Early History of Bethel Church

written by Mrs. Winifred Salisbury, the last charter member

About five years after the great Land Rush of 1889, we early settlers, located on our claims, had been holding Sunday School in the little school houses for these several years, with preaching services occasionally from ministers of different denominations.
We were adjusting ourselves to the new life on the frontier, far away from our old homes and associates, lonely and homesick.

We began to realize that we were losing out in our religious life; for we came out of a generation that knew the influence that the church and the religious life had over us. We believed that the Lord’s day was given to us for worship, so these thoughts brought words, and words brought actions. The strong determination to organize and establish a church grew and the good news spread over the community. Everyone was so enthusiastic to work to that end.

Our first record in the church book states that April 22, 1894, the people of the community held a meeting at the Prairie Bell School House to take steps to organize a Congregational church, thinking it would include all denominations. To this, all agreed. The Chairman read the Confession of Faith as found in the Congregational hand book with the covenant to be entered into by believers in Christ. Seven persons came forward and entered into the covenant, a church was organized, and was then led in prayer by Mrs. Lucy Twyford.

On May 11, 1894, the Council recognized the new church. The church then called Mrs. Twyford to be the first pastor.
On May 17, 1894, the trustees were elected and they signed an application to the Eastern Congregational Board asking for aid to construct a house for worship. Committees were appointed to work for the church building.
On August 10, 1894, the grant of $400 (equivalent to about $14,150 in 2023) was given. The church voted to accept this loan.

A building site had to be found next. Several sites were offered, but the final choice was the offer of Mr. & Mrs. D. P. McGill, who donated a location on the northeast corner of their farm. Now, to find a name for this new church – several names were suggested, but the church body voted the name of Bethel Congregational Church.

On May 11, 1895, the church voted that we be recognized and taken into fellowship with the other churches of the territory.
Work on the church was donated by the people, so on June 1, 1895, the church was dedicated to the worship of God. A church now was planted on the prairie of this new territory by settlers who came from the old states.

The Dedication Service was very impressive and yet joyful. All were so happy that we had a church! First prayer of recognition was said by Rev. J. E. Platt of Guthrie. A charge to the church and the right hand of fellowship was lead by Rev. J. H. Parker of Kingfisher. Rev. J. H. Parker preached the dedication sermon, taking from John 21:15 and 16 for his text, a special number, “Savior Lead Me Lest I Stray”, was performed by Mrs. J. E. Platt, and the congregation sang the old hymn, “Throw Out the Lifeline.”

It was just a little over one year from the time the church started until it was dedicated free from all debts, except for the loan. Long before the hour set for the service, the church was overflowing. All the hitching posts were taken, with the farm teams hitched to lumber wagons.
The new church got to work! We held weekly prayer meetings with large attendances, with people driving their work teams miles to attend. Sunday School and Christian Endeavor were organized. It seemed that all had a mind to work. The worship may have been "informal" according to modern ways, the music was not the best, and all classes of the Sunday school met in one room, but God had started spiritual work in many people through this little church.

Many of the early rural churches have been abandoned. We heard this from everywhere. When these churches flourished, it was way back in the days before the automobile, the highways, the radio, and the consolidated schools.

At the close of the first World War, during the great flu epidemic of 1918, the church was closed for about one year. The property fell into disrepair, with windows and lights becoming smashed in and broken. An agent representing the Congregational Eastern Building Society came from Oklahoma City wanting to sell the church. Word had been sent to the trustees; the day came, the trustees and others were there. Oh, how they begged for the church! Some that wanted to buy the building were there to make a bid, but the agent said if we would open the doors for services and Sunday school, they would never take the church from us. Several gave money; we repaired the church, reorganized Sunday school, and bought supplies. We kept up a flourishing Sunday school several years without any preaching.

Very few people that saw Bethel dedicated are left in this community. I am the only charter member still living. To us that labored here those many years, if we could only trace it, the good seed has been sown. This church has greatly enriched the lives of many people. I have many lasting memories of over 40 years service with my husband and family in the Bethel Church. Fifty-nine years, and a memory only! Is that what you are thinking? Oh no! We believe that Bethel has been the means of doing much good. We have seen many accept Christ and obey His commands at His altar.

My prayer is that God will abundantly bless the little country church of Bethel!