Historic Bethel Church

Beginnings

The congregation of Bethel Presbyterian Church claim the Scotch-Irish as their descent. By 1750, a stream of Scotch-Irish began to flow into North Carolina and the Upcountry of South Carolina. Historically, the Scotch-Irish Presbyterians were noted for their religious beliefs. Their spirit of determination and dependence upon God's help allowed for the positive development of the American nation.

In 1764, just fourteen years after the first significant movement into this area, Bethel Presbyterian Church was organized by Rev. William Richardson, who was the minister at the Old Waxhaw Presbyterian Church in Lancaster County, South Carolina. The site for the church was selected in the following manner: Mr. Andrew Floyd, Mr. Adam Baird and Colonel Samual Watson were apointed as a committee to select a spot for the location of the building. These persons resided at extreme points from each other. They agreed to meet at the spring, which now flows from the hill on which the church stands. On the occasion of their meeting, and upon comparing notes, they discovered they had all traveled about the same distance. They were near the center of the congregational boundaries, which covered about twenty square miles. The spot was pleasant to look upon and water was near, thus they decided on the site of the building. There is no record of the building of the first and second houses of worship at Bethel, but the third was built sometime between 1801 and 1811 and the fourth, which is the building that stands today, was erected in 1873. Bethel Church was sometimes referred to as the "Bethel Meeting House." It was an important place, a landmark. As Rev. Richardson preached the first sermon to the congregation, they lifted up their eyes upon the forest and wilderness around them and thought of Genesis 28:

"This is none other than the house of God; This is the gate of Heaven."

The first elders of Bethel were: David Watson, John Jordan, George Devinny, John Gullick, Thomas Neel and James Campbell. These men were probably called to office at different periods and were not all chosen on the day of organization. Others serving as elders during the early years of the church were: Joseph Bradner, Colonel Samuel Watson, John Howe, Samuel Craig, Adam Baird, Joseph McKenzie, Alexander Eakin, William Davis and Andrew Floyd. Many of these men, as well as many others in the church and the surrounding area, serviced in the Revolutionary War, which began shortly after Rev. Hezekiah Balch became Bethel's first full time pastor. During the war Bethel and other Presbyterian churches were noted as the center of opposition to British Rule. There were numerous battles fought in this area and one of the most strategic battles was fought at nearby Kings Mountain.

Thomas Neel was a famous Revolutionary War hero and was the most prominent and leading citizen of the New Acquisition, which later became present day York County. No family suffered the pain of the war more than that of Thomas Neel's family. When the Revolutionary War broke out, Colonel Neel took command of the Patriot militia unit and saw action in a number of battles. In 1779, at the Battle of Stono, Neel was killed. He also lost two of his sons in the war and a younger son, John, died at the age of 16 during the Georgia Campaign in 1778. Colonel Neel's wife, Jean Spratt Neel, was killed and scalped by the Shawnee Indians.

Colonel Samuel Watson was an influential member of Bethel, as well as highly respected in the community. Like most Scots-Irish of his time, he had no love for the English. When talk of rebellion became general, Watson quickly rose to the cause. Watson was elected to the South Carolina Provincial Congress of 1775-1776 and participated in the framing of South Carolina's first written constitution. In June, 1780, Hil's Ironworks, owned by Colonel William Hill, another prominent citizen and member of Bethel Church, was burned by the British and the terrified workers fled to Watson's Plantation, which quickly became a center of resistance. A commissary was set up there to issue any supplies to any Whig who would carry a musket against the British. For some years before his death, Colonel Watson was paralyzed and spent his last years in a wheelchair. Colonel Watson was the grandfather of Rev. Samuel Lytle Watson, Pastor of Bethel Presbyterian Church for 42 years.

Bethel Church was incorporated by the Legislature of South Carolina, March 22, 1786, with the title, "The Presbyterian Church of Bethel Congregation".

There have also been many Bethel men who served in later wars : Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam, Desert Storm and now the Iraq & Afghanistan War. Fifty-two young men from Bethel Church served in World War II with only one casualty, Ernest L. Flanagan. The record of the Bethel soldiers is not only above reproach but worthy of a liberal amount of praise.

Bethel Church has been consistently supplied with capable leadership, which has led to a strong Biblical witness. Over the years, this witness has contributed to the continuing growth and influence of the church in the immediate area, as well as around the world. Evidence of this fact is that Bethel Church is the "Mother Church" of eight area churches and has seen twenty-five of its members enter into full time Christian work. Bethel has always strived to fulfill the great commission as stated in Matthew 28:19, "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations". Bethel is presently assisting in the support of many missionaries and church planters stationed around the world and is very involved in Mercy Ministries locally.

On July 1, 1973, Bethel Church congregation voted unanimously to withdraw from the Presbyterian Church US (PCUS) and join a new group of believers of like faith, creed and purpose in fulfilling the primary mission given by our Lord Jesus Christ. This division became known as the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and has grown substantially since its inception in 1973.

It is appropriate to pause and look back upon the church's rich heritage and remember that our lives and aspirations are shaped and guided by the steadying hand of the past. As members of this historic church, one so steeped in tradition, it especially behooves us to realize that as we reach toward Heaven, we do so standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before us in this special place.

 

Pastors
Rev. Hezekiah Balch  1770-1776
Rev. Francis Cummins  1782-1789
Rev. George G. McWhorter  1796-1801
Rev. James S. Adams (Stated Supply)  1811-1840
Rev. Samuel L. Watson  1840-1882
Rev. Robert A. Webb  1882-1887
Rev. G.S. Robinson  1888-1890
Rev. David S. McAllister  1891-1899
Rev. William B. Arrowood  1899-1909
Rev. Robert Adams  1910-1914
Rev. R.K. Timmons  1914-1916
Rev. George W. Nickell  1917-1924
Rev. A.H. Key  1925-1933
Dr. Tilden Scherer (Temporary Supply)  1934-1937
Dr. Tilden Scherer  1937-1950
Rev. David Coblentz  1951-1961
Rev. Kenneth L. Newman  1962-1966
Rev. James L. Moss  1967-1971
Rev. Vernon N. West  1972-1986
Rev. John A. Gess 1986-2015
Rev. J. Marcus Van Vlake 2015 -
 
 

 

 

   

 

 
   

 

Tour the Church and Cemetery

 

Tours of Historic Bethel Church and Cemetery are offered by appointment. Please schedule tours at least one week in advance by contacting Cary & Helen Grant, 803-962-2112 or caryegrant@bellsouth.net.