Ministering to Detroit’s Eastside Since 1864
The beginnings of our church trail back to 1862 when Karl and Emilie Bock migrated from Germany to Detroit. The Bocks, who were zealous witness for their Lord, established fellowship with other German immigrants who were Baptist. On June 23, 1864, the group of nine believers was formally organized as a church. The early members met in homes until 1870 when a chapel was built at St. Aubin and Mullett. The church was known as the First Regular German Baptist Church of Detroit. Significant activities during the early years included tract distribution as a regular Sunday afternoon pastime, missionary work of students on the west side during summer vacation and the formation of a Women's Missionary Society.
The Lord added to the church (membership was 43 in 1866; 104 in 1874; 218 in 1866; 421 in 1894) and with a continuing influx of immigrants, the need existed for larger facilities. A site was chosen as Joseph Campau and Arndt Streets where a new house of worship was dedicated on Christmas Day, 1888. In 1894, the name of the church was changed to the First German American Baptist Church. Large groups were dismissed on three occasions between 1896 and 1920 to start new assemblies, but the church continued to grow.
The World War I period was on of transition. Organizations with German constituencies were viewed with suspicion but the church was blessed to have a pastor, C. A. Daniel, who was born in the United States and could serve equally well in German and English. Bilingual services were inaugurated and, beginning in 1926, church minutes appear in English rather than the German which had been used. The last German service was in 1934. On June 29, 1922, the name of the church was changed to Bethel Baptist Church of Detroit.
With the membership moving to newer sections of the city, the decision was made to relocate and in 1925 the building on Joseph Campau was sold for $75,000. A new site was purchased at Mack and Iroquois at a cost of $33,500 and a temporary church home was established near the site pending completion of the new building. On May 15, 1927, the new English Gothic church was dedicated. The cost was $187,604.
The trying years of the Great Depression, followed by World War II, were at hand. The future looked bleak for Bethel as financial problems mounted, but with the Lord's guidance, the church persevered. Membership continued to rise (700 in 1944) and many chose to serve God in ministry vocations. Morning Worship services were conducted from the sanctuary over radio station WJBK when Dr. Harnish was pastor.
The population of Detroit began shifting to new areas after World War II so the church voted to relocate. In 1955, a site of 3-1/2 acres was purchased on Little Mack in St. Clair Shores for $62,500 and in 1957 the building at Mack and Iroquois was old to Greater Christ Baptist Church for $200,000. In an effort to encourage new members, a group from Bethel held Sunday morning services simultaneously in St. Clair Shores at the Middle School on Jefferson an later Sunday services were held at Harmon Elementary School.
The Mack and Iroquois building was shared with the new owners until the Little Mack structure was completed. Formal dedication of the new building occurred on June 12, 1960. The cost of the building was $263,000 and the organ and furnishing $14,000. Worship services were conducted in what is, today, Fellowship Hall. The church sanctuary was started in 1971 and dedicated on April 30, 1972, The cost was approximately $270,000, including a new organ and furnishings. From this sanctuary, Bethel conducted Morning Worship services over radio station WBRB when Dr. Fenner was pastor.
The history of Bethel Baptist Church spans 125 years, four buildings, two languages and several periods of social change. The message has remained constant: Salvation in Jesus long as the Bible continues to be preached and believers remain faithful serving their Lord, the history pages that are written tomorrow will tell an exciting tale.