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Bethany Baptist Church, Manatee County, Florida

Edited by Spessard Stone from Bethany Baptist Church A Century 1888-1988 Of Meeting & Preaching

Bethany Baptist Church was organized in March, 1888, under the name of Manatee Baptist Church at Rye Post Office. The first pastor was Elder J. B. Lamb. The first deacons ordained were J. R. Swain and Alfred Rich on January 27, 1889. Assisting Rev. Lamb was Rev. I. A. Redd.(1)

Early church members included: John H. Gutherie, baptized in March 1888; Joan Rich Stewart, baptized July 1888; J. R. Swain, baptized August 12, 1888; John W. Stewart, by expression, August 12, 1888; M. J. Gutherie, baptized August 12, 1888; J. B. Lamb, by letter August 12, 1888; M. L. Wingate, September 9, 1888; W. E. Ballard, baptized November 12, 1888; Callie Ballard, baptized November 12, 1888; J. W. Rich, baptized November 12, 1888; Mrs. M. Eveline Rich, by letter August 12, 1888; Mrs. N. E. Lamb, August 12, 1888; T. E. Swain, baptized August 12, 1888; Louisa Bryant, baptized August 26, 1888; Carrie Wilkins Rich, by letter October 28, 1888; Alfred R. Rich, baptized November 12, 1888; James Bryant, baptized November 12, 1888.(2)

The first conference, of which there is a record, follows: “Rye Post Office, Manatee County, August 10, 1888. The Manatee Baptist Church of Christ, while in conference, called Elder J. B. Lamb as pastor. Brother J. W. Stewart was elected church clerk for the associational year. Sister M. L. Bryant was received for baptism. The fourth Sunday of each month was chosen for stated worship. Church conference was to be quarterly on Saturday before the fourth Sunday, and preaching on the fifth Sunday. Done by order of the Church.
J. B. Lamb, Moderator
J. W. Stewart, Church Clerk
There were many hard, lean years, and the records of May 1890 show, “That the people became discouraged and took a vote to forsake the church in 1890.” (3)

In April, 1891, services were resumed under the leadership of Rev. James M. Hendry. At Riley, near the mouth of Corbitt Branch where it empties into Manatee River, near a ford crossing on the river, about one-half mile from the present-day church, in October, 1894 a wooden frame church building was constructed, and the name was changed to Bethany Missionary Baptist Church. John Wright served as the first Sunday School Superintendent from 1894-1897. In 1894 and 1895, plans for a new building and more room were made. M. W. Covington, part owner of the property on which an area turpentine distillery and saw mill, had purchased most of the timber rights and some land on where the present-day church is. He offered and the church accepted the trade of five acres in exchange for the timber rights on the property where the church was located near the river. The deed of transfer between M. W. and Lillie Covington was recorded on April 16, 1907 at the Manatee County Clerk’s Office in Bradenton. (4)

On September 16, 1905, O. N. Williams was called to pastor Bethany Church, and soon plans for a new church were undertaken. In February 1906, a building committee, composed of John W. Stewart, Alfred R. Rich, and James Corbitt, was appointed. On August 3, 1906, Ben Bryant, James Bryant, Tom Bryant, Elmon Corbitt, Alfred R. Rich, and George Wingate volunteered to split shingles for the new frame church. (It is now a church museum, which is utilized for Sunday School space and chapel usage.) All carpenter work was donated, and all furniture was hand made. Land for the church cemetery was cleared that year too. Until recently, it was the tradition that all labor was donated by members and friends of the church. Days, usually Saturdays, were periodically set aside. All were involved. While the women cleaned house and yards, the men would hoe and clear roots and brush, with the children picking up and piling brush so it could be burned.(5)

The church minutes of January 21, 1906 listed the first obituary of a member, Charlie Bryant. At this time, Samuel Phillips was church clerk.(6)

On June 2, 1935, a tradition commenced when the first homecoming was held. The custom has become for the church to have on Homecoming Day its regular Sunday morning services and have one of its former pastors to preach the morning sermon. At noon, a picnic lunch is served. As there is not always room in the dining hall for everyone, some families bring their own little picnic tables and chairs and gather in the shade of the large oaks on the church grounds and have a family reunion of their own. After dining, most gather in the church for an old time Gospel song service that has the effect of a spirit filled revival. (7)

Additional lands were acquired, and further construction undertaken. On June 15, 1944, Garrett and Nancy Wingate sold to the church a strip of land on the south side of about three acres. On June 3, 1955, the Manatee County Board of Instruction transferred for $125 a rectangular plot of five acres, formerly set aside for Bethany School, to Bethany Missionary Baptist Church. On July 25, 1965, ground breaking services were held for the Sunday School classrooms, which were added to the original church building.(8)

In March, 1973, Rev. A. O. Hendry, was called to serve at Bethany Baptist Church. Under Rev. Hendry’s pastorate, the church grew and expanded. In April 1973, the dining hall and nursery were dedicated. On June 10, 1973, a building committee was appointed to work on the present sanctuary, which was completed debt free by June, 1974. In June 1975, an educational building was completed and dedicated. A new fellowship hall and recreation area for the youth were added. In April, 1978, parsonage, located across the road from the church complex, was finished. Furthermore, clearing of all the church property was finished, the cemetery was enlarged, and a beautiful prayer garden was built. A trust fund has been set up for future care of the cemetery. (9)

