– the Sanctuary, as photographed from the Vestibule
Bethlehem Baptist Church was organized in 1872. It was an outgrowth of the Macedonia Baptist Church. The faithful members of this new post-Civil War congregation decided to meet twice a month for their church services at the Douglas Hall which was at the corner of Nicholas Avenue and Howard Road in Anacostia. Rev. Henry Scott was Bethlehem’s first Pastor. In 1876, Bethlehem purchased a parcel of land diagonally across the street from Douglas Hall. That was where they built their first church. Mr. John Anderson, one of their charter members, helped greatly with the land purchase and then with the construction of the new Bethlehem. During the nineteenth century Bethlehem had three ministers – Rev. Henry Scott; Rev. Phillips; and Rev. Joseph Matthews.
Rev. Matthews became the minister at Bethlehem in 1892, and served in that capacity until his death in 1919. After Rev. Matthews death, his friend and his assistant, Rev. John Marshall served as Bethlehem’s pastor for one year. In 1921 he left Bethlehem to set up a new branch of Zion to be known as Matthews Memorial Baptist Church in honor of his dear friend, the late Rev. Joseph Matthews.
In 1926 Rev. James C. Banks, a true Bible Scholar from South Boston, Virginia, was called to Pastor at Bethlehem. He gave 19 years of faithful service as a minister. Due to advanced age in 1945, he was made Pastor Emeritus and was retired on a lifetime salary. This was a new innovation at this time in Baptist churches.
After several ministers pastored the church over the next few years our next minister, Rev. Willie B. Allen came to Bethlehem from Richmond, Va., on May 3, 1954. Under his leadership the membership increased. The ground breaking service for the new church was held on May 9, 1954 and construction began in 1955. The cornerstone was laid on May 27, 1955.
Since December 5, 1957, Rev. James E. Coates has been the Pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church. For sixty-one years Rev. James E. Coates has been a blessing to this Church. At the beginning of his pastorate, with rejoicing and great leadership our twenty year mortgage was burned in just twelve years. Under his leadership our church has become a center of community improvement and social action in Anacostia.