The ministry of the Bethesda Baptist Church of New Rochelle began in May 1888. A faithful few (Jesse Owens, Israel King, William Fountain, Richard Palmer and others) joined together to plan the organization of a church at Jesse Owens' home on Hudson Street. At that time, there were no more than a dozen Black Baptists living in the village of New Rochelle; although they were free to worship at the Salem Baptist Church, they desired a church of their own.
The Rev. Guy Powell of Mt. Baptist Church of Brunswick County, Virginia, assisted the search. Reverend Powell was traveling in the area to raise funds for his church when he became interested in the founding of a church in New Rochelle. It was Rev. Powell who guided the people in the vision. He remained in the neighborhood for several weeks as a helper and guide in the establishment of the church because so many of his members had settled here. It was Rev. Powell who offered the name Bethesda that was unanimously accepted.
The church met at Brother Owens' home until the leasing of a building on North Avenue opposite Avenue "E". Although there were difficulties meeting with the owner of the building, after exchanging formalities, negotiations for the purchase of the building were concluded. The lease provided 6 months free rent from the owners Mr. and Mrs. Wells of New York City. Also a Baptist, undoubtedly this financial windfall was due to Mrs. Wells' influence and presence at the meeting.
The Rev. Isaac Newton Phelps delivered a sermon in the new building to 15 members on July 5, 1888 from the text, "Fear not little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." (Luke 12:32).
The church continued to grow, moving to Lambden Hall on Main Street and calling her first pastor, the Rev. Henry Cremer, on July 1, 1889. Reverend Cremer was instrumental in having the church incorporated under the laws of New York State in 1890. The church could not pay Rev. Cremer a living wage. He resigned, but the church continued her vision and called the Rev. T. H. Bayles to be pastor. A lot was purchased on Anderson Street, which was exchanged for the property on Avenue "E." Reverend Bayles resigned after a short stay, but was succeeded by Rev. Sumler who served less than 2 years.
Reverend Powell (who helped to organize the church) was called next as pastor. Reverend Powell came with the condition that he be permitted to retain his pastorate in Virginia. After a year of commuting it proved too taxing for him physically. Upon his resignation, he recommended the Rev. Edward W. Johnson who had been serving the church from time to time during Rev. Powell's absence. Reverend Johnson was selected and served the church from 1900 until his death in 1905. During Rev. Johnson's pastorate the first church house was built on the Avenue "E" site at a cost of $3,500. Reverend Johnson served faithfully and without a salary, accepting only a collection from one Sunday a month.
The Rev. W. C. Young succeeded Rev. Johnson. Reverend Young remained for only nine months causing a devastating blow to the congregation. By this time, Bethesda had called a total of six pastors, each staying various lengths of time. Although the vision continued, stability occurred when the Rev. J. B. Boddie was called in May 1907.
Prophet Andrews Jones advised the call of the Rev. J. B. Boddie who was pastoring Shiloh Baptist Church in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Reverend Boddie was installed as pastor in September 1907.
Dr. Boddie was a forceful preacher, evangelist, brilliant leader and dynamic figure in the church and community. During his pastorate the congregation began to grow and soon the necessity to relocate presented itself again. Also at this time the business section of the Village of New Rochelle began to expand. The church, located in this section, set out to find a new place to worship. In 1910 the church purchased three lots on Winyah Avenue (now Lincoln Avenue) and Guion Place from the New Rochelle Cooperative Building League for $3,000. Construction of the building began during the early stages of World War I. Shortages of labor and the high cost of materials almost prevented continuation of the project.
Mr. George Watson, one of the leading contractors in Westchester County and residing in New Rochelle was given the contract to build the church. Laurence L. Barnard was the architect for the building. Mr. Watson rendered unusual aid to the church in this venture donating his commission and discounts on materials; officers and members contributed labor excavating for the foundation long after working hours.
Due to great sacrifice, the building was completed at a cost of $32,000 and was dedicated September 15, 1918 in a joyful, triumphant celebration.
Dr. Boddie served for 29 years until his death in August 1936. During the interim, Deacon William J. Brown and Trustee Joseph B. Bullock (strong leaders) guided the church until July 21, 1937 when the Rev. Dr. J. Raymond Henderson of Wheat Street Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, was called.
Membership increased under Rev. Henderson's pastorate. The format of the worship service was changed to include a sermonette directed primarily to the youth.
On March 21, 1938, Rev. Henderson organized the Hostess Group at the Boddie homestead (111 Horton Avenue, New Rochelle) with 43 women present. Dr. Henderson established the first church office complete with a secretary. The church also purchased a parsonage. In 1941 Rev. Henderson left to pastor the Second Baptist Church in Los Angeles, California. The Rev. Dr. Clarence C. Long, Sr., of St. Louis, Missouri, succeeded him in 1942.
During Dr. Long's 24 years of service membership increased and the vision continued with a plan for renovation and expansion launched to enhance the ministry. Dr. Long was a scholar and an educator. While pastoring Bethesda, Rev. Long was the first African American to serve on the New Rochelle Board of Education. He also served as President of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance.
