History of Our Church


The Bethel Story

Richard Allen. Founder of the A.M.E. Church

Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church History 

Portland, Oregon 


Our church was started by Brother Philip Jenkins, who was born in Maryland in November 1841. In 1889, Brother Jenkins was then 48 years old and living in Portland on the West side of the Willamette River. Before and sometime after 1889 the West side of the Willamette River, North of Burnside Street, was called North Portland. He worked as a janitor at the First National Bank Building. He was a grocer, also. 


In 1889, a small group of Christians met in North (now NW) Portland, at the home of Brother Jenkins. His address was 429 J (now NW Johnson). The people met at the Jenkins's home for a few years until the group could get their Christian Endeavor realized into the African Methodist Episcopal (A. M. E.) Church Connection.   Bethel A. M. E. Church had four name changes between 1889 and 1897 or '98. The names were: 

1. African Methodist Church 2. Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Mission Church 3. People's African Methodist Episcopal Church 4. Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church (until this day) 


From 1892 to 1915 or '16, Bethel's congregation worshipped on the West side of the Willamette River at three different locations. 


1892-1893: The church was called Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Mission Church and was located at 88 Sixth. Bishop Benjamin F. Lee came to Portland August 10-15, 1892, for a conference. Rev. George C. Clark was the pastor and he lived at 761 2nd North. 


In 1894, Bethel A. M. E. Mission Church's name changed to People's A. M. E. Church. The congregation moved to 126 13th North on the corner of 13th and Glisan. Bishop Benjamin F. Lee appointed Presiding Elder E. E. Makiell as pastor. 


1894-1895: Bishop Lee appointed Rev. Allen W. Whaley pastor. He lived at a Boarding House at 310 Pine. 


1895-1896: Bishop Lee appointed Rev. George A. Bailey pastor. He lived at 91 9th North. People's A. M. E. Church was still housed at the corner of 13th and Glisan. 

1896-1897: Bishop Wesley J. Gaines appointed Rev. James Paul Simons. He lived at 91 9th North. People's A. M. E. Church's name was changed again and established to what it is today, Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. He lived at 91 9th North. 


1897-1899: Bishop Wesley J. Gaines appointed Rev. Shepard S. Freeman pastor. His wife's name was Lenora. Sometime during Rev. Shepard's pastorate, Brother Jenkins and Rev. Shepard had a falling out and Brother Jenkins padlocked the church, forcing Rev. Freeman to find a new location. In order to support his ministry, Rev. Freeman and his wife decided to operate a boarding house for the men working on the railroad. The successful venture enabled the Freeman's to purchase two properties. One property was an Old Japanese Mission Building at 68 10h North for Bethel A. M. E. Church. The second property was next door at 6872 10th North for the pastor and wife, and for future pastors. Both properties were between Everett and Davis North. The building had 20' ceilings for the 1st floor and there was a basement. These locations were Bethel's first ownerships. 


1899-1900: Bishop Wesley J. Gaines appointed Rev. Burell F. Seabrook pastor. Rev. Seabrook was born in Georgia, Oct. 1870, and was 29 years old. 


1900-1902: Bishop Cornelius T. Shaffer appointed Rev. Seaborn J. pastor. 


1902-1903: Bishop Cornelius T. Shaffer appointed Rev. George W. Tolson pastor. 

1903-1908: Bishops Cornelius T. Shaffer, Abraham Grant, and Benjamin F. Lee appointed Rev. Warner J. Tolliver pastor. Rev. Tolliver worked as a janitor for the U. S. Custom House. 


1908-1911: Bishops William H. Heard and Abraham Grant appointed Rev. Felix G. Barr pastor. 


1911-1915: Bishop Henry Blandon Parks appointed Rev. James Logan Craw pastor. His wife's name was Lillian. Bethel was located in the heart of the African American, Japanese and Chinese communities. The area was called Japan Town and had numerous African American, Japanese and Chinese businesses and residences and the area was growing. However, due to redevelopment of the area, Bethel was forced to move. Under Rev. Craw's pastorate there was a new vision. By 1915 or '16, the congregation purchased land to build a new church. The new location was across the Willamette River on the corner of McMillen and Larrabee(1230 N. Larrabee). They built the basement/first floor and worshipped and held events there until the church could be completed. The residence for the pastor was located at 208 McMillen. This address was later changed to 316 N. McMillen. It is not known whether the house was built during the church's construction or whether it already existed while the church was being built. The move to the new location was a memorable day in the history of the church and the history of Portland's African American churches because it was the first time an African American congregation had built its own church. This church is now know as “Old Bethel” 


1915-1917: Bishop Henry B. Parks appointed Rev. W. H. Prince pastor. 


