Ormond Beach’s Historic New Bethel A.M.E. Church celebrates 133 years – and counting.
Editor’s note: Volusia County is home to dozens of churches with predominantly Black congregations. Only a limited number can claim to have stood the test of time for 100 years or more. Mass Communication students at Bethune-Cookman University visited some of these churches to find out what makes them special. This is one in a series of stories about the iconic religious institutions.
BY JOHN HUGER JR.
SPECIAL TO THE DAYTONA TIMES
The Historic New Bethel A.M.E. Church of Ormond Beach was organized in 1885 by a small group of people who decided among themselves to pool their pennies, nickels, and dimes and purchase a small lot on Yonge Street.
The membership grew spiritually and numerically. Throughout its life, however, membership has ebbed and flowed.
Today, a small congregation of about 50 attend the church on a regular basis to worship and keep the doors open.
The Rev. Phyllis Rose Brown is the current pastor.
Severe hurricane damage
Brown was appointed in 2016 and arrived a week before Hurricane Matthew, which knocked the church’s 25-foot steeple to the ground and damaged the roof of the 131-year old building. The church’s insurance policy didn’t cover the damage.
Brown started a GoFundMe page to raise the $70,000 needed for the repairs. The steeple was replaced in 2017.
“When the Black church is strong, the community is strong,” Brown said. “Even though we go through struggles and the numbers are down, we are still here.”
Church officials said much of the written history starting in 1885 and up to 1902 has been lost. The cornerstone on the building at 115 S. Yonge St., perhaps serves as the most visible reminder of years past.
Meanwhile, a proclamation issued by the city of Ormond Beach in 2015 stated that charter members of the church included Mattie Chatman and Essie Boyce, as well as the Roses, Romeos, Miles, and Remonds families.
The document states that the Reverends Price and Hayes served the church, and notes that the first bishop was the Right Rev. Daniel Alexander Payne. Payne served from 1885 to 1888, followed by the Right Rev. Benjamin Williams Arnett from 1888 to 1892.
In 1977, under the leadership of the Rev. Allen C. Williams, the parsonage was constructed by Fred Gamble, with the help of other church members. The Rev. Wayman Dixon was the first pastor to occupy the facility.
Between 1982 and 1994, the Rev. Carl Brinkley served as pastor. During Brinkley’s tenure, the church received several upgrades and improvements, including enclosing the entire front of the church with tinted glass and carpeted front steps.
Perhaps one of the most enduring traditions for more than a decade now has been the annual Soul Food Festival that the church stages. People come from all around to partake in the food. Several other area churches have started similar activities.
Elder member speaks
Emily Linder, who was born and raised in this church, has been a member for 87 years and is one of its oldest members.
“It’s a blessing from God for allowing this church to be here for 133 years,” Linder said during an interview in the fall of 2018. “We are small in numbers, but the doors have always been open,” she said.
Brianna Stanley and Condrey Denison contributed to this report.