I’m sure that many of you who have been attending Bethlehem a long time can remember one of our previous church historians, Mrs. Lena Madren, coming up these steps each third Sunday in May to share with us excerpts from old church records. These readings were one of the inspirations for our 2007 monthly history services. To those of you who are visiting today because it is Memorial Day, let me explain about these history services.
Bethlehem Christian Church was founded in September of 1832, making this September our 175th anniversary. We are having presentations each month of 2007 leading up to our anniversary celebration on September 23, 2007. Please mark your calendars for that special service and join us then at 10:00 am, an hour earlier than usual.
These monthly history services thus far have focused on an important episode in each twenty-five year period of our church’s history. Today’s May history service was to highlight the period from 1907 to 1932. When I did the research, this turned out to be a rather quiet period in our church’s history. We didn’t have money problems, disunity, pastor problems, conference changes, new buildings, or large changes in membership. Since the years from 1907 to 1932 didn’t have a striking event of this kind to focus on, we decided to take this opportunity to remember the saints who have gone before us, many of whose bodies are buried in our cemetery.
The Bethlehem cemetery was started on November 20, 1851, about one year after the church moved to the present parcel of land. The second church building, and the first one on this property, was complete in November of 1850. The first grave holds the body of Julius Tickle, and this special grave is marked with a plaque.
Although the War Between the States accounted for a large number of member’s graves in the latter half of the 19th century, our cemetery was, and still is, also used by those in the community who were not a part of the church. As late as 1952, the cost to a nonmember for a grave plot was less than $25. By 1909, in a letter to the denominational newspaper, the church clerk wrote that there were 670 graves. Many of them must have been poorly marked or not marked at all, since a later census of grave markers dated before 1914 showed only 335 legible markers.
I won’t attempt to name notable deceased members since I would of course miss someone who should be mentioned. There are three former pastors of this church interred in the cemetery, Alfred Iseley, Frank Iseley, and G. C. Crutchfield. The members who bodies are buried there represent a huge contribution. God used them to make this church what it is today. Earlier members recalled these contributions particularly on Memorial Day.
Each year at an early business meeting, a day was set aside seven to ten days prior to Memorial Day for the members to come together and “clean off” the graveyard so that it would be suitably neat for afternoon walks on Memorial Day to remember friends and family who had passed on. Beginning in 1906, there was also an elected cemetery superintendent, the first one being my great-grandfather, Peter Gerringer.
In previous years there were multiple services on Memorial Day, extending well into the afternoon. Although we no longer have a worship service after lunch, we do pause each year to remember those of our members who have passed into glory since the previous Memorial Day. This year those members are: