Bethpage was one of the first preaching places in Tennessee and possibly one of the first organized congregations. The story can be traced to 1805.
The first appointment of a Methodist preacher to what at that time was called the Cumberland country of Kentucky was the Rev. Benjamin Ogden, a 22-year-old Revolutionary War veteran. The circuit which he rode reported 90 members. The Rev. James Haw was elder, and the year was 1786, just two years after the founding of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Baltimore. The following year, Ogden served all of Tennessee west of the Cumberland Mountains and three counties in Kentucky. There were 59 white and 4 colored members in his circuit.
The work quickly grew, and in 1789 or 1790 Sumner County in Tennessee was served by Samuel Mason and Samuel Hollis, two local preachers. It was the practice in the early years to assign an ordained preacher to a vast area and to appoint several local, unordained preachers to provide regular preaching while the pastor traveled the circuit.
In 1792, there were 370 white and 52 Negro members on the Cumberland circuit. Growth in that decade was allowed by a smallpox epidemic, Indian raids, and division in the church.
Regular worship called for meeting houses and Norris Chapel was built at Pilot Knob about a mile north of highway 31E some time before 1793. This became the center of Methodist activity.
At the turn of the Century, revival swept across the frontier. Meetings were sometimes attended by thousands. McTyler writes that after the meeting of the Western Conference at Bethel, Kentucky, on October 6, 1800, "Asbury, Whatcoat, and McKendree traveled and preached together from the center of Kentucky to Nashville, Bishop Asbury recorded in his journal that on the 16th of October he entered Tennessee, and on the 18th he preached at Parker's adding: "Bros. McGee, Sugg, Jones and Speer, loyal preachers, came to meet me. We had a small shout in the Camp of Israel". The fact that McGee, Sugg, Jones and Speer met the bishop and his companions at Parker's shows that they were expected and that "Parker's" was a well-known preaching place. It is believed that this referred to Nathaniel Parker, who lived in the vicinity of the present village of Bethpage. If this congregation did, in fact, later become this church, the age of the congregation is 182 years or more rather than the known 175.
The year of 1805 represents the time when these were members of a congregation meeting in a log building called "Mabry's Meeting House": Seth and Elizabeth Mabry, William and Elizabeth Key, Sarah Key, Bingham Key, Mildred Key, John and Sarah Aspley, Moses and Sarah Duncan, and Clifton Allen, the preacher. Allen is reported by historians to have been a Baptist preacher who had communion with Methodists and Presbyterians and was therefore brought to trial by the church he served. His reply was to become a Methodist.
The young congregation acquired its first property in 1818 when Seth and his wife deeded 1-3/4 acres on the north side of Bledsoe Creek for a new church to be called "Beth Page". According to legend, it was named by Nathaniel Parker in memory of his deceased wife whose maiden name was Elizabeth or "Beth" Page. The original "indenture", describing the property and the transaction, is fascinating reading and a copy hangs in the present church foyer. For example, here are the metes and bounds: "Beginning at a red oak on the no. side Bledsoe Creek running south twelve degrees west seventeen poles to a hoin beam and elm thince north seventy-eight degrees west sixteen poles to a rock thince south seventy-eight degrees east six poles to the beginning."
These nine trustees received the property: William Key, Nathaniel Parker, John Ashley, Moses Duncan, Thomas Browning, Nathan Davis, Moses Henry, William Austin, and John Crenshaw. Each year we celebrate homecoming within about a week of the date of this deed, June 6, 1818.
This church was the consolidation of Mabry's Meeting House and two other meeting houses, Mt. Zion below Bethpage and another near Chipman. Since we know that Mabry's goes back to at least 1805, we have a firm date making this our 177th Anniversary, June 13, 1982.
Parker's may have been later known as "Mt. Zion". It stood on the hill in front of where C. W. Perdue was to live and later, Mrs. Dewey Beasley. The Parker home, where Mr. & Mrs. Charles Carter live today, is just to the southwest.
Meeting houses often served as schools. Brushy Fork Meeting House, just northwest of Bethpage, was such a place. It is known to have existed as early as 1842. This building burned in about 1869, but the society continued and exists today as the Mt. Vernon congregation.
We rely upon three books bearing both membership and business proceedings recorded for the 19th century. It is noted that in 1854, $1,304.80 was collected for the purpose of erecting a building at Bethpage. By this time, the name of the church was combined into a single word from the "Beth Page" of the deed to "Bethpage". Ninety nine donors, who gave from $.50 to $125.00, are listed by name. It seems that within a few years the young congregation had outgrown this building and on September 14, 1868, the Board of Trustees met to carry out an action that was approved at the previous quarterly meeting: The "Old Brick Church located on the Bethpage lot-be sold and the proceeds-to go to the new Frame Church building-for such repairs as the trustees may direct".
As smallpox, the rigors of life on the frontier, and old age took their toll, the need for a place of burial became clear. In 1825 the congregation purchased land for a cemetery adjoining the church lot.
By the middle of the century, the ministry began to change from the earlier circuit riding pattern. This was deeply lamented by Peter Cartwright, frontier evangelist, who thought it best to send the bachelor preachers on their lengthy rounds and let the local preachers supply the regular services. In the more established localities, the churches built parsonages where a man might marry, settle, and serve a "small" circuit of perhaps only 10 or 12 preaching places. In 1855 another plot of ground was bought for a parsonage, and a comfortable home erected on it. One writer has suggested that this may have been the first parsonage in the Tennessee Conference.
