Fairview—Bethel Baptist Church is unique. It sits on property given by Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America, who was born on the site in 1808.
The first congregation was formed in 1814, but the church wasn’t organized and constituted until 1816, its original location being in Salubria Springs. Despite trials and obstacles, the church has managed to survive for two centuries and maintains a positive outlook.
“The Lord’s not stopped (working),” said Terry Joiner, pastor of Bethel Baptist Church, “We’re trying to be a light to the Fairview community.”
Bobby Melton, director of missions for Christian County Baptist Association, presented a plaque to the church a week before the ceremony honoring its bicentennial. “They have a very strong sense of cooperation,” he said.
On Sunday, June 5, the church celebrated its 200 years. Two of the 12 preachers ordained by the church in the 1970s spoke about how God used them through the years and about their time at Bethel.
The event also included a presentation about the two centuries of history at the church by an official historian of Christian County and the giving of a historical marker by the National Society of the Colonial Dames. Music was provided by a gospel bluegrass group and individuals.
“This was planned for several months. The church was filled to capacity,” said Terry Joiner, pastor of Bethel Baptist. “There were people present who hadn’t been in 40-plus years.”
Jefferson Davis was born June 3, 1808 in Fairview. As an infant, Davis and his family moved to St. Mary Parish, La., then to Wilkinson County, Miss. Davis served first as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Mississippi, then U.S. Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce, and finally as a U.S. Senator from Mississippi until the state seceded from the Union in January 1861. Davis was then selected as President of the newly formed Confederate States of America, serving from February 1861 until his capture by Union forces in May 1865.
“Jefferson Davis is very important to the church and community,” added Joiner, “He was very inspirational in starting the church.”
In 1884, a decision was made to split the congregation and build two churches, one in Fairview and another in Pembroke. Davis deeded land from his birthplace for the Fairview church, Bethel Baptist. Davis was in attendance at the dedication, presented both the deed and a communion set for the church, and gave a speech to the congregation.
“Davis wasn’t a Baptist, but he saw the need for a church to be built,” explained Joiner. “We all believe in one God, regardless of (denomination).”
Bethel Baptist dealt with racial issues during the 19th century. The church voted to allow African American members to form their own church, known today as St. Bethlehem Baptist Church.
“67 African Americans attended Bethel and sat in the balcony,” said Joiner. “They just wanted their own church, and Bethel helped them establish their own church.”
In 1900, lightning struck the church and it burned to the ground. However, many Fairview residents who rushed to the burning building were able to salvage the stained glass windows and the communion set donated by Davis. Soon thereafter, a new church building with the same specifications as the old building was constructed and houses the congregation today.
Don’t expect Bethel Baptist’s drive or vision to be deterred, according to Melton. Rather, expect the next 200 years to be even better than the last 200.
“Their best years are ahead of them,” said Melton. (WR)