In May 1951 the Rev. Clarence M. Long, Jr. was called as co-pastor to direct an intensive youth ministry. He left in 1956 to pastor Mt. Airy Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., and in March 1957 was succeeded by the Rev. Louis J. Wanamaker.
Reverend Wanamaker was the director of the Community Training School sponsored by Bethesda Baptist Church offering Bible courses for residents of all denominations. He organized the Youth Fellowship, a Boy Scout troop and a basketball team in the Y.M.C.A. Kiwanis League. The team won second place in 1961, first place in 1962 and 1966 and the Robert C. Fisher Award for Good Sportsmanship in 1963. During Dr. Long's illness, Rev. Wanamaker was given added responsibilities until Dr. Long's health returned. Rev. Wanamaker went on to pastor the Grace Baptist Church in the Bronx.
It was also under the pastorate of Rev. Long that the Rev. Perrin P. Smith began his service to the church family as an ordained minister. Later Rev. Smith became an associate pastor and the Minister of Sick Visitation. Reverend Smith was extremely faithful in visiting Bethesda's sick and shut-ins. Reverend Smith also served as Sunday School Superintendent.
On August 4, 1961 while the church attended the annual Sunday School church picnic, the church building suffered a devastating fire causing $125,000 worth of damage. Prior to the burning of the church, Bethesda was in the midst of a gigantic expansion program (1958) chaired by Attorney Arthur L. Pulley, Trustee. At the completion of the expansion program the original sanctuary was restored with improvements. A gymnasium-auditorium with a capacity for 1,000 was added valued at over $300,000. Following the fire, The Expansion Committee was granted a $100,000 mortgage commitment from Carver Federal Savings and Loan, 75 West 125th Street, NYC.
Upon the resignation of Dr. Long in 1966, the Pulpit Committee began their search for a new pastor. During that three-year period, the sons of Bethesda served the church. In 1969 the church called the Rev. Roy L. Thompson.
The Rev. Roy L. Thompson, an educator, organizer, experienced accountant and coordinator, came to Bethesda from an administrative position with the American Baptist Convention of Metro New York. Reverend Thompson helped revitalize many phases of the church since she had been without a pastor for three years. Reverend Thompson led a successful "Debt Free in '73" fundraising campaign that culminated in the burning of the mortgage on both the church and the parsonage. The youth fellowship became very active at this time, with the youth raising monies to attend cultural, educational, and religious conventions spearheaded by Mrs. Annie Boddie. Reverend Thompson was an appointee to the New Rochelle Board of Education. Our present pastor the Rev. Dr. Allen Paul Weaver, Jr., from the Mt. Bethel Baptist Institutional Church, Daytona Beach, Florida, succeeded Rev. Thompson in 1980.
A native of Orlando, Florida, Rev. Allen Paul Weaver, Jr. came to the church energetic and ready to work. He has continued the legacy of great preachers and teachers determined to follow the vision. Reverend Weaver's installation took place on Sunday, October 12, 1980. Reverend Weaver has instituted bold, energetic programs to improve the building and to promote growth in membership during his 30-year pastorate.
The Rev. K. Byron Scarlett was the first youth minister under Rev. Weaver. In March 1981 it was Rev. Scarlett who helped lay the foundation for the youth program. Reverend Weaver's assistant, the Rev. James Kilgore (1998 – 2001) was instrumental in growing the youth ministry with his genuine love and concern for our youth. His insight and understanding of peer pressure led him to organize a realistic youth ministry (Tribe Called Blessed) where the youth are challenged to succeed despite today's adversity. Minister Brian McKenzie succeeded Rev. Kilgore as the Youth Pastor in January 2003. Reverend McKenzie acknowledges that the youth of Bethesda are very intelligent, very bright young people. To that end he has made sure and certain to establish programs that speak to their culture using the language of their culture to reach them. To that end, in keeping with the vision of the church, his goal is to teach the youth and motivate them to become genuine followers of Jesus Christ by helping them spiritually and academically. Minister Jack Thatcher succeeded Rev. McKenzie as the Youth Pastor in September 2006. He comes with an exciting agenda to promote our youth, encourage our youth and build them up in their Christian walk, as well as their academics. He instituted a tutorial program with Academic Pathways, which prepares our students for taking the standardized exams they must pass in order to get an academic diploma.
Reverend Weaver has contributed to the growth of the membership and spiritual maturity of every covenant disciple. He instituted Vision 2005 to prepare the body to become a more focused ministry in the 21st Century. He has organized workshops and training sessions to enhance the understanding of what it means to be a true disciple of Christ. Reverend Weaver added the Rev. Louis J. Waddell, Sr., to the Ministerial Team as the Pastor for Discipleship Maturity in 2001 to develop Disciples with in-depth knowledge of scripture and to develop ministries that will complement the vision of the church. Rev. Waddell went home to glory in July 2006. Presently, Rev. Lamont Granby served as the Assistant to the Pastor until called to pastor the First Baptist Church of Bronxville, New York. In July 2010 Rev. Donna O. Owusu-AnSah began her tenure as the Assistant to the Pastor.
