A Brief History of
Bethel Memorial AME Church
In 1887, Mr. & Mrs. Solomon Johnson opened their home and hearts to the formation of the first Black church in San Diego, California. The Church, Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, was established by the authority of Presiding Elder John Handy. The membership met in the Johnson home at “F” and Union Streets while funds were raised for the purchase of a church site.
A hall erected on stilts was purchased and finally moved to Front and Date Streets in 1896. In 1912, a new church was built at this location and Bethel remained at the site until 1939. When the city of San Diego needed the Front Street property for expansion, the church moved to Commercial and Hensley Streets.
The congregation saved its money and purchased a lot on the corner of 31st and “K” streets. A building located at 9th and “F” streets was purchased and moved to the lot. Funds from the Front Street sale enabled the members to purchase and move a six room house to use as a parsonage.
Bethel, like most early churches ,had been organized by a visiting minister followed by a succession of itinerant pastors. The earliest of these preachers may not have been paid, and the job was part-time at best in the early 1890's. For years, the A.M.E Church did not keep a Preacher for more than a year at a time and they were not permanent residents. As the churches found permanent locations and grew in numbers, preachers stayed longer. The Front Street Property sale, the purchase of buildings on “K” Street and a parsonage were accomplished under Rev. L.H. Owens.
Rev. Alfred K. Quinn, after furnishing the parsonage, undertook the task of establishing a Building Fund. Monies raised toward the erection of a new church was approximately $6,000.00.The money was left intact by Rev. Quinn as a tangible rock on which to build by those who followed him.
In 1950, Rev. Therion E. Cobbs became pastor of Bethel. It was his dream to build a large sanctuary, and in 1955, the cornerstone for the present church was laid. A building fund was started and put into operation under Rev. James Oxley in 1967. He wanted the building to house the church school and serve as a community center. His successor, Rev. E.P. Williams, Sr. would build the Fellowship Hall. Rev. Williams, a scholarly theologian remained at Bethel for 12 years before he was named Presiding Elder.
In 1984, his successor, Rev. Ellis H. Casson would be at the helm when Bethel celebrated its 100 year Anniversary in 1987. This glorious occasion included an all church picnic, a lavish banquet and several other special events. Under Rev. Casson, the church enjoyed a period of financial stability and built the second story, ten room addition to the Fellowship Hall. Rev. Norman Copeland became Senior Pastor in 1991. Major renovations of the Sanctuary and Fellowship Hall were undertaken during his administration.
Rev. William F. Dancy, whose tenure began in November 1994, broadened the focus of our energies and challenged us to begin Social Action Outreach Ministry. Rev. Dancy instituted an 8:00 a.m. Sunday Worship Service, which was enhanced by spiritually uplifting music.
The Rev. C. Dennis Williams began his tenure in October of 1996. He set out to educate the congregation on the importance of tithing. This increased the membership of the congregation and enhanced the church's educational efforts by way of a Freedom School and a K-6 Charter School. Bethel's Mortgage of $176,000 was paid in full under Rev. Williams' pastoral leadership
In June of 2006, God sent Bethel a new pastor, Rev. Anthony L Hughes, a minister who emphasizes the importance of the Bethel family working together in Christ. Rev. Hughes immediately began working on strengthening the roles that each member and organization plays in the viability of the church and began reorganizing the church financial structure. Since he arrived, the Sanctuary has been given a brand new roof, and a new state-of-the-art security system has been added. More importantly, over 100 new members have been added to the congregation.
Bethel Memorial African Methodist Church has been richly blessed and our leadership has served us well.
Today, Bethel stands as a church with a “New Vision,” remembering our 125 years of struggle. We thank those who have gone before us and “In everything, we give thanks” to God for sending each pastor our way through the years.