Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church
Through The Years
For over a Century, Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church has stood on 24th Street at Flora Avenue, Kansas City, Missouri. During this time thousands of men, women, and children have entered its doors to find religious and spiritual solace. Bethel's founding resulted resulted from the vision, hopes, sacrifices, and labors of 18 dedicated men and women, spearheaded by Sister Kitty Raynor and Harrison Williams who saw the need for a church at this site and determined to make it happen. In late autumn of 1911, Sister Raynor called together some of the small children of the neighborhood and started a Sunday School in her home at 2442 Highland Avenue. The Sunday School was held in different homes and grew most encouragingly. Harrison Williams suggested that they start an A.M.E. mission and agreed to lay the matter before the Bishop H. B. Blanton Parks, who was preaching at Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church the following Sunday. The bishop said that several missions had been attempted in that part of the city without much success. However, since the Sunday School was succeeding and several adult members of Ebenezer A.M.E. Church and Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church provided leadership that former groups had lacked, the bishop agreed to send a minister.
It wasn?t until February 1912, when the Rev. T.C. Nash, a traveling minister became interested and was appointed to the mission. He was appointed the first pastor. Harrison Williams, W.H. Raynor and Dr. Thomas A. Jones arranged for the group to meet at a store located at 2407 Woodland Avenue, and services were held the following Sunday night. It was a cold night and the hall was not heated. Three persons and the minister attended.
An option to buy was obtained by the minister on property at the corner on Flora Avenue and 24th Street on which a basement was being built by the Second Christian Church. This property was purchased and the Bethel A.M.E. Church organized. The members were W.H. and Kitty E. Raynor; Mr. Armour, Dr. Thomas Jones, Harrison Williams, Eliza Sellers, Cecilla Bond, H. Rogers, Emma Roger, T.P. Harpole, Mrs. Harpole, Mr. Allen and Mrs. Davis.
Bishop H.B. Blanton Parks approved the site, the cornerstone was laid, and a one-story rock structure was completed to accommodate a small, loyal congregation. Thus, Bethel had become the first African Methodist Episcopal Church to be constructed south of 18th Street in Kansas City, Missouri.
Reverend F. D. Wells (1912-1917). The membership grew to 170 members. Many of the church?s debts were paid and one of the first Negro Scout Troops west of the Mississippi River was organized with Mr. Williams as scoutmaster.
Reverend B. G. Dawson (1917-1921). The membership continued to pay its many debts and completed the purchase of the property. In 1920, the foundation of the present church was built. During this period the pulpit was located to the north area of the church, a baptismal pool was at the west end, and a large heating stove stood at the east side. Many annual revivals were conducted by that devout church-woman, Lena Mason.
Reverend William Alexander (1921-1923) became the pastor for two years until 1924. During this period the pulpit was relocated at the west end of the church after the baptismal pool was removed.
In 1924, the Reverend W. C. Williams (1923-1926) known as the “Great Church Builder” was appointed to Bethel by Bishop John H. Gregg. There were great expectations for the completion of Bethel?s auditorium, and the congregation was not to be disappointed. The membership and Sunday School enrollment doubled. On Sunday, September 19, 1926, Bethel moved upstairs. The members formed a line that extended from Flora westward to Paseo, on the north side of 24th Street, and marched into the newly erected edifice that had been constructed above the basement structure that had been Bethel?s home for 14 years. They sang “When The Saints Go Marching In.” Reverend W.C. Williams had completed the building of another church, and the enthusiasm at Bethel knew no bounds. Members purchased seats and windows of the church in memory of their loved ones. Reverend Williams had succeeded in having a “horseshoe balcony,” extending around three-quarters of the church, built with no supporting posts to obstruct the view of the audience. The membership was estimated to be 700 and the Sunday School enrollment 350. Willa Martin was SS Superintendent.
In 1927, Bethel was host to the annual conference in the new auditorium for the first time. The crowds were so large that extra chairs had to be placed in the aisles, and children were asked to vacate their seats in order to accommodate the many adults in attendance. Reverend Williams lived at 1205 East 23rd Street. In 1937, Reverend George Washington Williams was assigned as pastor. He remained one year.
Reverend Thomas W. Greene (1926-1932). Rev. T.W. Greene?s home was across the street from the church at 2322 Flora Avenue. When Rev. Greene transferred to Ebenezer in mid-winter, there came to Bethel, Reverend Tuner Henderson Wiseman, a man of dignified bearing and melodious voice, a Spanish-American War Veteran, whose wife, Mrs. Claudia Wiseman, had distinguished herself in dramatic productions. The two combined to bring a new dimension to Bethel. Mrs. Wiseman, along with Bethel?s remarkable choir and additional musical and dramatic talents, would frequently stage colorful pageants during the Christmas and Easter seasons, on a stage which had been extended from the pulpit platform. These programs were always presented to “standing-room-only” audiences. During the summer, Bethel, along with Ebenezer, Allen Chapel, and Ward Chapel, would hold Union Services at the former Municipal Stadium (then called Muehlebach Field) on Sunday evenings when the Kansas City Blues were not in town to play baseball.
