A BRIEF HISTORY OF BETHEL CHURCH~SAGINAW, MICHIGAN
In 1867, Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church was founded by a small group of six Christians who had a desire to fellowship together. As is the case with many churches in the formative stage, those seeking to start or “plant” a church usually begin by worshiping together in the home of one of the members. The group who planted Bethel met in the home of Mr. & Mrs. Allen Ford on North Fourth Street. As the years passed, membership increased significantly, requiring the purchase of three different structures to house the burgeoning congregation.
The Rev. Isaiah Snelling was assigned to the pastorate at Bethel in March of 1954 by the Bishop George W. Baber. Rev. Snelling, a man of discernment and great vision, was an outstanding administrator and pastor. Though Rev. Snelling died only a few months after the groundbreaking ceremonies for the new edifice in October 1966, his faithfulness to his God-given dream and his indefatigable spirited led to the Bethel we know and love today.
The Rev. Harold C. Huggins was appointed by Bishop Joseph Gomez as the pastor of Bethel in March 1967. Rev. Huggins was, surely, inspired by God to continue the expansion and building program begun by Rev. Snelling. July 2, 1967–in the middle of Bethel’s Centennial Year–is a day which the membership holds dear, for on that historic day the congregation processed to a new church where a service of dedication was led by Bishop Gomez. Rev. Huggins and the people of Bethel moved forward with tenacity and strength, willingly following God’s plan for His church. Phase II of Rev. Snelling’s dream was completed in 1970; Phase III was completed in 1978. October 1980 brought Rev. Clarence G. Robinson to Bethel as pastor. Accepting the challenge to take Bethel to even higher heights in Christ, Rev. Robinson broke ground for Phase IV of the expansion program in June 1987.
In October 1988, Rev. Delano L. Bowman was assigned to the pulpit. Pastor Bowman and the Bethel family completed construction of the $1.6 million dollar educational center and dedicated the structure on August 27, 1989. The cornerstone was laid on July 1, 1990, with Bishop James Haskell Mayo as the chief celebrant.
Throughout Bethel’s expansion program, the congregation and its leaders continued to follow God’s lead, attempting to do His work by encouraging people everywhere to seek the Lord and the saving grace available only through Him. In June 1997, Rev. P. David Saunders was assigned to lead Bethel into the new millennium. With his belief that “Love Conquers All”, Pastor Saunders encouraged the membership to express the love of Christ in their everyday activities.
Bethel is growing! Although some 149 years have passed since Bethel’s inception, we still have not seen, nor can we even grasp what God has in store for His church. While Rev. Snelling’s vision and energy, along with the work of many pastors and congregants, has brought Bethel to the glorious place where it stands today, there is more to do: more souls to save, a calling to fulfill. We must work on!!!
2017 marked a historic milestone for Bethel, as we completed the end of a five-year celebration leading up to our 150th year Anniversary. This commemorated 150 years of serving and ministering in Saginaw County. Also, in 2017 Rev. Saunders reached retirement age. After 41 years in the ministry and 35 years of pastoring, he ceremoniously retired at the 131st Session of the Michigan Annual Conference. Bethel enjoyed his superb leadership for 20 of those years. Furthermore, the “P. David Saunders Endowment Fund” was established, in recognition of his hard work and dedicated service to Bethel.
Effective September 3, 2017, Bishop John Franklin White assigned Rev. Dennis E. Laffoon to pastor Bethel. Pastor Laffoon’s vision and focus centers around family and community, including multi-cultural ministries. His keen insight and energetic spirit will certainly guide Bethel to the next level, empowering the membership to actively pursue the goal of increasing the kingdom, as expressed in our current motto: “Loving, Sharing, and Growing.”