1870 – 1883 Reverend James Page
1884 - 1899 Reverend Horace Bailey
1900 – 1918 Reverend J. B. Hankerson
1918 – 1928 Reverend A. T. Pettus
Reverend C. L. Stamps
Reverend J. P. West
1928 – 1930 Reverend Harry Jones
1930 – 1931 Reverend Jerome Harris
1931 – 1951 Reverend William M. Burns
1952 – 1980 Reverend Dr. Charles Kenzie Steele, Sr.
1981 – 1985 Reverend Dr. Herbert C. Alexander
1986 – Present Reverend Dr. RB Holmes, Jr.
As we continue to celebrate the life of the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, we pause to recognize the countless men and women who have given of their time, talents, and financial resources in doing God’s work. The history of this great church reflects a record of God’s grace and mercy, a commitment to Biblical teaching, and an outreach to provide solutions to those who would profess and accept the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. From its humble beginnings to its present status, Bethel Missionary Baptist Church always has provided unparalleled spiritual, economic, and social justice for humankind.
Although Bethel celebrated the completion of its first church building in 1870, as the moment of its official origin, the beginnings of this great church trace back to the early 1830’s. Then, enslaved blacks worshipped the Lord on John Parkhill’s Leon County plantation without the convenience of a physical structure. Early church members received little, if any, income for their hand labor, but thanks to great faith and their dedication, devotion, and true discipleship to the Lord Jesus Christ, by the end of the 1840’s they managed to meet regularly in an old building on the 2,290-acre plantation. One of the Parkhill bondsmen, Father James Page, led those services, as well as others on plantations elsewhere in Leon, Jefferson, and Madison Counties from 1835 to the Civil War’s end in 1865.
By the late 1840’s or early 1850’s the Parkhill family had relocated its main home to Bel-Air, a rural community located about four miles south of Tallahassee. There, Father Page oversaw the erection of a new church building. “When he moved from the plantation to Bel-Air, a piece of our land was given for a church site,” Harriet Randolph Parkhill recalled, “…and I think all the gentlemen of the village helped to build the meeting-house, so much did they respect him.” Within this modest sanctuary, worshippers truly found themselves in the house of the Lord. As one minister expressed of his visit there, “My heart enlarged.”
Through the years Father Page often preached in Tallahassee. His friend, Jane Austin, remembered the circumstances well. “The Second Sunday in each month, he went to town, to preach to the Servants that could not get to church,” she recorded, “such as cooks, nurses, and butlers.” Following emancipation at the Civil War’s 1865 conclusion, those Baptists desired a church of their own. With assistance from his wife, Elizabeth Page, and other faithful members, Reverend Page negotiated the purchase of land in Tallahassee’s northwest section. The real estate cost $250, with the transaction finalized on March 24, 1869. Church trustees then included J. W. Toer, Agrippa Sutton, Elijah S. Shepard, John N. Stokes, and Henry Cook. Festivals and other “entertainments” allowed members to raise what amounted to “quite a good sum to realize in these hard times,” and construction commenced. By late 1870, Bethel Missionary Baptist Church had opened its doors for worship by a congregation of some 200 faithful men, women, and children.
While Bethel’s members cherished their 1870 church building for more than a century, not all church activities, as one 1882 newspaper account chronicled, took place within its walls. “Last Sunday morning, Rev. James Page, pastor of the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, baptized, in St. Augustine branch, thirty-two persons who had recently joined his church,” the item read. “When the baptismal ceremony was concluded, the congregation formed a procession and proceeded to the church, singing one of their familiar hymns as they filed down McCarty Street [Park Avenue].”
Though renovated through the years, the original church building stood until 1974, when the last service was conducted on the first Sunday in October. Workers thereafter demolished the building while construction began on a new structure. In the interim, services convened in Griffin Middle School’s auditorium and the Little Chapel on the Old Bainbridge Road. Because of outstanding leadership from Dr. C. K. Steele, Sr., and others, the new Bethel Baptist Church soon arose. This building stands today as the spiritual testimony of the spirits of Rev. C. K. Steele, Rev. Herbert Alexander, and other beloved members who made this vision a reality of---a new Bethel. Ceremonies in recognition of this milestone came on Sunday, September 15, 1976, when a ribbon cutting officially recognized the opening of the current structure at 224 North Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard.
