The History Of
BETHLEHEM UNITED PRIMITIVE BAPTIST CHURCH
Elder Mills Boyd organized Bethlehem United Primitive Baptist Church on April 10, 1890. The church, located at 11th and Jefferson Street, was organized by a small group of men and women who were not undaunted by the lack of a great number of members or resources for they had in mind to plant the Bethlehem United Primitive Baptist Church.
This few people worshiped there for a while, before moving to Warren and Haslem Street. They were determined to keep the church in the north section of Nashville. A short time later, Elder Boyd was stricken with ill health and was called from labor to his reward. Elder Boyd died in the full triumph of the faith, believing that the work he started would continue in the Lord. The members mourned the death of their leader for a while, but they realized that there was an unfinished task before them. They called in different ministers to preach for them. At that time, black preachers were few in number, but they had faith that God would send someone to lead them.
Their prayers were soon answered and they called Elder Samuel Bryant, a young man, but efficient as a leader and minister. Elder Bryant preached with spiritual power and was second to none. The little makeshift was called “Sam Bryant’s Kitchen, Brush Harbor.” But God was in the plan for the church grew with such a great success that in 1908, they needed a larger place to worship. Elder Bryant purchased a lot on the corner of Morrison and Meharry Boulevard, and erected a fine structure at the cost of $2,000.00. It was well arranged, with seats, tables, lights, and heat. On the second Sunday in April 1909, they marched up Porterfield Street (Meharry Boulevard) to a new building; singing, rejoicing and knowing that the Lord had brought them out of the wilderness, and with his help they were to start ascending the mountain.
Elder Bryant served as the Clerk of the Association, pastored McNairy Hill United Primitive Baptist Church, organized the Usher Board, and many clubs that are still in existence today. On March 7, 1934, God called him to his eternal rest and again Bethlehem paused to mourn a leader, but his work was finished and Bethlehem had to move on to a higher plane.
Elder A. Foster was called and he served his time, with another vine being planted from the Bethlehem United Primitive Baptist Church known as the Ephesian Primitive Baptist Church. Elder Emmitt Campbell was called being one of Bethlehem’s own. He served for a time. Elder Timothy Stratton was called and later Elder Felix Gordon, who was called to his reward on February 22, 1943. Again, Bethlehem took time to mourn her leader.
In June of 1943, Bethlehem called a young man, Elder N. A. Mumphrey, Sr., a young Joshua to take these people and continue up this mountain. From that time forward, his command was “Forward March. In 1945, Elder Mumphrey organized the Sunday School and took a great interest in it knowing that the young as well as the old needed to be taught about the work of God. In 1949, he organized the Choir, which has been a great help to the Church. Under his leadership, many repairs and additions were made to the church for the comfort of all who visited us. The following were organized under his leadership: Choirs #1 and #2, Brotherhood, Ladies Auxiliary, Youth Day, Religious Education, Pastor’s Aide Club, Dinner Club, and Departmental Sunday School.
In the late 1960's, the state began to talk about an interstate loop, and rumors were that we would have to move from the little plot of ground that Elder Samuel Bryant had purchased and built with God’s help. Elder Mumphrey knowing that progress could never dampen our Christian spirit, the young Joshua took these people and moved a little higher up the mountain.
In August of 1968, Elder Mumphrey, Sr., and the Trustees of the Church signed a twenty-year mortgage of $62,000.00 to relocate the Church to 26th Avenue and Delk Street. On June 1, 1969, we marched into a new Church with many prayers and promises. After ten years and seven months with cooperation, more prayer, more promises, and hard work from a little over 100 active members, we were able in July 1980 to pay off the twenty-year mortgage. November 2, 1980 will go down in history for all members of Bethlehem Church as we burned our mortgage.
In 1979, Elder N. A. Mumphrey, Jr., began worshiping with the Bethlehem United Primitive Baptist Church. He was a helpmate to his father. When illness prevented Elder Mumphrey, Sr., from being with us regularly, Elder Mumphrey, Jr., stayed and labored with us. On Thursday, July 18, 1985, Elder N. A. Mumphrey, Sr. was called home, after serving this church for 42 years. We not only lost a great leader, but a friend, counselor, a father who was loved by young and old alike.
Again, we mourned for a while, but knowing that God always has somebody to carry on his program, we called Elder N. A. Mumphrey, Jr. to lead us. Many blessings were bestowed upon our Christian family under the leadership of Elder N. A. Mumphrey, Jr. We were able to purchase our first church van and a new Cornerstone commemorating our 100th year Homecoming celebration. With all victories, struggles are always near. Elder N. A. Mumphrey Jr. resigned in July 1990, and we were once again praying for a leader.
On the fourth Sunday in April 1991, Elder William A. Raybon, Sr. was installed as the Pastor of Bethlehem United Primitive Baptist Church. Under his leadership, the church instituted a Vacation Bible School program, which has been enriching for both the young and the old and reaches out to the community that surrounds our church home. Again with victories, there are struggles and Elder Raybon resigned in October 2000.
We were once again praying for a leader. Five years ago today, Homecoming 2001, Elder Ronnie J. Russell, Sr. preached for us at the 11:00 a.m. worship service. On the fifth Sunday in July 2001, Elder (Dr.) Ronnie J. Russell, Sr. was installed as our pastor, “Everyone’s Pastor”. With Elder Russell, Bethlehem has gained a teacher and preacher second to none.
Pastor Russell has set the course for a dynamic educational journey as we study God’s word to show that we are approved. Under Pastor Russell’s leadership, we participated in a “Family Feud” format to test our knowledge of God’s word. Pastor Russell recognizes the value that Jesus placed on little children and implemented “Children’s Church” as a portion of our worship experience.
In 2004, the Trustees, Prison and Women’s Ministry spearheaded a project to make improvements to our Church building. These renovations have restored Bethlehem to her former glory. We rededicated our Church in February, 2004.
Bethlehem United Primitive Baptist Church stands as a monument with the pioneer churches of Nashville and the Big Harpeth United Primitive Baptist Association and we are still moving forward. In September of 2004, our Pastor was elected as the Moderator of our Association and under his leadership; we continue to feel the “winds of positive change” for Big Harpeth Association.
As we continue to press forward, we have no doubts for Bethlehem knows a God who can and who will. We know that God can do anything but fail therefore we continue to lean not to our own understanding, but in all of our ways, acknowledge him, for he has and will continue to direct our paths. We are blessed with a growing membership who realizes that our work is never done and that the future of Bethlehem will continue to go forward with the divine guidance of the Almighty.