Bethel United Methodist Church
Friday, October 19, 2018

Bethel History

John Bramlett moved to Simpsonville (then Laurens District) South Carolina in 1785 from Virginia. He had a secret place of prayer in the woods near his home where he went every day to pray for a church to be started. In 1796, he began holding services in his home for his family and the Devereau Yeargin and Solomon Holland families.

According to the journal of Bishop Francis Asbury, he attended a meeting at John Bramlett's house on the afternoon of October 18th, 1801. We assume it was for the purpose of organizing a church. According to John Bramlett's obituary, Bishop Asbury and the preachers of the times who passed through this part of the state, preached and rested under his roof.

In 1811, 4 1/2 acres of land were deeded to the church by John Bramlett and a church was built. Originally there were four separate buildings: a log building, two different frame structures, and the present brick building. An interesting part of the building history was the emphasis on Sunday School. Six Sunday School rooms were built partly through $450 left in a will, the planting and picking of a cotton crop by a Sunday School class, and by cutting timber from the property.

More land was later secured (the total is 8 1/2 acres) to provide for camp meeting grounds. The camp meeting was held the last two weeks in August (lay-by time) until 1897. The main ingredients to make this event possible were the spring, still flowing briskly today, which supplied water for the church and parsonage until 1967, and the arbor, a structure of hand-hewn logs and hand-made benches, 100 by 150 feet in size covered first by brush, and later by sheet iron. It was torn down during World War II when materials to repair it were unavailable. The arbor was built as near as possible to John Bramlett's secret place of prayer.

Very early in the history of the church, a school was built and maintained with a teacher paid by the church. It was a one-room log building just to the right of the path from the church to the spring. In about 1916, a two-room school was built about 50 yards from the far side of the cemetery: an L-shaped building with a stage in the middle when county maintenance began. The present Bethel School is 1/2 mile from the church. Bethel Drive and Bethel Road as well as Bethel School mark the influence of the church on the community.

In 1861, when the war came, Bethel Church became the rallying point for the men in the community. A prominent member of the church, DR. W. L. M. Austin, recruited and outfitted volunteers for a unit called the Jeff Davis Guard. Within a matter of a few days of leaving Bethel, these men serving under General Wade Hampton, in Hampton's Legion, found themselves in the first major engagement of the war at Manassas Junction (Bull Run for those of Northern origin). These men fought bravely not only in this battle but throughout the war.

After the war, these soldiers met every year at Bethel Church for a reunion. It was a festival with picnic lunches, homemade ice cream, fellowship, worship, and a political rally. Soon this yearly reunion was attended by soldiers from all across the state. These yearly reunions were held at Bethel until 1934 when there were too few soldiers left to continue. A picture of the 1900 reunion is in the church's historical room.

Through many years of her history, Bethel was part of a four point charge, the Greenville Circuit. Services were held on the first Sunday morning at 11:00 and the third Sunday afternoon at 3:00. These third Sunday afternoons became great reunion occasions for families coming for dinner in their parents' or grandparents' homes and all going to services at 3:00.

Bethel has been the mother church for many of the other churches in this area. Meanwhile, new history is being made as the lives of the families of Bethel continue to intertwine with the community and church.

Bethel continues to remain active in the community through projects such as Generations Group Home for Boys, Golden Strip Resource Center, Bethel Breakfast Ministry for the homeless at Triune in Greenville, and other community efforts.