Bishop Joseph B. Bethea was the first and only African American Bishop for the South Carolina United Methodist Conference. Before his death he worked tirelessly to bring racial inclusion to United Methodist congregations throughout South Carolina. As one of many lasting testaments to his legacy, a few years before his untimely passing, he led an effort over 20 years ago to establish a church in South Carolina that would be a beacon for inclusion for all United Methodist congregations. The church, Joseph B. Bethea UMC, was started in Myrtle Beach, SC in 1991. The grand experiment was a huge success from the beginning. Within a year the membership was thriving with over 100 active members. The church had strong leaders from all racial backgrounds. It started as a predominately African American congregation, primarily because there were few African American UMC churches in that area but the congregation had many members of all races.
Unfortunately, twenty one years later, the church in S.C. the Bishop was the driving force behind has found itself with just a few active members. Some have told me as of today the church has no choir, no music ministry and no youth ministries. There is no functioning church office, landline, modern social networking or electronic means of communication with members and the community. The beautiful historic sanctuary that was donated is in need of repairs. Located in the heart of one of the fastest growing and upwardly mobile areas in the southeast, there's not many reasons why this church can not thrive.
Another United Methodist church was started a couple of years later in Myrtle Beach after the chartering of Bethea UMC by the son of one of the founding members of Bethea. The son is still the pastor of that other church today. That church has over a thousand members and is one of the largest UMC churches in the southeast
In a state where far too many still take pride in the flying of the divisive confederate flag at the state capitol, it's a shame that a church that was founded with the best hopes of inclusion and bears the name of the first African American Bishop in South Carolina dedicated to that noble endeavor has allowed itself to become less than all it could be.
Join me in prayer that strong leaders within and outside this congregation will stand up and reclaim Bishop Betheas best hopes for this church. Hopefully the church with the help of the conference will find a way to rebuild itself in South Carolina, bring many into inclusive discipleship, build on the founding members intent and live up to the ideals of it's namesake. An African American pioneer in the United Methodist Church.