Old Bethel rebuilding project nears completion
JACKSON – It’s been 201 years in the making, but a historical and religious landmark has finally been rebuilt just outside this small southeastern Missouri town.
Old Bethel Baptist Church – the first permanent non-Catholic house of worship west of the Mississippi River – has risen from the dead after lying dormant since the Civil War. Now, in 2007, the site has been lovingly restored and staying together today just as it did when Thomas Jefferson was president.
Founded July 19 in 1806, the church thrived and planted dozens of other churches 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, along with the adjoining cemetery.
The site was largely forgotten except for memorials made during the 1906 and 1956 annual meetings of the Missouri Baptist Convention in Cape Girardeau. Second Baptist Church Springfield bought the original, hand-hewn logs in 2001, and in 2004, David Clippard, executive director of the MBC and a Jackson native, began the efforts to rebuild the building.
Bethel’s place in Missouri Baptist life was also woven through the 2006 MBC Annual Meeting in nearby Cape Girardeau, as the Missouri Baptist Historical Commission offered tours of the site and sold excess chunks of the poplar logs.
Flash forward to this spring, and the 20’x 34’ structure has been faithfully reconstructed to the original specifications, down to the split wood shingles. All that’s left now is the chinking – filling in the gaps of the logs – and the completion of the protective awning. The commission also wants to build a paved parking lot and improve the road to the site.
To help fund the final steps, the Historical Commission is offering Old Bethel commemorative mugs for a suggested donation of $30 each.
For more information contact Joanna Perkins at 1-800-736-6227 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.