First 100 Years (1847-1947)
Originally, Bethlehem Christian Church was nestled in a bustling, small community in eastern Nansemond County. Bethlehem was first organized in 1847 by the Reverend William B. Wellons, who came to the Bethlehem area of Nansemond County from Southampton County, VA. On October 9, 1847, two men and five women joined the church as the first official members of Bethlehem Christian Church. Rev. Wellons served as the pastor of Bethlehem until 1871, and a multi-ethnic church flourished under his tenure. As with many churches in the South, the church was devastated by the Civil War. For a time, the Union Army turned the church building into a temporary shelter and stable for its officers and horses. At the conclusion of the war, Reverend Wellons reorganized the church body, which has continued worshiping and serving the Lord. Prior to the Civil War, a church leader, Thomas J. Kilby, helped steer Bethlehem to unite with the Eastern Virginia Association of the Southern Christian Church Association, which ultimately became the United Church of Christ. Bethlehem Christian was a part of the United Church of Christ until 2003 at which time it became an independent, non-denominational church. The church body continued to grow throughout the first century of the church’s life, and soon, the pastor and church members recognized a season of growth and expansion was on the horizon.
Second 100 Years (1948-2048)
A great pastor and an even better man of God, the Reverend Dr. R. E. Brittle, led the church through the initial phase of building. As the church marked its 100th year anniversary, the church attendance was growing, and the church sanctuary needed to be expanded. Beginning in the 1950s the church planned to build a new sanctuary. In 1961, the prayers, hard work, and sacrifices of the church body paid off as the new sanctuary opened. Under Dr. Brittle’s leadership, the church body reached many members of the community and assured them of God’s love. As a result, Bethlehem witnessed the power of God at work in many lives.
After Dr. Brittle’s thirty-seven years of pasturing Bethlehem, the church began another building expansion. The church needed additional education space in order to continue to teach the word of God, so, in 1971, under the leadership of the Reverend Carroll Lewis, the church constructed the present day education wing on the West side of the sanctuary. Sadly, the white clapboard structure of the old sanctuary was torn down during this construction phase. Some elements of the old sanctuary, including stained glass windows and some pews, are still present in Bethlehem. Be sure to keep an eye out for them as you walk through the church building.
The final construction phase began in the early 1990s as the church addressed the need for more administrative space. The church also constructed a larger fellowship hall with a fully functional commercial kitchen. The fellowship hall is known as the Graham Hall after a benevolent, hard-working servant of God. We are proud to host community events, meetings, luncheons, and dinners in our building. The people of Bethlehem consider it a true blessing to be able to share the church structure with our neighbors.
As stated above, Bethlehem Christian Church was a part of the United Church of Christ until 2003. At that time, the church body decided that it would become an independent, non-denominational church. Our members come from a variety of denominational backgrounds including Methodists, Catholics, Baptists, Presbyterians, etc.
Throughout these years, the body of Bethlehem Christian Church has continued to evaluate its current needs with a keen eye looking into the future. We are proud to be proactive and responsive to the needs of our community and world. We are engaged and active within our community and always want others to feel the love of God through us.
While Bethlehem’s history is partly tied up in our construction, Bethlehem is not a building. Bethlehem is a body of believers coming together to serve our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We are building the kingdom of God one baptism at a time. We are always open to more brothers and sisters in Christ coming along side of us and working hand in hand and shoulder to shoulder as we shine the light of God in a darkened world.
As for the remainder of the second 100 years, why don’t you join us for the journey as we discover where God is working in our lives?!