“How awesome is this place . . . Bethel” (Genesis 28:17,19).
Bethel United Methodist Church on the outskirts of Midland was the first Methodist congregation in Cabarrus County. The Lutherans settled in the east, Presbyterians in the west, while Methodists lay south. Tradition describes that the first Methodist bishop in America, Francis Asbury, rode his horse to the community in 1780. More likely, another Methodist Circuit Rider, assigned by Asbury, held the first service.
A little way off Hwy 27 two miles west of Midland, many in our community are unaware of this vibrant community of faith. Bethel may well be the strongest congregation in the Midland area.
Methodists, formed by the British Anglican priest John Wesley, are orthodox Protestant Christians who stand in agreement with the classic affirmations of the Church universal such as The Lord’s Prayer and The Apostles’ Creed. What set the early Methodists apart was their enthusiastic worship and passion for reaching new people. Bethel embraced and continues that tradition.
First in England, and then throughout the world, Methodists preach grace and emphasize a passionate commitment to personal and social holiness. There are many denominations that claim the Methodist name, including Wesleyan Methodists, African Methodist Episcopal Church Zion, Church of the Nazarene, and the mainline United Methodist Church. Today, there are about 15 million Methodists in the United States and about 70 million around the world.
Methodists in North America
The first Methodists from England and Ireland migrated to North America in the 1750s and 1760s. These immigrants brought their religious fervor with them. Lay preachers guided Methodists through worship services and small groups for spiritual formation.
In 1776, only 65 Methodist congregations existed in our country. Only 17% of Americans belonged to any congregation. In opposition to the popular myth that America was a Christian nation, the British colonies were full primarily of unchurched people fleeing state-sponsored denominations in Europe. During the American Revolution, the Methodists separated from the Church of England to become a distinctively American denomination.
At the creation of our nation in 1789, the first Methodist Bishop Asbury blessed George Washington as the country’s first President. Increasing numbers of Methodist preachers rode horses, preached out-of-doors, sang enthusiastically, and challenged nominal Christians to convert to “scriptural Christianity.”
With evangelical zeal, by the 1850s, half of all Christians in this country were Methodists. Today, about 12% of the people of Cabarrus County are Methodists.
After 1780, Methodist Circuit Riders visited the Midland area frequently for worship outdoors and in homes. The building of a sanctuary took another forty years.
By 1820, a one-room log church was constructed of logs hewn and hauled by members of the church. Other congregations such as Mt. Olivet and Central in Concord were created by Circuit Riders who first visited Bethel and then traveled north to new communities in Cabarrus County.
An early feature of Bethel were its camp meetings. Once or twice a year, people traveled with their families, friends, servants, and animals to tent together. The meetings sometimes lasted two weeks. They worshiped together four times a day and socialized in between.
Bethel’s outdoor arbor, listed in the national register of historic places, was built around 1830. Bethel’s Homecoming Sunday (camp meeting) is still celebrated outdoors in August.
Bethel is a strong and thriving congregation. Membership is just under 1,000, with almost 400 people at worship each Sunday.
The exceptional facilities included the Asbury fellowship hall and the new sanctuary, dedicated in 2007. The lovely new sanctuary expanded the former sanctuary in a way that honors the past and serves the present.
Two worship services occur each Sunday: a larger contemporary service at 8:30am and smaller traditional service at 11:00am. The contemporary service, including many children, features a fine worship band and singers, and sharp video/audio team. The traditional service uses The United Methodist Hymnal and an organ. One senses the energy and welcoming community immediately upon entrance.
Pastor Mark Clontz has served Bethel since 2004. As all United Methodist pastors, he is appointed one year at a time by an area bishop. Clontz is a warm personality who preaches and quotes Scripture in his coat and tie about 30 minutes each Sunday. Pastor Mark leads a church staff of about eight persons who offer a full-range of ministries.
In addition to foreign missions trips, Bethel engages in many local missions. Its Preschool staff of 14 serves 80 children. They support Meals on Wheels, a food pantry that serves 60+ persons a month, a free medical clinic, a weekly Bible study in a local school, weekend food assistance for 26 local children, and especially work with Bethel Elementary School across the street. Bethel also hosts the Bethel Learning Center that tutors 50 home-schooled children.
Check out Bethel United Methodist Church at www.bethelmidland.com
Andy Langford is a retired pastor at Central United Methodist Church. He has lived in Cabarrus County for over 15 years and preached at Bethel several times. He was a United Methodist pastor for 42 years. Contact him at [email protected]