Old Bethel church building rises from the rubble
CAPE GIRARDEAU – All that was missing was a birthday cake ablaze with 200 candles.
The 200th anniversary of Old Bethel, the beginning of Baptist life in what would become Missouri, was woven throughout the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) annual meeting Oct. 30-Nov. 1. It found its way from the executive director’s address to the resolutions and motions submitted for votes on the floor to just 11-minutes away from the Show Me Center, outside Jackson, where messengers and visitors braved the mud to tour the historic church building. The Missouri Baptist Historical Commission even sold small blocks of wood left over from the original poplar logs deemed unusable at its exhibit.
John Marshall, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Springfield, spoke about Old Bethel during the annual meeting. He has been prominent in the reconstruction efforts of the 200-year-old church and Second Baptist was instrumental in recovering the original 80 timbers that were used in construction.
“In 1806, Old Bethel constructed its first building,” Marshall said. “It was the only non-Catholic church building between the Mississippi River and the Pacific Ocean.”
Eight years later, a larger building measuring 20 by 34 feet was constructed. This is the newly rebuilt building the public can see today in Jackson.
“By 1824, Bethel had started nine missions and had helped form the Cape Girardeau Association,” Marshall said.
The church thrived up until the 1840s, when it was struck by the “anti-mission” movement. Records of business meetings show they voted not to associate with missionaries or other Baptists who associated with missionaries. The church, which began because of missionary efforts, turned its focus inward and eventually died. It disbanded and the site was abandoned in 1861.
The site was largely forgotten except for memorials made during the 1906 and 1956 annual meetings of the MBC in Cape Girardeau. Second Baptist Springfield bought logs in 2001 and in 2004, David Clippard, executive director of the MBC and a Jackson native, began the efforts to rebuild the building. Today, the building itself is near completion but plans still call for a protective awning, and improved road access to the site. Those plans will progress as soon as the Historical Commission can raise the funds.
“An ancient piece of history is being resurrected before our eyes,” Marshall said. “The pioneer spirit of our forebears is rising from the rubble.”