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“Truly My Soul Waiteth Upon God: From Him Cometh My Salvation. He Only Is My Rock And My Salvation; He Is My Defence; I Shall Not Be Greatly Moved.…” Psalms 62:1 (KJV)
Bethlehem Bible Church is a place where the Gospel of Jesus Christ is preached and taught with clarity and power. Through our teaching and preaching we aggressively seek the salvation of all people. As a corporate spiritual body, we will continually engage the disciples, in the work of the ministry, to cultivate a strong sense of commitment throughout the Body of Christ. Through that cultivation, we will break the chains of the traditional Church and promote a proactive ministry in our community that will touch the lives of people in every area. Through innovative and thoughtful techniques, we will seek to engage the under-served in ways that will enable them to rise above their circumstances. Finally we will offer ourselves as a lifeline to those who have given up on life.
In 1876, citizens began having religious meetings at different homes in the palmetto swap type neighborhood. Persons of various faiths such as Baptist, Methodist, Holiness, etc. attended the meetings. At the time, Sarasota was a small fishing village.
Bethlehem Baptist Church, as an independent body, began in 1896 when a few loyal Christians, weary of traveling many miles to worship, established a Church under the leadership of Rev. Louis Colson. A one-story structure was built and served as the center for religious and educational activities in the community. Activities were announced by the ringing of a bell elevated in the steeple operated by the sexton. This procedure was followed for twenty-four years.
On June 25, 1897, Rev. Louis and Mrs. Irene Colson deeded the land needed to erect a sanctuary for the Baptist portion of the non-denominational church. Mr. & Mrs. Mott and Josie Washington loaned Bethlehem the money to purchase the first pews. Many individuals gave freely of their time to the church and community. Included were: Mrs. Irene Colson, wife of Rev. Colson; John Mays, first Deacon; Mrs. Sally Mays; Deacon Levi Atkins and wife Malinda; Tony Colson; Robert Dailey; Robert Harris; Willis Washington; Corrie W. Coleman; James Coles; Sam J. Coleman and Hillard Barnes. Their primary concern was to meet the needs of the Bethlehem congregation.
The small one-story structure was later expanded under the Pastorate of Rev. Arthur Elam. After some time, the church and Sunday school population steadily increased requiring additional space. To meet the needs of a growing congregation, a basement, including a baptismal pool was added under the Pastorate of Rev. Richard Hughes.
In, 1966, during the Pastorate of Rev. Abraham H. Howell, property was purchased on 18th St. for the construction of a new church sanctuary.
On Sunday, October 26, 1973, Bethlehem’s pastor, Rev. James C. Collier, and the congregation officially opened its new edifice at 1680 18th Street in the Newtown area. Six area pastors and their congregations shared in the church opening celebration services. They were: Rev. J.H. Floyd (Mt. Moriah); Rev. J. E. McCrary (True Vine); Rev. W. C. Grimsley (New Bethel); Rev. Richard Hammond (St. Mary); Rev. L. L. Ward (Bethel C.M.E.); and Rev. J. S. Bennett (Mt. Calvary).
Under the leadership of Rev. J. C. Collier, pride in the new church environment and motivation created a desire to strive for continued progress which led to the purchase of the parsonage on 16th Street, the addition of a church fellowship hall, and overhead coverage at the church’s entrance.
The final payment on the parsonage was liquidated under the leadership of Rev. Rupert Paul. However, later during his tenure, the church membership was divided with a portion of the group organizing a new Baptist church, Koinonia Missionary Baptist Church.
Rev. Eddie Nails organized the church’s brotherhood and supervised the purchase of a church bus. Under the leadership of Rev. Dr. W. L. Williams, a young adult choir was organized, junior deacons were appointed, and cornerstone and mortgage burning ceremonies were held.
Rev. Johnnie Dailey provided leadership in the following areas: re-organization of the young matrons' group; renovation of the pulpit, choir and kitchen areas; purchase of office copy machine; purchase of Sunday school classroom furniture; installation of new public address system; and the establishment of the Food Ministry.
