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Bethlehem UMC celebrates 200th anniversary

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The theme of the 200th celebration is “Our eyes on the past, our minds in the present, and our hearts focused on Jesus.”

Music will play a part in the celebration and will feature Jacob Young, a senior at Lebanon High School, who will perform Southern Gospel Music on Friday, Oct. 8, during the 7 p.m. service. The Rev. Denzill Huff will be the guest speaker.

Special guests for the 7 p.m. service on Saturday, Oct. 9, will be the New Hope Quartet of Mt. Juliet, also offering Southern Gospel Music. The speaker will be Bethlehem’s pastor, the Rev. Horace Wilkinson.

Lebanon’s “all ladies” group, Promises, will provide special music during the Sunday, Oct. 10 service at 10 a.m. District Superintendent Tom Halliburton will be the guest speaker.

And after the worship service, Bethlehem will host a homemade cake and punch reception in the fellowship hall.

“We’ve tried to make it (like) the old fashioned revival this weekend,” said Lisa Carver, one of the members of the church helping to organize the 200th anniversary celebration. She added that “there’ll be old hymns and good old homemade cake, Red Velvet, coconut” and more.

Members may even sing “Happy Birthday.” Carver noted that Wilkinson’s birthday is soon to which he smiled and replied, “I’m not 200.” 

A brief history of the church said the Hickory Ridge area was settled in the 1790s by a group of frontiersmen from North Carolina and Virginia and was about 4 miles west of Lebanon along an early pioneer Lebanon/Nashville Road now called Hickory Ridge Road.

The original Meeting House of the church was built in 1810 in the Hickory Ridge community, and it had eight corners and a fireplace and chimney built from hand-hewn cedar logs.

The church hosted the Tennessee Annual Conference in October 1815 giving it place in American Methodist history because it was the last conference presided over by Bishop Francis Asbury before his death. During this conference, Asbury was entertained by the William Babb family in what today is known as the Asbury-Babb House.

The Asbury-Babb House, one of the oldest in Wilson County, is located behind Bethlehem United Methodist Church. The house is owned by the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church and is undergoing restoration. The Asbury-Babb House was featured in an article in The Wilson Post on July 29, 2009.

Bethlehem hosted the first Women’s Missionary Society in the Methodist Episcopal Church South in 1858, and a monument marking the event is located in front of the church today.

John Powell and Alex G. Winford who were members of Bethlehem United Methodist donated one acre each of land in 1846 so that a permanent church building could be constructed. Shortly after the Civil War, a small church was constructed which faced the east on the property. The building was torn down in 1914, and a new one was built facing the turnpike. In later years, the columned front porch, the educational wing that included restrooms, a kitchen and fellowship hall were added. The steeple and stained glass were also added through the years.

However, due to structural deterioration in the sanctuary and classrooms, the members were forced to rebuild the church with the exception of the fellowship hall. An article from the June 24, 2005 edition of The Post said members held their final service in the old sanctuary on June 26, 2005. They met at the Lebanon Senior Citizens Center on Coles Ferry during construction.

The new Bethlehem United Methodist sanctuary remains on the two acres donated by Powell and Winford in 1846. Its street address is 2102 Lebanon Road, Lebanon. The new building features a large room upstairs where the youth of the church gather. There is also additional space, and all the rooms are painted in bright colors. The fellowship hall includes a large kitchen and eating area.

Carver and Wilkinson said when construction began on the new building, the boxwood shrubbery planted in front of the old church and believed to be the original plants, were dug up so they could be protected and were replanted when the structure was completed.Wilkinson has been the pastor at Bethlehem United Methodist since June 2009. He said he has been in the ministry for 20 years.

Bethlehem United Methodist is a “connectional church,” he said, and the pastors are appointed by the Annual Conference and stay at their assigned churches generally for three to five years. Bethlehem is part of the Cumberland District of the United Methodist Church.

There are 105 members of the church with 55 or so generally in attendance on Sundays. Even though the number of members might be small, there is often some kind of activity going on at the church.

Carver and Wilkinson said there is a United Methodist Youth Fellowship that is active and recently took part in the Hands and Feet program in Murfreesboro. The church has joined with other Methodist churches in the area to provide food and clothing for people who have fallen on hard times as a result of the recession and are living at Timberline Campground off Highway 231 South.

“We’re real active in that,” he said, adding there are about 100 people at the campground that the churches are helping.

Bethlehem serves as the drop-off site for food items which Wilkinson takes to the campground to be distributed to families there who are in need.

He noted church members recently collected 60 to 70 coats for Timberline residents so they can keep warm as temperatures drop. The church is also the site of guitar and piano lessons offered by Carver’s husband, country music singer Johnny Carver, and their son, Brandon, a freshman at Lipscomb University, and Dawn Taylor.

Editor Jennifer Horton may be contacted at

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