The record indicates that, from its earliest days, Bethel Missionary Baptist Church always represented more than a religious institution. Under the direction of its founder, Reverend James Page, Bethel became the focus of community life. It served not only religious purposes but also became a meeting place of Black educators, Masons, Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythias, and other fraternal organizations. The Eastern Stars and other civic groups found solace, as well, within its walls. Although Bethel aided the development of black institutions such as schools, even when controlled primarily by whites, it constituted an education institution itself. After all, it served to educate freedmen and freedwomen in the church’s early years. As a social institution, Bethel provided a facility for weddings, graduation exercises, and conferences of educators and religious organizations. Additionally, Bethel and Rev. C. K. Steele gave heroic and significant leadership in the 1950’s and 1960’s to the Civil Rights Movement. Pastor Steele stood out as one of the founders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and as an active leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Reverend Dr. R.B. Holmes, Jr. has given prayerful, purposeful, and powerful pastoral leadership to the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church. The church’s motto for the 21st century is: “To transform the lives of people for the Glory of God and for the good of the community.” The theme scripture is: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) As we prepare for the rest of the century, the church must keep pace as a spiritual, educational, and civic facility.
Dr. R.B. Holmes, Jr., has faithfully served in pastoral leadership at the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church. Dr. Holmes’ strategic mission and mandate have been to “transform people for the Glory of God and the good of the community.” His outstanding contributions have been recognized locally, across the state and nationally. Fully supported by his congregation, Dr. Holmes has led the transformation of the Frenchtown community. Five Florida governors have appointed Dr. Holmes to various university boards of trustees and to various state-wide policy-making bodies in recognition of his unique leadership skills and spiritual gifts. Under his extraordinary leadership, Bethel has over 50 active, intergenerational, family-based ministries: Christian Education, Music & Performing Arts, Infants, Children, Youth, Singles, Married Couples, Millennials/Young Adults, Collegiates, VisionTogether (Ages 40-55), Retirees/Thank you, Jesus (55+), Military, Men’s, Promise Ministry (75+), Women’s, Young Mothers Mentoring, Girl Scouts, Africare, Haiti, Homeless, Veterans Outreach Ministries, etc.
Additionally, the church’s outreach to the community is manifested through the establishment of Bethel Christian Academy, Steele-Collins Charter Middle School (1996); Steele-Collins All Male Charter Academy (2013); Bethel Family Restaurant (1996); Bethel Family Counseling Center (2006); Bethel Strip Mall (1996), Bethel Towers for Senior Citizens, Carolina Oaks subdivision for first-time home owners; and a proposed mixed-use development with housing, retail and green spaces and office space.
Dr. Holmes is highly respected across America and has provided stellar leadership in major faith-based organizations, including the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. The National Action Network, and the National Save the Family Now, Movement, Inc., of which he is president and founder. The Casey Family Programs identified the Bethel Baptist Church as a “Community of Hope,” bringing national exposure to one of Tallahassee’s best kept secrets: The Bethel Story. His comprehensive training and experiences have provided invaluable conceptual, technical and human expertise that is second to none.
Historic Deacons Ordination - March 29, 2015
Amidst a filled to capacity sanctuary at the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Tallahassee, Florida, 30 men were "set apart" for Christian service as deacons. The historic ordination was held at 5:00pm, on Palm Sunday, March 29, 2015, at the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church. Members of the Bethel congregation, along with friends and family from across the nation, joined in the "great cloud of witnesses," giving thanks to God for the spiritual elevation of their loved ones.
History was recorded June 10, 2016, in the Frenchtown neighborhood of Tallahassee, FL. For the first time, a new credit union, The Frenchtown Financial Opportunity Center, was opened in Frenchtown after two prominent financial institutions — Envision and Florida State University Credit Unions — forged a unique partnership with Bethel Missionary Baptist Church making Bethel the first entity, let alone a church, to facilitate a credit union in Frenchtown.
Frenchtown, a tight-knit community dating back to the 19th century, was dotted with robust businesses such as grocery stores, restaurants and drug stores decades ago. The predominantly black neighborhood sits in the shadow of downtown Tallahassee and the state Capitol, where power plays are exchanged and multimillion dollar projects take shape. The opposite is true in Frenchtown, an area besieged by crime, drugs and poverty. Many left, leaving behind vacancies and opportunity for economic development. Under the dynamic leadership of Reverend Dr. R.B. Holmes, Bethel, as one of Tallahassee’s largest and most prominent black churches, has been a major developer in Frenchtown. Dr. Holmes’ vision is that credit union will help people rebuild and repair their credit and strengthen businesses. He and others are hoping the partnership model can be replicated in other low income areas and stimulate economic recovery. It will also be an outlet for Frenchtown residents to open accounts and learn essentials of financial literacy.
