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In the spring of 1962 a small group of families, primarily Presbyterians, began the formal process of becoming a church. They named it Bethel Independent Presbyterian Church, applied for a state charter, hired a graduating student from Westminster Presbyterian Seminary as the first pastor, and rented an unused church sanctuary on 3.6 acres of land from the American Lutheran Church.
Below is an early picture of the property taken from the corner of Bering and Sugar Hill. The church building is in front of the cars. Bering goes beside the cars. Sugar Hill runs across the intersection in front of the fire plug which is still located there. One can guess at the size of the crowd from the number of cars. Except for the weeds, the property probably looks about the way it did when the church started. Dick Denney states:
According to Jim Chenoweth [one of Bethel’s founding members] they had a work day on Saturday before the first service on Sunday. The men attacked the yard, and the women cleaned the inside of the church. Some of the weeds in the yard had grown four feet, and had to be chopped down. We realized that many work days would be needed after that.
The below picture, taken from Bering Drive, is probably of the first Church Picnic held August 14, 1964. The Church Picnic became a tradition at Bethel and was held for many years.
The picnic is being held in front of the sanctuary which Bethel began renting from the Lutherans in 1962. In 1963, the Elders considered a proposal to purchase the property, began discussions with the Lutherans, and started searching for a way to finance the purchase. In July 1964, financing had been found. A formal offer of $60,000 was made for the building and the land. It was accepted. The $60,000 was loaned by the Oldham Little Church Foundation at 6% interest with a 15 year term. --No doubt, the August picnic was a celebration.
Notice the small white building beyond the church. It was Bethel’s first construction project and was completed in early 1963. Permission was obtained from the Lutherans to build it on the site, and the building was constructed by the members for a cost of $1401. It provided two Sunday school classrooms (one taught by Frank Jones) using an accordion partition. Later it was moved to allow a nursery building to be built on that spot. Somewhere along the way, it was named “The Shack.” Today it is on the east side of Bethel’s parking lot and is used as a tool shed.
Bethel’s facilities projects through the 1960’s were additions of a nursery, more Sunday school rooms, office space, parking lot improvements, and other things needed by a growing congregation. The projects and timetables can best be understood by quoting the section in Dick Denney’s History entitled “Structures” as follows:
The original building was a small church (seating approximately 120 people--editor’s guess) with main room and kitchen counter with a glassed-in cry room across the back. There was a room used as an office at the front and restrooms extending out to the south side in back. Sunday school classes were held in the office, two or three in the main auditorium, one in the cry room. The completion of the initial campus is listed below. The completion dates may not be absolutely correct because the planning, design, bid, review, rebid, and construction process is time consuming and records about the actual starts and completion are far from complete.
Costs of the above improvements were as follows: The Shack completed in 1963, $1,401; Nursery and 2 classrooms, completed in 1965, $9,006; Parking lot improvements and covered walkways, completed in 1965, $5,958. These improvements and other equipment, furniture, etc., costing a total of $20,720, had been paid for by the end of 1966. The $60,000 loan to purchase the original building and property had been paid down to $54,520.
In late 1966 the decision was made to seek an additional loan for $50,000 from the Oldham Little Church Foundation to complete the last three items on the above list. The Foundation approved the loan, a construction contract was given to Norman Enterprises, Inc., and the work was completed in 1969.
Attendance had been increasing while the 1967-1969 projects were being built. In 1969 a closed-circuit television was added to allow overflow attendees at sanctuary services to sit in the new “large meeting room” to see and hear the services.
The below picture shows Bethel Church as it appeared across the parking lot in the late 1960’s. The brick building to the right of the sanctuary is the nursery and two classrooms completed in 1965. Other buildings are hidden or partially hidden. The picture may have been made before completion of the 1967-1969 additions. These additions would have been behind the buildings shown here and would not have been seen very well in this photo, if at all.
Attendance was growing in the early 1970’s, and it soon filled available space requiring two Sunday morning services and closed circuit television viewing.
In 1971, Ed Blum, pastor since 1963, accepted a position at Dallas Theological Seminary, and, on his recommendation, Robert A. Tolson was called as Senior Pastor.
Attendance continued to grow, and in 1972, planning was begun to construct a new sanctuary. A 500-seat, pre-engineered building was planned (below). A construction contract was given to ACM Builders. The cost was financed by a building fund that had been accumulated and another loan from Oldham Little Church Foundation. The ACM Builders contract was for $145,415. Additional costs, including folding chairs for seating, made the total cost of the building $169,518. Oldham loaned $143,756, which, when added to Bethel’s previous unpaid balance, made a total indebtedness of about $248,000.
Construction began in January, 1973 and the Church moved into the new facilities on September 3 of that year. In addition to the sanctuary, the building included a few offices, a library and a conference room.
The Building Committee for the 1973 Sanctuary was headed by Charles Caulkins, but other members have not been determined. Several references to a Building Committee are in Session minutes of the time, but members are not named. Caulkins seems to have made all the reports to the Session. Charles Caulkins was a deacon and the Deacon’s minutes of the time were largely composed of items related to the building. Perhaps the deacons acted as a Building Committee.
After the new sanctuary was completed the old sanctuary was used to expand space for Sunday school classes.