1917-1919: Bishop Henry B. Parks appointed Rev. John B. Isaacs pastor. 


1919-1924: Bishop Henry B. Parks appointed Rev. Alfonso T. Fox pastor. His wife's name was Sadie B. In 


1922, the second floor and sanctuary were built to complete a beautiful brick church. 


1924-1928: Rev. Xanthenas C. (Vernon) Runyon was appointed pastor. His wife's name was Berna. 


1928-1933: Rev. Daniel G. Hill, Jr. was appointed pastor. His wife's name was May E. . 


1933-1935: Rev. Ralph R. King was appointed pastor. His wife's name was Mary P. 


1935-1939: Rev. George F. Martin was appointed pastor. His wife's name was Myrtle. 


1939-1944: Rev. Browning C. Allen was appointed pastor. His wife's name was Bernice E. In 1940 there were around 2,000 African Americans living in Portland. But World War II and work in the shipyards brought another 15,000 African Americans to the Portland area. Rev. Allen did extensive outreach to African American men and women in the service as well as to the newly arrived African Americans living in Vanport City, Guild's Lake, and other housing projects built expressly for the new arrivals. 


1944-1949: Rev. Cornelius N. Austin, Jr. was appointed pastor. His wife's name was Audrey. 


1949-1951: Rev. Justin E. Roberts was appointed pastor. 


1951-1954: Rev. Jesse Boyd was appointed pastor. His wife's name was Olga L. Mrs. Martha Jordan attended Bethel during Rev. Boyd's pastorate and played the piano on occasions. She was a member of Bethel many years after the pastor was gone, and donated the piano in the Fellowship Hall. Under Rev. Boyd's pastorate, the Bethel Altar Guild was organized. 


1954-1962: Rev. H. Harley Akers was appointed by Bishop R. R. Wright in 1954-1960, and by Bishop H. Thomas Primm in 1960 1962. His wife's name was Gwendolyn. During Rev. Harley Akers pastorate, the Young Matrons Club was organized in September of 1955. And in September of 1957, Old Bethel was displaced. The city bought the church and parsonage to build the Memorial Coliseum. The congregation received $75,000.00 for the sale of the brick edifice. The new church was a one-story structure estimated to cost $134,000.00. It included a sanctuary that seats 425, a balcony which seats 25 and a choir loft that seats 50. The new church also had 10 classrooms for religious education, one large multi-purpose room, two church offices, stewardess preparation room, sound-proof nursery or crying room, and dressing room for the choirs.  Mrs. Minnie Belle Johnson was one of the Trustee signers on the contract to build the new church. She is the only living signer on that document. 


Rev. Akers and his family moved from 316 N. McMillen in 1957 to a new parsonage located at 2737 N.E. 10th Avenue, in the Irvington Neighborhood. This was the third house owned by Bethel Church.   The last service at Old Bethel was held Feb. 9, 1958. While the new church was being built the congregation met at the Old Eliot School (The Knott Street Community Center), located between Williams and Rodney Avenues on Knott Street. Through the generosity of Rev. L. O. Stone, Vicar of St. Philip's Episcopal Church, the facilities of St. Philip's were opened to the youth and choirs for meeting and rehearsing. We met from February 16, 1958 until March 5, 1959. On July 7, 1959, the cornerstone to the church was dedicated and on August 2, 1959 the formal dedication service for New Bethel was held. Rev. Harley Akers also hosted the 69" Session of the Puget Sound Annual Conference, August 9 14, 1960. 


1962-1969: Bishop H. Thomas Primm appointed Rev. Grady R. Brown pastor. His wife's name was Russelyn. Under Rev. Brown's pastorate, additional property was purchased and the second mortgage was paid. Rev. Brown hosted the 73rd Session of the Puget Sound Annual Conference. 


