From right, serving on Bethel's 115th birthday are: Matt Orsburn; Lori, Steve, and Michael Foster; Ashlyn Carpenter; and Haley Graham.
On July 14, Bethel UMC celebrated its 115th year in the Bethel Acres area west of Shawnee. Nine generations of one family are on its membership roll.
A total of 154 people attended anniversary activities. Bishop Robert Hayes Jr. preached, with singing by children who had been part of Vacation Bible School the previous week. Member Ann Orsburn created and distributed a Memory Book, which includes this quote: "This is a milestone in your life. Make every future footprint count, for you are special."
The church organized in a log house on June 12, 1898, with 10 charter members, all represented in the life of the church today, through at least seven generations. Fifty pastors have served there.
In 1903, the congregation occupied the white building where worship continues today. On that first Sunday, young Charlie Parks received a Bible for perfect attendance in Sunday School. His sister, Mabel, also had a perfect record until that day; their parents would not allow her to walk the 2 miles to church in the rain. However, she received a Bible, too.
In earlier days, the church was lighted by coal oil lamps hanging on the walls and heated by a wood-burning stove. Brush-arbor revivals were held each summer, with baptisms at a nearby pond. Members farmed 17 acres to generate church income.
During World War II, the church closed for four years. With $500 from the predecessor of the Oklahoma United Methodist Foundation and hard work by members, it was repaired and reopened in 1946.
Since 1958, VBS has been offered every July.
During his years as pastor, 1963-73, Harvey Smith also was employed at Tinker Air Force Base. The church paid him what it could—and he gave it back.
Building expansion over time included the more recent Christian Life Center, which has become vital to the wider community, Pastor Chris Talley said. Members did much of the building work. The center today houses Headstart, "Kids Against Bullying," Bethel’s Youth Program, Annual Health Fair & Indian Taco Dinner, Annual Craft Show & Fish Fry, Boy and Girl Scouts, wedding receptions, birthday parties, and more.
Bethel UMC also reaches out through Project Noel and the Christmas Food Basket Program.
The weekly sermons are taped and posted on the church’s website, www.bumcshawn.org.
(Ann Orsburn contributed this news.)