Historic Bethel AME Church is preparing to celebrate 157 years of continuous ministry and service in Chicago with three special events June 15, June 22, and June 23. All are near, or at, the church at 4444 S. Michigan.
According to historian Christopher Reed in “Black Chicago’s 1st Century,” Bethel was organized in 1862 as a mission church established by Trustees of Quinn Chapel, Chicago’s 1st AME church, to relieve the severe overcrowding brought on by hundreds of fleeing slaves as Union armies overran the trans-Mississippi South.
Bethel’s first building was located at Jackson and Van Buren streets, a site that is currently the Chicago Financial Board of Trade in downtown Chicago. Bethel quickly grew in its mission to help the refugees and thrived despite calamities of fires, depressions, Black population migrations, urban riots and other challenges, moving 15 times. With dynamic membership and gifted leadership, it became a leading faith-based institution with a formidable citywide track record of civic and social justice involvement and an anchor in the Black Liberation Movement.
The first event is the Prayer Breakfast on Saturday June 15 from 9 a.m. to noon at 4444 S. Michigan. A number of “bright lights” who have given service to the church and community will be recognized and formally honored. Additionally, a number of historically significant Black institutions which have done impactful work in the same vineyards as Bethel have been invited to come as special guests. They include the Hall Branch Library, the South Side Community Art Center, DuSable High School, Phillips High School, the Rosenwald Housing Development, the Chicago Crusader newspaper, DuSable Museum, and Chicago Defender newspaper.
On Saturday June 22 from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Bethel will host the second celebration event – a Block Party. The street will be blocked off at 45th street from Michigan to Wabash. There will be fun activities for all age groups according to chairpersons Dr. Sheila Barrow and Lorine Hearon, including a DJ playing music, from hip hop to old school, Double Dutch rope jumping, hula hooping and bid whist contests; basketball and volleyball playing, spoken word, karaoke, a jump house, street chalk, face painting and much more. Free hot dogs and pop will be served to all and food trucks will be on hand.
The Anniversary culminating event will be the Worship Service on Sunday, June 23 starting at 11 a.m. at 4444 S. Michigan. Bethel’s pastor, Reverend Jennifer W. Tinsley, will preside. Reverend Tinsley stated, “We are especially proud of the impactful spiritual, ethical, political and social change leadership and movements that originated at Bethel. That includes the work of members Ida B. Wells, Lou Palmer, founding of the Wabash YMCA and Provident Hospital, initiating political education forums, voter drives and voter Plebiscites resulting in the election of Mayor Harold Washington and much more.” She added, “We will be offering prayers and give thanks to the Creator for the many blessings bestowed on Bethel Church, its members, pastors and community for 157 years: We will be celebrating and asking for God’s goodness and mercy to follow us, grace us, protect and strengthen us, and lead us into a positive and hope-filled future with a new generation to join in. “
“We ask also that neighbors, friends, anyone interested in the history and current wellbeing of Black Chicago and anyone who Bethel AME Church may have touched over the years, come.”