Bethel also sponsored an annual 3-day carnival, as a mid-summer fund-raising event, on the grounds just north of the former Paseo YMCA. On June 26, 1932, the first pipe organ was dedicated with Bishop John H. Gregg delivering the sermon. During these most trying years of the depression, Rev. Wiseman inspired and encouraged the membership to give the best of themselves and they responded enthusiastically. They worked together to paint and decorate the church and to lay a new floor in the basement unit. In 1938, the pastor was instrumental in securing Bethel as a site for a Works Progress Administration nursery school, which accommodated over 30 children daily for over 1 ½ years.
In addition to offering employment for five adults full-time, Rev. Wiseman, who lived in his mother-in-law?s home at 2446 W. Paseo, suddenly died on a Friday in mid-April, 1939. Some of the choir directors during this period were
Etta G. Moten Barnett, daughter of the last Presiding Elder, Rev. F. F. Moten, Robert Smalls, Clarence Countee, and Dolly Brown.
Rev. Wiseman was followed by Reverend Fredrick T. Jordan, a member of the staff of Western University, Kansas City, Kansas. This minister?s personality, and his lovely, capable wife, soon won the hearts of Bethel?s members. However, at the annual conference in the fall of 1939, Reverend George F. Martin was appointed Bethel?s pastor by Bishop Noah Williams, but Rev. Martin remained only 8 months.
Sunday, July 7, 1940, Reverend Jordan returned to Bethel as pastor and remained until September 29, 1940 just short of 3 months. He had been transferred to First A.M.E. Church in Los Angeles, California, to fill an emergency vacancy there. Bethel?s members were very disappointed, but on the following Sunday, October 6, 1940, Reverend Marcellus R. Dixon became the pastor. He delivered a most inspiring sermon that Sunday morning, and Bethel?s hearts immediately warmed toward him. Being a part of a musical, as well as a preaching family, (Mrs. Dixon was the church organist, his brother, James Dixon, was the director of the Carol Choir and part-time minister, and his father, Rev. M.R. Dixon, Sr., a fully-ordained minister, often graced Bethel?s pulpit with his presence. Music played an important part in Rev. Dixon?s presentations. Rev. Dixon?s pastorate was during the crucial “World War II” years from 1940 to 1945 and Bethel?s economic as well as spiritual status began to be affected as the result of this world-wide situation. Both the pipe organ and church mortgages were completely liquidated. There was a Mortgage Burning Ceremony of Easter Sunday, April 9, 1944. A parsonage, located at 2440 Woodland, was purchased and furnished in 1942, for the first time. Reverend John S. Williams became the director of the choir, and one can recalls the theme, “Let It Breathe On Me,” before each sermon and +Holy Hush” solo which concluded each service. Memories of Rev. Dixon?s musical and dramatic sermons still linger in the hearts of Bethel?s members. After Bethel, he went to Brown Chapel in Denver, Colorado.
Reverend Leroy Hayes followed and served for two years until 1947, when Reverend H. Francis McClure became Bethel?s minister. Rev. McClure was a quiet, but effective man who was deeply loved and respected. In 1949, Bethel?s Laymen?s League was organized with Clarence Owens serving as the first president. Rev. McClure became the Presiding Elder after leaving Bethel in 1952.
1952 was the year that Dr. C. Baker Pearle, a product of New England, became the pastor. He was a recognized author of prayers, many of which have been compiled in booklets. During his 4 year tenure, air-conditioning and a new Hammond Organ were installed. Bethel will long remember Dr. Pearle?s articulate speech, his whelming personality, and deep spiritual qualities.
In 1956, from Southern California, came Reverend Fred Stephens, another who won the hearts of Bethel members. The church?s basement unit, along with the main auditorium, was completely re-decorated. New pews and pulpit furniture were purchased. In 1960, Rev. Stephens was reassigned to the California region.
Reverend Frank Lemoyne Whitlock followed as pastor. On February 11, 1962, Bethel commemorated the 50th anniversary of its founding with Bishop Thomas H. Primm delivering the morning message. Members re-dedicated themselves, and all those who had been members 25 years or more, received gold cards.
Upon Rev. Whitlock„s departure in 1964, the venerable Reverend S. H. Lewis became the pastor, and for two years, Bethel enjoyed and benefited from the wisdom and wit of this remarkable man. Rev. Lewis left Bethel to become a Presiding Elder in 1966.
In 1966, Pastor Edward Woody Hall, along with his devoted family became Bethel?s first family. Many innovations were brought about. The Youth Church, directed by an assistant minister, Reverend Stanley Counts, was established. The “Voices of Bethel” were organized; church membership files were brought up to date; annual re-dedication services were instituted; the church was repaired, painted, completely roofed, re-carpeted, the balcony received new seats, and essential replacements were made where needed. Additional property was acquired, and a beautiful parsonage, which was easily accessible to the church, was purchased at 2515 West Paseo Boulevard. A “Not For Profit” investment foundation was established. Mrs. Florence Hall, wife of the pastor, along with other members of her family, brought many enjoyable hours of listening to members and friends of Bethel with her annual unique presentations of “An Evening with Florence.” Pastor Hall served Bethel longer than any other pastor in its history and his influence has been wide-spread and deeply characterized by his beautiful rapport with his members-especially the young people. What a wonderful co-incidence that 1976, not only marked the 50th Anniversary of Bethel?s completion of its upper auditorium, but, also, the 10th Anniversary of Pastor Hall?s coming to Bethel.
