About Bethel AME Church
Bethel A.M.E. Church was founded in 1902, with Rev. DeShields as its first pastor. It is the sixth oldest organized religious institution in the Village of Freeport. The following pastors share in the history of Bethel, Freeport: Rev. DeShields, Rev. J. Lane, Rev. Joseph Vick, Rev. William Sheppard, Rev. William Edwards, Rev. John Coffey, Rev. William Huff, Rev. S.H.V. Gumbs, Rev. William Wright, Rev. Joseph Stiles, Rev. George R. Coverdale, Rev. R.R. Downs, Rev. George W. Maybanks, Rev. Charles W. Walton (Presiding Elder), Rev. Hale B. Thompson , Rev. Purnell Pitts, Rev. Louis M. Carper, Rev. James P. Washington, Rev. Harold F. Berry, Rev. Beresford Barrow, Rev. Dr. S. Frank Emmanuel, Rev. Dr. Joseph Robinson, Rev. Dr. Simon P. Bouie, Rev. Dr. Harry J. White II and Rev. Stephen Michael Lewis.
The first structure was built in 1910 on Henry Street, near Sunrise Highway under the pastorate of Rev. William Edwards. In 1924, it became necessary to move the church and parsonage. This was done by placing the buildings on rollers and hand moving by the men of the community, along Sunrise Highway to Helen Avenue. This was related to Sarah Tibbs by her father, Shavis Colter Sr., one of the movers, and also by Stanley Chambers, another one of the movers and former Church Historian.
When it became apparent that the church had to be moved again, a building fund was established by Rev. Harold F. Berry and continued by Rev. Beresford Barrow. This move was accomplished under the dynamic leadership of Rev. S. Frank Emmanuel, who was appointed to Bethel in 1968. Bethel found a new home in 1974 at the present address, 420 North Main Street, Freeport, New York. “We have moved from Old Jerusalem to New Jericho,” a phrase coming from the late Sis. Rosa Corse, a Trustee, was often heard by many. This move prompted an over-flowing crowd of worshippers sitting on folding chairs in the sanctuary and the vestibule every Sunday.
Rev. Emmanuel also organized Bethel’s Senior Citizen Center, and the Cathedral and Chancel Choirs. Additionally the Acolytes began their service under the pastorate of Rev. Emmanuel. The Children’s Choir was directed by Mrs. Margaret Emmanuel.
In 1978, Rev. Joseph Robinson became the spiritual leader of Bethel. Under his guidance the existing church mortgage was liquidated. More pews were added to the rear of the sanctuary. His feet washing ceremony of the Acolytes during Easter week was his pride and joy. Rev. Robinson formed the first Boy Scout Troop here at Bethel. During his pastorate, Bethel was given recognition by the State Legislature for its outstanding service in our community and county. In 1986, Rev. Simon P. Bouie was assigned to Bethel. During his tenure Bethel became computerized. Achair lift was installed for the elderly and handicapped. Two houses and a van were also purchased. Rev. Dr. Harry J. White II was appointed in June, 1994. His task was the lowering of the church debts, which was greatly appreciated by all of the parishioners. While at Bethel, Rev. White achieved many accomplishments, e.g., The Bethel Bible Institute & The Burning Bush Ministry. Other ministries included: The Annex at 100 North Main Street, Women’s Ministry, the Healing Ministry, Evangelist Department, theLiturgical Dancers and the Youth Program (JAM-Jesus and Me). He re-established The Senior Program; established The Bradford Boardman Library, and the Radio Ministry. Rev. White’s own creations are the two brick structures displayed on the front lawn. One of them is the two hands reaching upward with the inscription – “My help cometh from the Lord which made heaven and earth”. Psalm 121:2
In June 2011, Rev. Stephen Michael Lewis became the pastor. The church readily welcomed the first family which included First Lady, Charlene Palmore-Lewis and son Sean. Soon after the arrival of Rev. Lewis, he began the process of upgrading the foundation that had been laid by all of the previous pastors and immediately established the “Team Bethel” mantra as a model for encouraging the congregation to work together and advance the kingdom of God here on earth. Within the first year of his administration, he completed the purchase and installation of solar panels and he led the
work to furnish the parsonage with the new appliances - stove, refrigerator and washer and dryer. Further structural upgrades during his tenure included a new roof for the Rev. Dr. Harry J. White, II Spiritual and Cultural Center.
In keeping up with the changing times in the technological age, Rev. Lewis initiated the purchase of a state of the arts LED church sign, automated the church financial processes, centralized and added a professional payroll system and invested in electronic and digital images in the sanctuary by installing TV monitors. Led by the theme scripture, Hebrews 13:2 “do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it”, Rev. Lewis commissioned the music director to write a Welcome Song and he revised the church slogan to reflect this scripture. Bethel always known as “The Church with the Friendly Spirit” became “The Church with the Friendly Spirit, we will meet you where you are.” Hallmarks of the administration of Pastor Lewis included the legacy recognition of past and present pastors, members and the presence of Bethel Church in the Connection and in the Freeport and Long Island community.
At Bethel, his legacy renaming of the following ministries included: Anna Drayton Senior Program, Lessie Mitchell Food Pantry, Mae L. Felder Lay Organization, Aaron and Hur Pastor’s Aide, Rose A. Watson First Ladies Hospitality Ministry, Liturgical Arts Ministry of Bethel (LAMBS), Christopher James Grant Outreach Choir, S. Frank Emmanuel Tabernacle Choir and S. Frank Emmanuel Fellowship Hall.
In the Village of Freeport, Rev. Lewis was appointed to the Freeport Main Street Task Force and the Freeport Human Relations Commission. In 2018, he delivered the invocation at the inauguration of the Nassau County Executive.
From preaching the Annual Sermon at the 193rd Session of the New York Annual Conference, to his election as a delegate to the Quadrennial Session of the AME General Conference in 2013 and his appointment as Chief Marshal of the New York Conference and the 1st Episcopal District, Rev. Lewis extended the presence of Bethel Church in the 1st District. His appointment as Acting Chief Marshal for the Council of Bishops and the General Board of the African Methodist Episcopal Church led to his appointment as the Chief Marshal of both in 2016 and further extended the church’s presence.
The leadership of Rev. Lewis also led to the Bethel Church leadership presence, by the hosting the 196thSession of the New York Annual Conference in April 2018. It was noted that the last meeting on Long Islandin Nassau and Suffolk County was in Freeport in 1953.
In response to the covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and to the needs of the congregation, Rev. Lewis implemented virtual services and later on hybrid services. Through all of the challenging times, he continued to minister to broken families.
“And it does not yet appear what we shall be . . .” 1 John 3:2
Revised and Updated March 2022
Sis. Wilma Tootle, Compiler & Sis. Zada Terry, Director-Board of Christian Education
Over two hundred years ago, African American worshippers at St. George's Methodist Church in Philadelphia were pulled from their knees during prayer by white worshippers. Richard Allen, one of the African Americans, asked that they be allowed to finish prayer and they then would leave and trouble St. George's no more. Prayer ended before the commotion did and Richard Allen led the African Americans out of St. George's Methodist Church. The year was 1787. In the days that were to come, Richard Allen and those few men and women founded the church that became the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The new congregation worshipped in a blacksmith's shop that Allen purchased with his own money. Allen, who later became Bishop Richard Allen, preached in the blacksmith shop, with an anvil as his pulpit, a doctrine of self-help. He taught the people that they should rely on God and their own resources to make a difference in their lives, their church and their community.