senior members. This organization also busied itself in projects that helped to improve the church such as the purchase of new tables and chairs for the fellowship hall and the remodeling of the ladies’ lounge.
A ministry for men was established which includes a monthly Men’s Prayer Breakfast and a weekly Men’s Bible Study group. A prison ministry was established in the Oregon State Penitentiary. Special worship services on the inside, visits, letters and receiving incarcerated persons as church members created what we now call “Bethel on The Inside.”
In October 2001, Bishop Vernon R. Byrd assigned Rev. Robert L. Ned as Bethel’s new Pastor. Rev. Ned’s wife and Bethel’s First Lady, Charlotte, is affectionately referred to as “Mrs. Cee.”
Rev. Ned has established structure and organization in administration of church affairs, canvassed the church membership role for accuracy, established a visitor’s recognition and follow-up program to encourage increase in membership, conducted a professional audit and restructure of the church’s finance system, re-landscaped property at the parsonage, established Bethel’s non-profit economic development corporation, and restructured Bethel’s Community Care Food Distribution Program.
Rev. Ned has placed strong emphasis on tithing, tithing increased over 15% last year, re-roofed the church and parsonage, organized YPD, reactivated the Youth and Inspirational Choirs, re-instituted the class leader system, held a successful revival, and plans have been drawn to remodel and upgrade the kitchen and to develop the Jarrett Street property.
In November 2009 Bishop T. Larry Kirkland assigned Bethel AME New Pastor Rev. Donna Davis. Rev Davis brings her Energy & Leadership to Bethel.
The remainder of Bethel’s history awaits writing through the continuance of the good work of its servants.