This also is the earliest date in the leather bound record book. Many of the circuit riders kept journals, and of course most of them are lost and therefore the records of the beginnings of Methodism in Tennessee. The old book measures 10-1/2 inches by 16 inches, not something easily carried on horseback. Along with the parsonages came better record-keeping. At this time the charge appears to have been called "Goose Creek Circuit". Goose Creek extends through Macon County.
The church was creating more than buildings, of course. These men are known to have been given to the ministry from the Bethpage congregation: John Parker, Nathaniel Parker, Luke P. Allen, Lewis M. Woodson, Elisha Carr, J. H. Ray and William Key, one of the founders of the church. Terry Carty is our most recent member given to full-time ministry.
The congregation that purchased the land for the parsonage in 1855 had 32 male and 52 female members. Just as most church buildings had separate doorways for men and women, the early membership lists were divided. The colored members, numbering 13, were listed near the back of the book without any dating and, in most cases, by first name only followed by the owner's name. After the Civil War, a separate denomination, the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Membership of Blacks in the M. E. Church gradually declined after the freeing of the slaves. In 1847, there were 40,526 members in the Tennessee Conference, of whom 7,249 were colored. By 1878, the entire denomination, with 759,216 white members, had only 1,499 colored.
It was due to the division of the church in 1844 that Bethpage and most of the rest of the Tennessee churches became a part of the M. E. Church, South. (A few chose to remain a part of the Northern half of the division. This would also eventually include some predominantly Black congregations, all which make up the present Tennessee Conference following reunion). That reunion, forming The Methodist Church, took place in 1939. A further union, combining The Evangelical United Brethren and The Methodist Church, occurred in 1968 creating the United Methodist Church.
A most eloquent preacher, the Rev. John W. Hanna, spent his boyhood in the Bethpage community, coming there from North Carolina. It has been said that when a boy on the farm he was sometimes found standing on a stump and preaching. In some respects he may have been well ahead of his time, for he clearly recognized that the scriptures portray God as female at times. In the June, 1982, issue of The Circuit Rider, Virginia Mollenkott wrote the article, "Feminine Images of God in the Bible". It happened that Dr. Hanna once preached a sermon entitled, "Motherhood of God", Isaiah 66:13.
It seems strange that with the Sunday School already a part of American Protestantism for a hundred years, there were no previous records of one in the Bethpage church. The records show that ninety five were members of the Sunday School that was organized on April 4, 1880.
The fourth building to house the growing congregation was erected in 1907 on the foundation of the frame church. This building remained for 38 years. One of its most inspirational features was a set of memorial stained glass windows, and when the building was torn down there was a modest attempt to save some of them. Most of them were eventually destroyed or taken from the community but one, a tribute to Luke P. Allen, a preacher, and his wife, Mrs. A. D. Allen, is installed in the home of Charles and Brenda Carter on Chipman Road. This man's ordination certificate, dated 1822, hangs in the church foyer. At the 1982 homecoming the church celebrates the addition to the fold Luke's great, great, great, great granddaughter, Catherine Parrish Carter, daughter of Charles and Brenda and granddaughter of Charles and Ruth Parker Carter.
In 1941, 24 members raised an even $1,000 to purchase the old school property for the purpose of building a new church. They were: C. D. Key, W. O. Arterburn, Hub Perdue, Charles A. Hinton, A. H. Hunter, Bishop Hinton, Harry Norman, Walter Harper, Mrs. J. L. Harris and J. L., Jr., Mrs. Minnie Whiteside, Mrs. Lilly D. Seay, U. D. Moss, J. H. Rippy, Mrs. J. B. McKee, R. M. Reese, Mrs. R. M. Reese and Billy Reese, Harris Reddick, Mrs. Joe Turner and Joe W., Mrs. W. T. Bell, T. H. Crenshaw, and Bryson Parker. That building was completed in 1945 and houses the congregation today.
Here is an incomplete list of pastors beginning about 1840: Mark Senter, William Doss, Willis, Miller Woodson, F. E. Pitts, J. G. Ray, G. W. Winn, B. G. Ferrell, J. J. Pittman, Jr., R. Reagan, H. R. Blue, J. W. Faires, J. G. Rice, J. L. Teague, S. L. Fain, W. F. Powers, John B. Jordan, H. M. Jarvis, C. R. Wade, N. Burch Tucker, E. R. McCord, S. M. Keathley, W. T. S. Cook, J. T. Parson, J. T. Brown, Henly, E. F. Hudgens, T. A. Matthews, Haskel Henry, J. F. Swiney, J. E. Thomas, S. M. Ensor, H. H. Parsons, Floyd Blankenship, C. F. Belew, J. E. Trotter, M. H. Napier, W. D. Owen, Louie Abrams, E. T. Miller, Dr. G. W. Gatlin, Kenneth Street, Mark Menees, Charles T. Wallace, and Russell Lindsay.
Many of the pastors in recent years served part-time while attending school or otherwise employed. The parsonage in which they lived was located across the street from Grace Baptist Church. In 1978 a modern, brick home was built just northeast of the church on the spacious lot acquired in 1941. Tom and Ann Wallace and their children were the first occupants. This was to some extent made possible by the thoughtful bequest of Mrs. Mamie Turner in 1974 of 10 years of royalties on oil-producing property in Texas. This inheritance will conclude in November, 1984. The fund must be used for capital improvements and is in memory of the Joe . . . (Compiler's Note: last part of history missing)