The pastors of Bethany Baptist Church all have contributed to the shaping of her history. They include: John B. Lamb (1888, 1906, 1908), Henry Messer (Sept. 27, 1892-Oct. 22, 1892), James M. Hendry (Oct. 22, 1892-1893?, 2nd 1895-98, 3rd 1899-1905), Alpha Theodore Farabee (Oct. 1893-Oct. 1895), J. M. Dotson (Nov. 26, 1895-Nov. 3, 1899), Oscar Nathaniel (O. N.) Williams (1905-?), James H. Hayman (Jan. 17, 1909-Nov. 27, 1910), Euliff Lardner Hendry (March 27, 1910-Sept. 20, 1913), John Alton Roberts (Aug. 12, 1917-1921 & two other terms), John Coker (Oct. 9, 1921-?), W. C. Miller (Aug. 19, 1923-end of year & Oct. 31, 1929-April 15, 1931), Vernon Coker (1926 & two other times), Samuel F. Durrance (Oct. 23, 1927 for the following year), Henry Eugene Albritton (April 1931-Nov. 1931), James “Jim” Alderman Coker (Nov. 8, 1931 & pastored the following church year), Alton Roberts (3 pastorates beginning 1st in Oct. 1933, 2nd 1938, 3rd 1951), Don Lester Pullen (Aug. 23, 1936-?), Linton Wesley “Bud” Mills (Sept. 10, 1939, served church year), Joseph E. McLeod (1940), Cecil Mann (Sept. 21, 1941-Feb. 13, 1943), Oscar O. Roberts (March 14, 1943-Oct. 22, 1944), John Henry Johnston (1944), Robert Simmons (Sept. 14, 1946-Sept. 1947), Albert Gullette (1947-?), Alex Hendry (Sept. 4, 1949-Sept. 30, 1951 & June 8-Sept. 7, 1958), Baskin “Bassie” Farabee (1954), William Carl Alderman (1952-?), Robert H. Wolfe (Dec. 25, 1955- June 5, 1958), John Simmons Langford (1957-58), Adger R. Tatom (Jan. 14, 1964-Aug. 13, 1972 (he had previously preached several times in 1961 as supply pastor), A. O. Hendry (March 1973- Dec. 31, 1993), Steve Aaron, Ed Moss, Denny Davis, A. O. Hendry. (10)

Bethany Baptist Church (telephone, 322-1819) is located twenty miles east of Bradenton on SR 64, Verna/Bethany Road.


My thanks are extended to Melissa Sue Brewer for a copy of Bethany Baptist Church A Century 1888-1988 Of Meeting & Preaching. There are inconsistencies with the history, of which many I have not been able to resolve.

(1) Bethany Baptist Church A Century 1888-1988 Of Meeting & Preaching, 1988, 7. The author is not listed but appears to be Vera Dupree.
(2) Ibid, 8.
(3) Ibid, v, 7; Vera Dupree, “Manatee County: History of Bethany Baptist Church & Cemetery,” South Florida Pioneers 19/20 (Jan./Apr. 1979), 20.
(4) Ibid, v, 8, 9, 19.
(5) Ibid, 10.
(6) Ibid, 11.
(7) Ibid, 14, 15.
(8) Ibid, 18, 19, 79. Garrett Burton Wingate (1901-1988) married Nancy Jane Bryant (1900-1980), daughter of Benjamin and Harriett Ellen (McLeod) Bryant.
(9) Ibid, v, 80.
(10) Ibid, 20-82, 100. Melissa Brewer sent me the last three pastors, given to her by Jackie Wingate on May 30, 2002. See also Vera Dupree, “Manatee County: History of Bethany Baptist Church & Cemetery,” South Florida Pioneers 19/20 (Jan./Apr. 1979), 20-21. The pastorates of James M. Hendry is cited as follows by Mrs. Dupree: “ Brother J. M. Hendry was called as the second pastor and was followed by A. T. Farabee in 1894. In 1895 Bro. J. M. Hendry was called to serve again until 1898 when Bro. J. M. Dotson became pastor. It was at this time that Sunday School started with Mr. John Wright as the first Supt. In 1899 Bro. J. M. Hendry was called again for the third time and remained for six years.” The church history is contradictory in regard the pastorates of Rev. John Simmons Langford and Rev. Robert H. Wolfe. Page 74 has Rev. Simmons as pastor of Bethany Baptist Church in 1957 and 1958. Page 76 has that he “united with our church December 25, 1955, and served until June 5, 1958.”

Photos of old Bethany Baptist Church follow:

The present-day church follows:

All photos, courtesy of Melissa Sue Brewer; see Melissa Sue Brewer, "Saving the Sacred Night"

See also:

Charles & Nancy Bryant, Bethany Baptist Church Obituaries

Stewart Cemetery, Manatee County, Florida

Elvira & John R. Swain Obituaries

May 4, 30, June 11, 2002, March 17, 2004