Organized in 1806, Bethel Baptist Church in Hertford is one of the oldest churches in North Carolina. With an average worship attendance around 100, its size matches the majority of Southern Baptist churches. (See editorial – Each church is unique)
Characteristic of worship services in many Baptist churches, every Sunday Pastor Tracy Smith gives the greeting, leads the congregational music, directs the choir, makes the announcements and preaches the sermon. That is a small portion of his full load of pastoral responsibilities.
However, unlike many churches, Bethel is intentional about reaching their rural community.
Sunday, July 13 was a day of celebration and groundbreaking for a new multi-ministry building that will broaden the church’s outreach. It is their first building project since a fellowship hall was built in 1977.
“This is big for a church our size,” Smith said. “I’m excited about this building. But I’m not nearly as excited about this building as I am about the hundreds of people who will come to know Jesus Christ as a result of it. … I want to see the baptismal waters stay stirred.”
BR photo by K. Allan Blume
Pastor Tracy Smith, far left, speaks to the attendees for the groundbreaking of Bethel Baptist Church’s multi-ministry building in Hertford.
He became the church’s pastor in February. In his Groundbreaking Day sermon from Joshua 1:1-9, Smith told the congregation they should expect to see great things happening that will change the face of the church and the community.
“Great things are happening now,” he said. “But I guarantee you as we follow God, there’s going to be greater things to come. … I’m excited about what God is going to be doing five, 10, 15 and 20 years down the road.”
Smith told the biblical story of Israel’s wandering in the wilderness after God delivered them from 400 years of slavery in Egypt. “We must avoid the mistakes the children of Israel made,” he warned. “God’s best would only be attained by listening to the voice of God.”
Smith said the Hebrew people were only an 11-day journey from the land of promise. But because of their disobedience, it took 40 years. Ten spies who investigated the Promised Land said the cost was too risky, and it should not be attempted.
“But two spies said it is the promise of God, and the people should take the land,” he said. “They did not listen to the voice of God, but listened to the voice of 10 opinions. The Israelites missed the Promised Land for 40 years because they saw the opposition and not the opportunity.”
Listing the many ways Bethel church has been blessed, Smith said, “We can’t be blessing hogs. Because He is blessing us, we need to be a blessing outside these walls. The overflow of our blessings should pour out to the community at large. … We have to honor God’s Word and share God’s Word.”
“I see this building as another tool in our toolbox of opportunities to serve God and to reach the lost people in our community,” said Jonathan Nixon, chairman of the building committee. “I think it’s going to be another way to do that, especially to our younger people. It will give us a calling card to meet their physical needs and then meet their spiritual needs. You know Christ did that. And I think this might be a great opportunity for us to do that.”
Charles Ward, a trustee of Bethel church was born in the community and has been an active member for about 70 years. A respected senior leader in the community, he supports the vision for a new building.
“I’m 100 percent behind this project. Our youth committee is really working hard,” Ward said.
“Without the youth committee, we would not need this building. The reason we need this new building is because of the youth. They want to come here.”
Ward said, “I’ve seen churches with hardly any young people involved, and we’ve seen the time when we didn’t have too many involved here.” He said today the youth in the Bethel community go to church.
“And, the Good Lord sent us Tracy Smith, our preacher,” Ward added. “I see God’s hand in sending him here. All my life I’ve been trying to get people to do more work, but [pastor Tracy] is the only guy I’ve ever asked to slow down.”
Garry Mickey, Bethel’s pastor for 11 years until his retirement in August 2013, attended the celebration.
“This is exciting,” he said. “But this was the church’s project and something they had the vision for. It is a wonderful feeling as the retired pastor to see this finally happen.”
Ray Bass, chairman of the deacons, has been involved with the project since the planning committee was named more than four years ago. “We’ve been doing a lot of meeting, and a lot of praying and a lot of work. The church has been backing us and giving us good support. May God use this new facility to reach the lost in our community,” Bass said. The congregation set a goal of having $275,000 in hand before beginning construction of the $660,000 building. On March 3 the fund topped $276,000. Site work begins immediately with completion scheduled for late February 2015. Bethel church has a significant history.
Martin Ross, the church’s founding pastor, was instrumental in establishing the Chowan Baptist Association in 1805 and is credited with a significant role in the organization of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina in 1830. Livingston Johnson’s 1908 book, History of the North Carolina Baptist State Convention, begins the first chapter with these words, “The Baptist State Convention was conceived in the consecrated brain of Martin Ross. In the minutes of the Chowan Association, held in May, 1809, Elder Martin Ross submitted a motion, ‘embracing an inquiry as to the propriety of establishing a meeting of general correspondence, to be comprised of the neighboring associations.’”
Pastor Smith is committed to Ross’ mission-focused vision. He commented on Bethel’s history saying, “The churches that have been established from this congregation are not because this congregation had a split. There’s a Hertford Baptist Church and there’s an Edenton Baptist church that were birthed from this church because this church was following God. That excites me because that tells me that in the future there’s going to be other churches that will be birthed from this church, because we are following the Lord.”