THE HISTORY OF BETHEL BAPTIST CHURCH
by Joe Nell Sheffield Wood
Pioneers settled the lovely forested area that we now know as Dorsey. Some of them had come from the Carolinas as early as 1837 when the country was first settled. They cleared land, planted crops and attended the closest churches which were located at Boguefala (at Mooreville), and Hopewell (south of Dorsey in the area known as Keys Cemetery area). Some of these first settlers were the Sheffield, Hartsfield, Peeler, Patton, Francis, Moore, Melton, McMellon, Beene, Duvall, Mobley, Francis and Gillispie families. They endued the hardships of the Civil War, with many of the men and boys leaving home to fight for the Confederacy.
After the Reconstruction period the area began to grow. The need for a church and a better school became apparent. On the fifth Sunday in January 1875 a small group of 23 souls met with the Presbytery, who were Elder J.C. Gillentine and Elder J.W. Randolph, at the school house near the Robin Melton residence for the purpose of organizing a new church. Hopewell Baptist Church extended the arm for the organization of the new church. The first pastor was J.C. Gillentine. The first deacons were John Sheffield and William Hartsfield. W.W. Peeler served as the first church clerk.
The church was housed in this school building and an old church building until 1898 when John and Sarah Margaret Sheffield donated land for a new church building. The church was named Siloam when it was organized because in the minutes of the 2nd conference a motion was made to change the name to Bethel, which had been the name of Sarah Margaret Sheffield’s home church in Belmont, MS. The motion carried by a majority vote.
Bethel church burned in 1923, and was replaced by a new church building which was used until 1960. A painting of this building hangs in the foyer of the present sanctuary. After the decision was made to build a new building, the old building was sold to Mabel Loden for $825.00. The contract for a new building was signed with Noon Walton on February 16, 1960, with the new building to be completed by July 1, 1960. The minutes of October 9, 1960 state that the Bethel Baptist Church met for an all day service, this being the dedication of the new building and Homecoming Day.
In 1968 an addition to the facility was built which included Sunday School rooms and a basement which was used as a fellowship hall, until Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Bean donated a new fellowship hall which is still in use today for small functions. In 1993 the Christian Outreach Center was constructed, with the dedication being on Homecoming Day.
The church has also purchased the acreage surrounding the church property on the north and west sides, including the house and acreage owned by the Graham family. The transaction for the Graham property was made in July, 1995 at a cost of $90,000. The house is being used as the pastor’s home. This debt has been paid off. The older pastorium was constructed in 1956 and is being demolished to make way for a new parking area.
Bethel is the mother church for Grace Baptist Mission. Grace meets in their new building just north of Tupelo on Highway 45 in the Guntown/Saltillo area. Seventy-Two members have been added to Bethel through Grace.
Bethel is in the beginning phase of the largest endeavor to date with future construction of a new sanctuary. This structure will comfortably seat five hundred. This will be a much needed addition for several reasons. Church growth has steadily increased over the last few years and in February of 1997 Bethel began having two services because the present sanctuary would not hold the number of members and visitors attending on a regular basis. Souls are being saved and there have been numerous additions this year by baptism and transfer of membership. The Sunday School ministry has grown to the point that we are overflowing all available space for classes. Hopefully the building of the new sanctuary will allow us to alleviate this problem by freeing up space in the present sanctuary building.
In 2003 Brother Tracy McMillen joined Bethel as Assistant Pastor of Youth and Education. The number of youth attending services and youth activities has increased. Our Wednesday night services now include Souled Out, which ministers to our ever growing youth group. The Bethel staff now includes Martin Jameson, Pastor; Tracy McMillen, Assistant Pastor of Youth and Education; and Dawn Caygle, Administrative Assistant.