Reverend George Ransom Reid (1981-1993) a cheerful and vivacious man led the flock through planning and hard work to realize its dream of an education and administration building. The vision became a reality and the Bethel Educational Administrative (BEA) Center was dedicated on December 11, 1988. The center was utilized by various community organizations i.e. sorority, fraternal and social groups as well as the Kansas City Missouri School District and musical artists for meetings, workshops and conferences. Rev. Reid created and nurtured enthusiasm among the congregation that resulted in joyous celebration during Sunday service and commitment to collective work for the glory of God during the week. The church adopted the slogan, “To God Be the Glory.”
Reverend John J. Hunter (1993-1998) Bethel?s rich musical tradition was continued and the music department was blessed by weekly invitations to participate in worship services and public programs. During this time Rev. Hunter established a new auxiliary The Women?s Praise Ensemble- who led the congregation in devotionals and worship praise through song. The parsonage located on West Paseo was renovated. Rev Hunter believed that Christmas was a day worth of worship and began the Christmas Day Worship service. The mid-week Bible Study was changed to Wednesday noon.
Reverend Allen S. Williams (1998-2003) Continuing the dream of the founding members. Bethel continued to grow and reach out to the surrounding community. During the 1999-2000 school year, the BEA was the temporary site for the Banneker Charter School of Kansas City, Missouri. Bethel continued its outreach into the community through its participation in Faith Friends Ministry which provided mentors to families in transition and “Community Unity 2000” whose goal was to unite the community surrounding the church building. It was the Bethel family and Rev. Williams? desire to do more for the community. For many years the Trustees of the church had been acquiring real estate east n on Vine Street and north of the church. Thus was born the idea of housing for senior citizens. Supported by the prayers of dedicated officers and members and friends of Bethel, a vision began to take shape. Wheels began to turn and work began to build Vine Street Manor at Bethel Square. Bethel had in fact “claimed the whole square block” i.e. area with parameter of 23rd to 24th streets and Vine to Flora streets. As all of this developed, Reverend Williams championed an effort that resulted in a reapportionment of Bethel?s conference claims and was an organizer of the Kansas City/Olathe Lenten Caravan an annual rotation of congregations who observed Lenten services together each week.
Reverend Spencer Francis Barrett (2003-2009). Rev. Barrett shepherded the opening of the Vine Street Manor in October, 2008. Rev. Barrett is very proud of the Vine Street Manor, a senior adult housing facility located next to the church at 2300 Vine Street. He has adopted the manor residents and is attentive to their needs. A new church van was purchased tradition of community involvement through the institution of programs such as Building Bridges a program to prepare men and women for apprenticeships in the construction industry. Taking Back Our Schools a ministry to address the issues of high school aged youth who seek spirit guidance but have no church affiliation, residents with substance abuse issues and the Angel Food Ministry-a grocery relief program that provides affordable food to community citizens for a nominal cost. He is an advocate for Interfaith Worker Justice and often leads the charge to „speak out? and „speak up? for those he believes to be disenfranchised in employment. He encourages church ministries such as the Dance and Couples Ministries that are flourishing under his leadership.
Rev. Barrett?s prayer for the Bethel family is to keep sacred the place where God has allowed us to worship Him. Let our fellowship be holy and pure. Let us continue to tell others about everlasting life and about abundant life here on earth, until our Bethel (House of God) becomes the eternal Bethel.
Reverend Spencer Lamar Booker (2009 - 2013) On November 3, 2009, in Los Angeles, California. The Right Reverend T. Larry Kirkland, Presiding Bishop of the 5th Episcopal District of the AME Church appointed Pastor Booker to the Pastoral Charge of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Kansas City, Missouri. Pastor Booker came to us with 30 years as an experienced Pastor, Teacher and Administrator. He brought to us his talented wife, First Lady Gail Booker, and his talented boys Daryl and Nicholas who are accomplished musicians.
During his tenure at Bethel, Pastor Booker led Bethel into New Visions and the possibilities of God's grace and provisions. Under his
leadership a Spiritual Renaissance took place in the lives of the parishioners. He established a Centennial Renovation Program in
which Phase I was completed with a renovated sanctuary. He led the parishioner in the first step of acquiring all the remaining lots
across from the church for a future multi-ministry center. A Media Ministry was established with The "Moments of Inspiration" Radio
Broadcast and an internet online site to view Worship Celebrations. He coordinated the First City-Wide Martin Luther King, Jr., Youth
Parade. He established the Bethel Buck O’Neil Home for Boys where six to eight boys will be housed, nurtured, tutored and trained to
become productive citizens. Pastor Booker served as President of The Methodist Ministry Fellowship of Greater Kansas City. Pastor Booker often reminds us that "Bethel Church, Rich in Tradition, Contemporary in Worship and Real in Praise." Genesis 28:15-22