Ninety years ago, Bishop G.T. Haywood of Greencastle and Indianapolis was led by God to conduct a tent revival in Terre Haute. As a result of the revival, a congregation began to form, and Haywood left Sister Della Walker in charge as overseer. In just a few months, a small mission was established and became known as the Apostolic Faith Church, then at South 13th and Putnam streets.
Revivals and tent meetings continued under the direction of the late Bishop Oscar Saunders, Bishop J.A. Rayl and Elder W.O. Edgington, who was of notable assistance to the church during its earliest years. The congregation continued to thrive and in time outgrew the small mission.
In 1921, Bishop Haywood sent Elder Charles Gordon of Grand Rapids, Mich., to Terre Haute to become the first official pastor of the church. The congregation soon moved to 13th and Dean streets, where it remained for about two years. In 1923, the Church moved to its present site at 13th Street and Washington Avenue. At that time, the congregation occupied half of a wood frame building, with a combination restaurant and pool hall on the other side.
Through prayers and supplications, God soon blessed the church to tear down the middle partition and occupy the whole building. Elder Gordon’s ministry was fruitful and the Apostolic Faith Church became a strong presence in the community. Gordon served until 1928. Sister Estelle Fuqua became pastor, serving until her death. She was followed by Elder James Tolbert of Michigan.
Elder Ernest L. Jackson of Kansas City, Mo., was sent by Bishop Haywood in 1930. Under his administration, the name was changed from Apostolic Faith Church to Bethlehem Temple Church. Elder Jackson served for about five years and was succeeded by Elder Curtis Moore of Detroit in 1936.
Elder Moore pastored until his death in 1944, at which time Elder Esau Baker was elected pastor by the congregation. He was followed by Elder Tyree Gordon, who was appointed by the late Elder Samuel Johnson and served for two years.
In 1948, Elder Melvin Bateman of St. Louis was appointed pastor. Under his leadership, the former wood frame structure was demolished, and plans were formulated for a new building. The congregation worshipped in the dining hall annex while the building was being constructed. The foundation of the new building was laid in 1952. Although Elder Bateman resigned before the completion of the building, God blessed the brethren of the church to complete the work. In 1955, the late Elder Andrew Ingram of Terre Haute was appointed acting pastor. He was assisted by Evangelist Ida Nolan and Gordon.
In 1957, Elder Stanley Halton of Jackson, Mich., was inspired by God to visit our city. During his first visit, he met one of the brethren at a gas station. Within a few weeks, Elder Halton was elected pastor and served faithfully for 12 years. Under his leadership, new carpeting and pews were installed, a new gas furnace was bought, and the dining hall enlarged. Bethlehem Temple was greatly blessed to begin a series of pre-recorded Sunday evening broadcasts over local radio station WPFR-FM. As a result of the broadcast experience, Halton led the congregation to record three long playing albums titled “Publish His Name,” “Peace” and “Supper Time.”
Before his departure in 1969, Bishop Halton asked District Elder Jester Purnell of Chicago to become our pastor. Under the leadership of this pastor, the church made tremendous progress, both spiritually and naturally. The church was incorporated and the name changed to Bethlehem Temple Church of the Apostolic Faith Inc. In October 1969, the church signed a contract with radio station WBOW for a 30-minute broadcast every Sunday at 8:30 a.m. Besides the 30-minute broadcast, there was a TV broadcast Sunday afternoons over station WBAK in Terre Haute. In 1981, the Bethlehem Temple Church Radio Choir recorded an album and cassette titled “I’ll Keep Holding On.”
It was the vision of the late Pastor Purnell to construct a larger and better-equipped edifice to better serve the needs of the community of which Bethlehem Temple has been a strong part for so many decades. The progressive, 34-year pastorate of Bishop Purnell saw Bethlehem Temple rise to many challenges, overcome many obstacles and enjoy unimagined blessings. The fruits of his dedicated and unselfish labor are yet evident. In August 2003, God took him from labor to reward and the flaming torch smoothly passed to his son, Elder J. Glenn Purnell, who is capable and committed to seeing the vision become a reality.
Since being installed as pastor in November 2003, Elder Purnell has bravely and prayerfully confronted various administrative issues that are an expected part of steady progress. Through his leadership, the congregation continues to place the word of God above all else, and is striving daily to be an example of holiness and progress in the city of Terre Haute. Both the vision and the mission are quite alive, moving toward accomplishment. With faith in our unfailing God and obedience to leadership, Bethlehem Temple can see it coming to pass. We know that it shall be done.
Anniversary speakers will be as follows:
Bishop Roy C. Dawkins, of Steubenville, Ohio. He will speak at 7 p.m. Wednesday, with recording artist Cynthia Starks.
Bishop Paul A. Bowers, of Cincinnati, former presiding prelate — P.A.W. He will speak at 7 p.m. Thursday, with music ministry by Bethlehem Temple Church & Rapture Temple Ministries Choir.
Bishop Lambert W. Gates Sr., of Indianapolis. He will speak at 7 p.m. Friday, with music ministry by Mount Zion Apostolic Church Choir.
Bishop Gary Frazier Sr. of Evansville. He will speak at 6 p.m. Sept. 15 as banquet keynote speaker, O’Shaughnessy Hall, St. Mary-of-the-Woods College, with recording artist Rachel Halton.
Bishop Alfred Singleton, of Lansing Mich., presiding prelate — P.C.A.F. Inc. He will speak at 11 a.m. Sept. 16, with music ministry by Bethlehem Temple Church Reunion Choir.
A free concert will be staged at 6 p.m. Sept. 16. Truth & Light Bible Ministries will perform in Tilson Auditorium, Tiery Hall on the campus of Indiana State University.
Recording artists Dawkins & Dawkins, Kim Stratton, Cynthia Starks and Rachel Halton will perform.