By the early 1980’s, God’s blessings on the church had caused it to grow and fill most of the available space especially in the areas of Children’s Ministries and Vacation Bible School. New facilities were needed. Originally the plan was to provide a new sanctuary first, then a new Christian Education Building. But with the numbers of children in VBS continuing to climb, it was decided to build the Christian Education Building first (below). Bob Owen was appointed Building Coordinator to begin planning the project. Once his work was done, a Building Committee was selected composed of the following men: Lanson Ditto, Chairman, Jim Fox, Bruce Griffin, Don Jarvis (representing the deacons), Mickey Norman, Bill Perlmutter, Richard Popham, and Walter Reynaud.
Charles Tapley was chosen as the architect of the initial design phase and Tracy and Tracy, Architects for the working drawings. The contractor was Amistad Construction and the project cost $2.6 million. At this time, the elders adopted a policy of not beginning construction on any project without having the funds or pledges for the funds in hand. This policy continued through the construction of all of the major facilities built afterward.
Construction was begun in 1986 and completed in 1988. The first floor contained the fellowship hall, church offices, kitchen, nursery and classrooms. The second floor contained classrooms, adult library, youth library and a reception parlor. A round, stained glass window in the Fellowship Hall depicting Jesus as the vine (John 15:5) was designed by Janie Hinds, a Bethel member.
Upon completion, the original sanctuary was demolished, and the old Sunday school buildings, except for the Shack, were either sold or demolished.
Immediately after the completion of the Christian Education Building, plans for a new sanctuary began. The stated goal of the Session was “to honor God in all we do” especially in planning for new facilities. Fundraising began and a Building Committee was appointed. The make-up of the committee changed over time as personal commitments intervened, but the following men served: Dougal Cameron, Lanson Ditto, Bob Goodman, Bruce Griffin, Al Holland, Mike Jobe, Lanson Jones, Ned Letzerich, Mickey Norman, Bill Perlmutter and Bob Tolson.
The new sanctuary was designed by Tackett and Lodholz, Architects. Construction was begun in 1998, and the first service was held in the new building on September 12, 1999 (pictured below). The cost of the project was $2.362 million.
The sanctuary seated 912 and also included a baptismal area, choir loft and separate choir practice room behind the loft. Media equipment was located in the balcony and there was a large foyer between the sanctuary and the Christian Education Building. The stained glass windows were centered around the names of Christ in the scriptures along with scenes from His earthly ministry.
Also, at this time, the 1973 sanctuary was converted to a Senior and Junior High educational and recreational building.
Within a short time, it became evident that the converted youth building was not adequate for the needs of the senior and junior high ministries. More space was also needed for the church administrative offices. In 2008 fundraising began for a new building project to house these areas of church life. It was named, “The Bridge Project,” and a new Building Committee was appointed. The following members served: Paul Gregory, Chairman, Brandon Allen, Linda Dewhurst, Mark Gillespie, Paula Hunt, Mike Jobe, Jim Smith, and Buzz Stagg. The Committee worked closely with Senior Pastor Michael Boys and Youth Pastor Seth Thornton.
The firm of Jackson and Ryan was selected to do the architectural work. The youth center included a half court gymnasium and separate facilities for middle school students and high school students with a kitchen in between to serve both groups. There were expanded administrative offices with new facilities that provided adequate space for counseling. An interior courtyard separated the youth facility and the administrative offices. New playgrounds for the children, parking lot improvements, and landscaping were also planned. All of the Bethel buildings were to become a connected complex, and a new entrance adjoining the sanctuary foyer was designed.
Gamma Construction Company was selected to do the construction. In 2009 the old youth facility, which had been housed in the 1973 Sanctuary, was demolished, and work began. It was completed in 2010. Cost of the project was $8.2 million.
During the early years of the church, parking was not a problem. There were plenty of spaces available on the church property for those attending. But as attendance increased, a need for additional spaces became evident. The elders approached the leadership of the synagogue to the north of Bethel’s property and obtained permission to park on their lot – which was less than half the size it is today – on any day of the week except Friday and Saturday. Bethel paid a small monthly fee. Then in 1992 with the construction of the Fellowship Hall, the Bethel elders, anticipating future growth of the congregation, saw the need to obtain even more parking area. They contracted with the synagogue to pave the rest of their parking lot in return for a 10 year lease at a reasonable monthly fee and the right to renegotiate that lease every 5 years thereafter. In 2002, the lease was renegotiated at a substantially higher monthly fee which increased automatically after certain specified time periods. By 2012, the monthly amount required by the synagogue increased dramatically. Mindful of the responsibility for stewardship of the church’s funds, the elders sought alternative parking solutions and terminated Bethel’s parking agreement with the synagogue. Permission was sought and granted to park in the garage and front spaces of the office buildings directly across the street from Bethel to the west on Sundays. This change was effective September 1, 2012.
Jim & Patti Fox, Rodney Bohls (Chairman), Mary Kay Coleman, Jonathan Craft, Norman Crook, Bill & Deanna Gibson, Rick Hadley, Cathy Oliver, Linda Robinson
Special thanks to Dick Denney, Bethel elder since 1969, for his written history of the early church and to the numerous Bethelites who contributed facts, figures, and remembrances for the compilation of this report.
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Address: 825 Bering Drive, Houston, TX 77057 [map]
Tel: 713.782.8948 Fax: 832.202.2996
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