JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Bethel Church is the oldest Baptist congregation in Jacksonville. On Sunday, the pastors and the entire community celebrated the 180th anniversary of the church's founding.
Bishop Rudolph W. McKissick Jr. serves as the senior pastor of the 14,000-member congregation. He succeeds his father Bishop Rudolph McKissick Sr., who is the longest serving pastor of the historic church. McKissick Sr. led the church for 48 years before he retired.
The Bethel Church has a rich history dating back to pre-Civil War times. It was founded in 1838 by white Americans and enslaved blacks. When segregation interfered with worship and decisions regarding who would be designated pastor of the church, a split happened.
The freed blacks took the matter to court. Judges ruled in favor the black members of the church, legally allowing them to maintain the property and name of the church. The White congregants left and formed what we now know to be First Baptist Church of Jacksonville Downtown.
The original church was destroyed during Jacksonville’s Great Fire in 1901. The current location at 1058 North Hogan St. in Jacksonville, was completed in 1904, and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.
During the anniversary service Sunday Pastor McKissick Jr. presented both his mother and father an outstanding service award for their work in the church and the community over the past 51 years. The Jacksonville City Council has recognized McKissick Sr.'s accomplishments over the years by renaming a portion of Hogan Street as Rudolph McKissick, Sr. Boulevard in his honor.