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Bethsaida celebrates 175 years of ‘faithful’ presence in Wilcox Countycomment (0)

November 9, 2006

By Grace Thornton

Frances Hamilton won’t fess up publicly to playing favorites, but she will say this — somewhere along the way over the years, her heart did “get stuck somewhere in Wilcox County.”
It’s not hard to see why — dotting the hills, farms and forestland is one antique, white wooden church after another, each a testimony to the longevity of Baptist work in the area, said Hamilton, executive director of the Alabama Baptist Historical Commission (ABHC).
Among them is Bethsaida Baptist Church, Furman, in Pine Barren Baptist Association, a church that marked its 175th anniversary Oct. 22.
“Just think — 175 years ago, God extended His hand to you and you took it,” Hamilton said to the crowd assembled that day at the little white church. “And you have carried on since then and served faithfully.”
Bethsaida Baptist, which runs “six or seven usually, 12 at the most” in attendance on a Sunday morning, drew a nearly full house that morning for the anniversary celebration.
“I’m overcome, really, when I realize that this morning, I am a part of a congregation that has given so much to the cause of Christ,” said Earl Potts, former executive director of the Alabama Baptist State Convention. “Bethsaida has touched many people and has had a long history of missions.”
Hanging on the walls around the one-room churchhouse were posters filled with photos of men and women who grew up and served at Bethsaida over the years and went on to serve the Lord elsewhere.
One of those was Bill Percy, interim pastor of Five Points Baptist Church, Sylacauga, who retired from full-time service earlier this year after 35 years of ministry in the state.
“I was called into preaching at Bethsaida under Pastor Leroy Stringfield in the early ’70s. You will never know how much the church means to me,” Percy said in a letter that Deacon Chairman Don Donald read to the congregation that morning.
Stringfield was present at the celebration, as were other former pastors and church members. Several shared testimonies and all made their way around the church to fellowship with old friends and enjoy old photos. 
The church itself still looks much like it did “in the old days,” said James Best, former Pine Barren Association director of missions, who was also present at the celebration. 
“These pews were each hewn from one long board,” he said, pointing to the wooden seats. “And the gallery upstairs was once used to seat the slave members.” At one point, Best said, there were more black members than white members.
Bethsaida’s membership grew with the area through the early 1900s and then began to decline in the 1920s as Furman’s population did, according to the church history.
But the church has always been active and faithful, according to Potts. “That which is to be will be determined by the people in this congregation today,” he said. “This church has had in its heart the focus of the world.”
Hamilton presented the church with a plaque commemorating the occasion, and Donald, current Sunday School teacher at Bethsaida and district commissioner for the ABHC, gave her a framed photo of Bethsaida as a retirement present from the church. Hamilton will be retiring Dec. 31.
“As we look at our history, we can learn from it and move on,” Donald said.
Willie Crawford, pastor of Bethsaida, agreed. “We are deeply indebted to those who organized, planned, preserved and presented to us this house of worship,” he said. “May we be challenged to pass on to the next generation more than we have received.”

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