Bethlehem Baptist Church was organized in 1883. It was admitted to the Raleigh Baptist Association in October of that year. Our church first met in an old log school house located 200 yards southeast of the Eunice House homeplace, one mile north of the present location on Old Ferrell Road.
In 1884 the church built its first building on the present site when Mr. Larkin Smith donated one acre of land to the church. The first pastor was Rev. Alvin Betts. This original church building on Poole Road was a small white structure of one room. Curtains divided the area into four classrooms. The building was heated by two large wood burning stoves with a flue going from each heater leading to a single flue in the center of the ceiling. Although Sunday School was held each week, worship services were held only once a month on Saturday night and the following Sunday.
The Bethlehem Schoolhouse was located to the west of the structure, and across the dirt road. In 1930, using materials from a dismantled Bethlehem Schoolhouse, the church building was expanded to four classrooms. The site of the old schoolhouse became the present day cemetery.
Homecoming Day at Bethlehem has always been a day of worship and celebration. Eager members used to come on buggies, wagons, horseback and by foot. Only after 1914 did automobiles bring Bethlehem’s people home for that special day. Food from the kitchens of the best cooks in the county lined tables constructed of planks. After sharing the meal, the congregation and their visitors enjoyed a day of fellowship, preaching and singing.
The 1890’s were the most difficult period of the church’s history. A severe economic depression resulted in the sale of the church’s property. The church won the struggle to survive those early years, and steady progress ensued in the following years.
In the early 1960’s, the growing church once again renovated, adding a two-story structure that included a basement and was attached at the rear of the building. This building served as a fellowship hall and provided classroom space for the growing numbers in Sunday School.
On July 30, 1976 the church was struck by lightening and portions of the facility were destroyed by fire, including the sanctuary, portions of the educational facilities, the music department and church offices. Men of the church rushed to aid the firemen to save a few pews and the pulpit. These were later restored and now exist in the chapel and adjacent classroom. A mass of members watched in horror as the structure was left in ashes.
On October 15, 1977, the congregation began the task of rebuilding. The new facilities were completed on December 10, 1978. A new Fellowship Hall and Educational Building were added in the late 1980’s on land donated by R.B. and Elaine Hopkins.
Bethlehem has had a number of pastors who have played important roles in the history of North Carolina Baptists including such men as Rev. L.L. Carpenter, Editor of the Biblical Recorder, the news journal of the Baptist State Convention, Dr. Douglas M. Branch, Executive Director-Treasurer of the Baptist State Convention of N.C., Rev. L.H. Hollingsworth and Rev. Malbert Smith, Jr., among others.
At the church’s Centennial celebration in 1983 a time capsule was buried at the northwest corner of the church’s front entrance. It houses many memories from the history of the church. The capsule will be opened on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the church in the year 2033.
More recently, the church has been blessed to acquire over 13 acres of property surrounding the original site making expansion a reality for the future. While we are proud and thankful for our past, the focus of our 1200 members is clearly on the present and the future as we seek to serve our God in the most effective ways possible.