Dr. Weaver has mobilized the following core values as the foundation for doing ministry at Bethesda: Exalting, Equipping, Evangelizing, Encouraging, Edifying and Exemplifying placing emphasis in the following areas: Christian Evangelism, Reclaiming our Youth, Mission (both home and foreign), and Christian Education. Pastor Weaver has challenged each Covenant Disciple to: put Christ first; be in Sunday Morning worship; attend Sunday Morning Bible Study; join a cell group or create a new one; attend mid-week worship; tell at least 2 persons about Jesus each week; spend time with the Lord in personal devotion; give the tithe to the Lord weekly.
The Dr. C. M. Long, Sr. Family Life Center was completed and dedicated in the summer of 2008. The Family Life Center has 14 classrooms, two state of the art kitchens, an exquiste banquet hall, and offices to house the church's administrative team.
Dr. Weaver graduated Cum Laude in 1969 from Florida Memorial College with a B.S. degree in Religious Education. He furthered his studies at Colgate-Rochester Divinity School in Rochester, NY, graduating with a Masters of Divinity degree with a concentration in Christian Ethics in 1972. He received the Doctor of Ministry degree in 1994 from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. Reverend Weaver served a two-year term as president of the New Rochelle Chapter of the NAACP; during his administration membership quadrupled. For the 30 years he has served as chairman of the Ordination Commission of the United Missionary Baptist Association. Currently, he is the 1st Vice President of the New Rochelle Chapter of the NAACP.
For 122 years the covenant disciples of the Bethesda Baptist Church of New Rochelle have worked side by side led by strong, able men following the vision that God has chosen for His church. It has not been easy. There have been trials and tribulations. But, through it all we have learned to trust in Jesus and depend upon his word. And this has made us stronger, more determined, and focused on the vision. The vision continues because the vision is of God. The vision continues because of our obedience to His will. The vision continues because God said, "…upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18).
Bethesda Baptist Church of New Rochelle
Dr. Allen Paul Weaver, Jr. B.S., M.Div., D.Min., Senior Pastor
Church Clerk: Sister Phyllis Rogers
Assistant Church Clerk: Deaconess Norma Ifill
Treasurer: Carlease Wilson
Sunday Morning Bible Study Hour: Sis. Michelle Long, Superintendent
Board of Christian Education: Deacon Paula Russell
Board of Mission: Deacon Nettie J. Weaver
Deaconess Emma Jefferies, Senior Mother
Mother Elcener Jones
Deacon Barbara Dillard
Mother Virginia Toone
Mother Rosetta Brown
Mother Doretha Thomas
The Joint Official Board
Rev. Dr. Allen Paul Weaver, Jr., Chairman
Deacon Ministry Deacon Dennis Cummins, Chairperson
Deacon Brigitte McLeod, Vice Chairperson
Deacon Roger Wheeler, 2nd Vice Chairperson
Deacon Rosetta Brown
Deacon Barbara Dillard
Deacon Debbi Ewell-Thompson
Deacon Cheryl Fortune
Deacon Janice Francis
Deacon Joefreey Gardner
Deacon Thomas G. McKnight
Deacon Alfred Potter
Deacon Helena Renrick
Deacon Paula Russell
Deacon Beryl Sinclair
Deacon Norma Stephenson
Deacon Calvin Walton
Deacon Nettie J. Weaver
Deacon Emeritus Deacon Charles H. Pulley, Jr.
Deaconess Eliza McKeever, Chairperson
Deaconess Norma Ifill, 1st Vice Chairperson
Deaconess Mary Jane Alexander
Deaconess Barbara Anderson
Deaconess Sinthia Barboza-Ewell
Deaconess Frances Bracey
Deaconess Betty Davis
Deaconess Beatrice Flemister*
Deaconess Josephine Gardner
Deaconess Emma Jefferies*
Deaconess Barbara Johnson
Deaconess Maebell Lewis
Deaconess Elizabeth Morgan
Deaconess Larcenia Petty
Deaconess Karen Soltau
Deaconess Glenda Thatcher
Deaconess Contrina Weather
Deaconess Yvonne Young
Trustee Elwood Tuck, Chairman
Trustee Ayanna Ifill-Gatsby, Vice Chairperson
Trustee Lauren Bagley, Secretary
Trustee Aaron Crafton
Trustee Marcia Jarrett
Trustee Adrian Duncan
Trustee Willie Bozier
Trustee Shone Brown-Holt
Carlease Wilson, Treasurer
Deaconess Cheryl A. Pulley-Fortune
Deacon Rosetta Brown
Deacon Barbara Dillard
Deacon Debbi Ewell-Thompson
Ethel Jean McCutcheon
Deacon Charles H. Pulley, Jr.
Deacon Paula Russell
Deaconess Virginia Toone
Carlease Wilson, Church Treasurer