For the past twenty three years, we have been lead by Rev. Patrick A. Miller, a motivational task-master, who has provided his engineering skills of leadership in the following areas and/or projects: a focus on spiritual growth and development; a renewed atmosphere of praise and worship; enhanced discipleship population; youth public speaking project; Annual Women’s Conference; Women’s Ministry; Church Council; parsonage re-decoration and renovation; a complete remodeling of the church sanctuary; updated the public address system; establishment of a website and social media platform; reconciliation service with Koinonia Baptist Church; properly equipping the church office; launching the Exodus Project Community Development Corporation; launching Horizons Unlimited Christian Academy Preschool (HUCA); the purchase of the HUCA facility; the purchase of numerous properties; organized the Mass and Youth & Young Adult Choirs; increasing church staff to include Biblical Counseling, a bookkeeper, an Administrator and additional musicians; and most importantly His guidance has given a feeling of great pride – not in what we have accomplished, but in what God is accomplishing through us.
Payne Chapel AME Church and Bethlehem began sharing a sister church relationship in 1923 when their church was destroyed by a hurricane. During that time, Payne Chapel’s congregation worshipped in the Bethlehem sanctuary on alternate Sundays. Mt. Tabor Baptist Church of Tallevast and Bethlehem also shared closeness for a while by meeting every fifth Sunday in the Union (From the time of Rev. J. C. Brown, until its termination under Rev. Richard Hughes.)
Bethlehem Baptist Church, recognized as the “Church with the Open Door”, donated and received financial donations and/or gifts throughout its existence.
Donations were made to: T. B. Association; Helen Payne Day Nursery; United Way; J.H. Floyd Sunshine Manor; United Negro College Fund; Florida Memorial College; West Coast Baptist Association; Alpha Kappa Sorority, Inc; Delta Sigma Theta Scholarship Fund; Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity; Ministerial Alliance; Needy Families; All Faith Food Bank; Choirs Union; Ushers Union; Sick and Shut-In Individuals; Mayor’s Feed The Hungry Program.
In 2003, the Pastor initiated the creation of Horizon’s Unlimited. This 501(c)3 organization was created to advance community-oriented efforts that have a positive impact on our residents. This presently operates Horizon’s Unlimited Christian Academy (a preschool). The Exodus Project also has plans to develop Senior housing, a Charter school, and other economic development initiatives to enhance the Newtown community.
The Women’s Ministry of Bethlehem continues to be actively involved in community efforts through monthly nursing home visitations, feeding the homeless at Resurrection House, and conducting Bible studies at the county jail.
The Church continues to be a vital part of the Sarasota community through its involvement in the N.A.A.C.P., and S.U.R.E.
In 2013, after several years of prayer, Pastor Miller was led to change the public name of the Church to Bethlehem Bible Church. The name change was not for doctrinal reasons. The change represented a recognition that the age of denominational labels has come to an end.
The move was not against denominations as the legal name of this fellowship continues to be Bethlehem Baptist Church of Sarasota, FL Inc. Nor did the basic doctrinal believes and practices of this congregation change.
Furthermore, very few people united with the congregation because it was a “Baptist Church”. People were drawn to the atmosphere for worship and the ministry that has been the hallmark of our congregation.
Bethlehem is a Church that teaches, practices, and stands on the Word of God. We believe that making that the identifying label for this congregation is the most important representation we can make to this world.
While Bethlehem has enjoyed a rich heritage of accomplishment, the most important thing we can do is chart our path into the future that God has in store for us. That future will be based on a that is fully committed to making God’s Word the foundation of its ministry.
In 2020, Pastor Miller was led to expand the ministry of Bethlehem to the Latin-American community. This move represented a transformational change in the life of the Bethlehem Church as this new ministry was not to establish a separate congregation, but instead expanding the reach of Bethlehem to everyone.
This move was something that had been a dream of Pastor Miller’s for several years. His belief has always been that if we are to live out the true meaning of our faith we cannot minister simply within our community. We must make the gospel available to everyone no matter what their race.
To facilitate this new ministry, the Lord placed Pastor Walter Cabral De Souza in the Bethlehem congregation. Even though the De Souza’s were from Brazil and faced their language barriers, they had been faithfully worshipping with the Bethlehem congregation for months.
The De Souza’s had been in ministry in Brazil before coming to Bethlehem but didn’t disclose it for several months. They preferred to enjoy the worship experience along with the congregation.
Once Pastor De Souza became known to Pastor Miller, they immediately connected and began to meet and pray along with the other ministers of Bethlehem. After several months of prayer and meeting, it was agreed to launch a new service with the intent of reaching the Latin-American community. That service began in January of 2020.