1969-1976: Bishop Harrison J. Bryant appointed Rev. A. Lee Henderson pastor. His wife's name was Verna. Under Rev. Henderson's pastorate Bethel's Head Start Program was established, the Church's first mortgage was retired, and the Jarrett Street property was purchased. Rev. Henderson was the editor of the Portland Observer for several years. Rev. Henderson hosted the 82nd Session of the Puget Sound Annual Conference 

August 6-10, 1973. 


1976-1981: Bishop H. Hartford Brookins appointed Rev. L. Fisher Hines pastor. His wife's name was Bessie. The Young Adult Choir was organized because most members were in the Young Adult Usher Board. Later, because of time and through a talented line of musicians and directors the choir members were no longer classified as young adults. As a result the choirs name changed to the Inspirational Choir and the choir members began wearing black and red robes purchased by each member in April 1987. Also, Peculiar Paradise was published during this period. The book is about Black Portland and includes passages about Bethel's history. Rev. Hines hosted the 89th Session of the Puget Sound Conference August 5-10, 1980. 


1981-1987: Bishop H. Hartford Brookins appointed Rev. Matthew Allen Watley pastor. His wife's name was Marion. Under Rev. Watley's Pastorate, the Bethel Community Care Food Program, the Matthew Watley Scholarship Fund and Alpha I Choir were established. In addition, new furnaces, a copier and an additional van were purchased for the church. In March 1987, under the pastorate of Rev. Watley, the Bethel Busy Bees was organized. God called Rev. Watley home in April of 1987. Rev. Jewel B. De Witty, Presiding Elder, Puget Sound Conference, brought the church to the Annual Conference in August of 1987. 


1987-1991: Bishop Henry Wendell Murph appointed Rev. Milton Green pastor. His wife's name was Essie. Rev. Green labored in both work and doctrine that Bethel might grow in grace and knowledge. Under Rev. Green's Pastorate, two bible study classes were organized, as were the President's Council and the Sons of Allen. In September of 1989, the Children's Choir was formed. The church records were computerized, a new Xerox copier was purchased, the church lounges, bathroom facilities and pastor's office were renovated, and new carpet was installed at the parsonage. The Bethel Economic Development Fund was organized. Rev. Green hosted the 97th Session of the Puget Sound Conference August 11-14, 1988. In the conference year 1988 1989, Bethel celebrated its 100th Church Anniversary. In October of 1989, Bethel had a Fall Revival with quest speaker Rev. Ronald Williams. Bethel A. M. E. Church hosted a meeting with Minister Louis Farrakhan and the ministers of the city November 17, 1990 for a question and answer period. Rev. Green was also the last Pastor to live at 2727 N.E. 10th Ave., Bethel's old parsonage. 


1991-1998: Bishop Vinton R. Anderson appointed Rev. Dorsey McCullough pastor. His wife's name was Loyce. Under Rev. McCullough’s Pastorate, Bethel hosted the 101st Session of the Puget Sound Conference August 3-9, 1992. Many improvements were made to the church building: a new roof, repairs to the interior and exterior, a newly paved parking lot, and maintenance to the church grounds. With the sale of the existing parsonage on Northeast 10th Avenue, a new parsonage was purchased on N. E. Holman and serves as a gathering place for activities sponsored by Bethel's auxiliaries, as well as the home of the Pastors. In 1993, Bishop Vinton R. Anderson visited Portland to dedicate the new parsonage. 


Also, under Rev. McCullough's Pastorate, an emphasis on community outreach has been made. Bethel has become active in the Walnut Park Neighborhood Association. In September 1993, Bethel became an educational facility for the Oregon Outreach Program, which is an alternative educational program for youth at risk. The Community Care Food Program continues to serve people through its food distribution three times a week. The Bethel Busy Bees Auxiliary spearheaded the stained glass window project. 


Sunday morning worship services, began at eight o'clock, followed by Sunday School and then another service at eleven o'clock. The Wednesday night bible study was expanded to what was known as “Family Night” church, and included a light dinner, devotion and study. The Allen Christian Fellowship, and Richard Allen Youth Council was also organized. The Music Department at Bethel expanded and a Music Academy and a Mass Choir began. The 103rd Church Anniversary was celebrated in November, 1992, also. 


