By Lee Hubbard
Just a few years after the California gold rush began at Sutter’s Mill in Northern California, Bethel AME church in San Francisco was founded in 1852.
The church was founded as a merger between several AME churches in San Francisco, making Bethel the oldest African American church in the city.
Three of the church’s early members were involved in the Underground Railroad, part of the historic legacy of Bethel AME that will be celebrated in a series of events in the next two weeks.
“Bethel was born the same year Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” The church’s history shows the power and presence of African Americans in the early period of California,” said Rev. J Edgar Boyd, senior pastor at the church.
A celebration, “Preserving a Legacy,” will mark the church’s 160th anniversary with three events.
On Sunday, Feb. 26, at 5 p.m. there will be a musical celebration featuring Bethel AME’s New Vision choir.
“The show will feature our heritage in music,” said A. Keith Williams Sr., minister of music at Bethel. “We will show how church music has changed from spirituals to contemporary music to traditional gospel.”
The 160th Anniversary Gala Banquet will be held March 3 at the Mark Hopkins Hotel in the Nob Hill area of San Francisco. The banquet features a retrospective of Bethel’s history, a silent auction, presentations and musical performances. Tickets are $160 and can be purchased at the church’s business office.
The traditional anniversary celebration services will be held at the church Sunday, March 4, at the 8 a.m. and the 11 a.m. services. At the 8 a.m. service Dr. Paul Martin, President of the American Baptist Seminary of the West, will be host preacher.
Presiding Bishop of the Fifth Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church Bishop T. Larry Kirkland will be the host preacher at 11 a.m.
“This is a great time of celebration for the church,” continued Pastor Boyd. “Looking back on 160 years, the congregation has come mighty far. Much of the church’s life also spans the history of San Francisco.”
Bethel AME moved to its present location in the 1950s, where it has played an important role in the Western Addition and the city’s African American community.
Bethel AME Church is located at 916 Laguna St. in San Francisco. For more information on all of the events visit www.bethelamesf.com or call the church’s office at (415) 921-4935.