Bethel Missionary Baptist Church owns the center’s land. Envision and FSU credit unions are splitting the costs and sharing resources, including personnel in order to operate the center. It will operate as a credit union service organization, which is a registered business that can be owned by one or more credit unions.
Dr. Holmes was selected for the prestigious Lifetime Leadership Award, (September, 2016) bestowed by the Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce in recognition of his stellar accomplishments through the years.
Major Renovations of the Bethel Properties
From January 2014 to August, 2015, extensive renovations and improvements were made to Bethel’s properties. Under the leadership of Pastor RB Holmes, and through the coordination by Trustee, Deacon James Coleman, and the great financial stewardship of Bethel’s faithful members, the following projects have been completed:
- Veterans Center security upgrade
- Replacement of the Bethel Church’s roof
- Repair of side walk around the church
- Painting of Bethel Towers
- Replaced church’s HVAC system
- Resurfaced parking lot at the Bethel Family Counseling Center
- Repaired ceiling leak in the Bethel Veterans Center
- Renovated the church sanctuary with new carpet; refurbished pews and flooring
- Constructed new handicap accessible bathrooms in the church’s foyer
On November 7, 2016, the Bethel Ready4Work-Tallahassee Reentry Program was launched.” In 2014, under the visionary leadership of the Reverend Dr. RB Holmes, President/ Founder of the Bethel Empowerment Foundation, Inc., aggressive steps were taken to develop a holistic, faith-based program to transform the lives of ex-offenders returning home from incarceration. Dr. Holmes felt that Bethel Baptist had a responsibility to offer HOPE for restoration to the many men and women who had served their sentences and were transitioning back into the community. Many of these offenders were being released still suffering from substance abuse and/or mental health problems, inadequate educational training, a lack of affordable housing, or had no meaningful job training skills – simply, they were ill-equipped to survive. Dr. Holmes stated that the church was spiritually and morally obligated to offer support “for the least of these” and that we should reclaim the lives of these individuals and their families…our families! Clients participate in a 4-6 week career development training course that focuses on employment and life skills. They receive case management, life-coaching, job training and job placement assistance. Under the capable leadership of the Program Director, Sis. Lucretia Shaw Collins, Ready4Work has partnered with community organizations that provide mental health and substance abuse services and transitional housing. They work with the criminal justice community to help identify persons eligible for the program and with the support of the business community to offer employment opportunities which motivate the clients to become law-abiding, productive, tax-paying citizens of the community.
Because of Dr. Holmes’ vision, Bethel has established over fifty ministries, including, but not limited to the following:
- B.E.S.T. (Bethel’s Education Support Team)
- Bethel Christian Academy (Pre-K-8th Grade)
- Bethel Empowerment Foundation, Inc.
- Bethel Family Counseling Center
- Bethel Towers
- Carolina Oaks Housing Development
- Children and Youth Liturgical Dance/Mime
- Collegiate and Young Adult Choir
- Inspirational Choir
- Men’s Choir
- Children’s Choir
- Youth Choir
- Thank You Jesus Choir
- Women’s Choir
- Counseling Center
- Culinary/ Hospitality
- Gentlemen’s Ministry
- G.R.O.W.T.H. (Christian Education)
- Health Care
- Married Couples
- New Members Orientation
- Nursing Home Visitations
- Pastoral Leadership Support Team
- Prayer and Evangelism
- Prison Reformation, Re-Entry, Reclaim
- Project Create
- Project EMBRACE (Casey Family Programs)
- Singles and Single Parents
- Social Media Ministry
- Substance Abuse
- Vision Together Ministry
- WTAL Radio / Capital Outlook Newspaper
- Young Adult/Millennials
- Young Mothers Mentoring
- Youth and Children’s
- Staff Support:
- Christian Education/ Institutional Development
- Children, Youth, Collegiate, Young Adults
- Millennials, Church GROWTH
Most importantly, Dr. Holmes believes in family. Deeply affecting his family values were his deceased parents, Deacon RB Holmes, Sr. and Sis. Lucille Holmes. He carries on their great legacy as the new “Holmes Family Patriarch” for his seven siblings, their spouses and offspring; his children, grandchildren, his extended family and his devoted wife, Dr. Gloria P. Holmes. To God Be the Glory for the Great and Wonderful things He has done. We wish Dr. Holmes, his lovely, sprit-filled, prayerful and gracious wife, Dr. Gloria Price Holmes, and his entire family, continued good health and bountiful blessings.