1998-2001: Bishop Vernon R. Byrd appointed Rev. Ronald L. Williams pastor. His wife's name was Dori. During Rev. Williams pastorate, many new members joined the church. On Easter Sunday, 1999, the congregation gathered outside Bethel to take a panoramic photo that would match the panoramic photo of Old Bethel's congregation that was taken 50 years earlier. Those photos along with other panoramic photos collected are a vital part of Bethel's history. Rev. Williams assigned Rev. Dion Jordan as the Youth Minister of the church which created a strong emphasis on youth ministries and increased the number of young people participation in Sunday morning worship and Wednesday night Bible Study. During this time, the Sunday school attendance dramatically increased. The church front entrance houses the brick project that was under the direction of the Senior Usher Board, which listed the dedication by members, family, friends, and in memory of loved ones. Rev. Williams established a new organization called "Singles Over Sixty" which focused on the interest and activities of senior members. This organization purchased new tables and chairs for the Fellowship Hall and the remodeling of the ladies' lounge. A ministry for men was established which includes a monthly Men's Prayer Breakfast and a weekly Men's Bible Study group. A prison ministry was established at the Oregon State Penitentiary. Special worship services, visits, letters and receiving incarcerated persons as church members created what we now call "Bethel on The Inside." 


2001-2009: Bishop John R. Bryant appointed Rev. Robert L. Ned pastor. His wife's name was Charlotte. Rev. Ned established structure and organization in administration of church affairs. He canvassed the church membership role for accuracy; established a visitor's recognition and follow-up program to encourage an increase in membership; conducted a professional audit and restructured the church's finance system; re-landscaped the parsonage property; established Bethel's non-profit economic development corporation. Under the EDC program the Technology room was developed to teach youth and adults how to use the computer. A youth Robotics program was established. He restructured Bethel's Community Care Food Distribution Program; and was very instrumental in helping the victims of the Katrina Hurricane disaster by sending clothes and necessaries and collecting money for the victims. Rev. Ned placed strong emphasis on tithing, and tithing increased over 15%. Other accomplishments: re-roofed the church and parsonage, reorganized Young Peoples Division (Y.P.D.), reactivated the Youth and Inspirational Choirs, re-instituted the class leader system, held successful revivals, and plans were drawn to remodel and upgrade the church kitchen and to develop the Jarrett Street property. 


2009-2012: Bishop T. Larry Kirkland appointed Rev. Donna Maria Davis pastor. Rev. Davis was the first female pastor. Rev. Davis labored in both word and doctrine that Bethel will continue to grow. Under her leadership, Bethel members visited the sick and shut-in regularly; membership roles were updated; two Bible study classes were conducted weekly; a prayer team was established, and a Gospel Choir was added to Bethel's rich music traditions. Rev. Davis instituted the Elder's Council and Joshua Generation exhibiting her appreciation for the value that each member of the congregation brings for the glory of God, especially the seniors and youth. During the 13th Annual Convention of the Pacific Northwest Conference Lay Organization, Rev. Davis received the Outstanding Pastor of the Year Award. August 6-12, 2012, Rev. Davis led Bethel to successfully host the 121st Session of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference where all services and meetings were held at Bethel. 


2012-Present: Bishop T. Larry Kirkland appointed Rev. Arthur B. Carter, Jr. pastor. Rev. Carter's leadership has encouraged Bethel to “Worship Thru Nu Eyez”, as we interact with one another in love and respect; has provided clear and concise messages that speak to our hearts and minds; has instituted a number of changes designed to improve Bethel's standing in the Portland community and beyond; has begun a comprehensive visioning and ministry development process aimed at reinvigorating growth; membership has increased; has, with his professional music ministry, organized the Bethel Adult Choir to through song and music inspire and magnify the love of God and to demonstrate higher praise and worship along with congregation participation; has expanded our interactions with other churches in the Portland metropolitan area. Rev. Carter has revived our youth in participating in worship service in ways to enhance their growth in faith by works. Bethel has a sound/media ministry in progress. 


The remainder of Bethel's History awaits writing through the continuance of her good works and faithfulness. 


"So it is written, so shall it be!” 

“We've Come This Far By Faith” 

Be Blessed.