The Bethel Baptist Church of San Diego, California was started by ten Christian men and women in September of 1921. They were Mr. and Mrs. Frank Seals, Mrs. Dora Moss, Mrs. Austin, Mr. and Mrs. Jay Murphy, Mr. and Mrs. Frank DeWitty, and Mr. and Mrs. Cecil Jones. They gathered together to organize a Baptist Mission and over the following three months they held meetings going from house to house. Assisted by Rev. W. T. Melton during the planning stages, they formed two committees, and by January 10, 1922 they raised $385.05. A tent was rented and a site secured at 10th and “J” Streets at a total cost of $30.00 per month
A call was extended to Rev. F.O. Brown of El Paso, Texas. He accepted and became the first pastor of the Baptist Mission. The first services were held Sunday, January 15, 1922. Twenty-nine people came to Jesus that day and joined the Mission, and $251.35 was raised in offerings. However, the following day a wind and rainstorm destroyed the tent blowing it away. The saints however persevered and the Mission moved to the Odd Fellows Masonic Hall on Market Street where services were conducted in an upstairs room. After a short stay at the Masonic Hall the little Mission moved to 1992 Logan Avenue which at that time was on the very outskirts of town and was southeastern San Diego.
The new site was a store-front building which featured only two small windows, two electric light drops and no plumbing. The furniture consisted of wooden boards placed over boxes and Coca Cola crates, a rough constructed rostrum, and a few chairs for the pastor and any visitors. Rev. Brown, the first pastor, had a wife, daughter and two sons. In those days, Sunday School classes were held at Rev. Brown’s home on National Avenue, which was just a couple of blocks away from the store front location. Sunday School ran from 9:00 pm to 10:30 pm.
The mission’s deacons were Mr. Murphy, Mr. De Witty, Mr. Jones and Mr. Seals. These men would start the morning worship service off by singing one or two of the old one hundreds, a’capella, as there was no piano or organ. After singing a couple of these songs, one of the deacons or one of the mothers would offer up prayer. A prayer would sometimes be twenty or thirty minutes long. Then the scripture would be read, another prayer offered, after which Rev. Brown would preach for two hours. Church was out between 2:00 pm and 3:00 pm. At 6:00 pm everyone came back for B.Y.T.U. which got out at 10:00 pm, but could go on until midnight if there was a sinner present.
San Diego at this time had so few African Americans that everybody knew each other; there were only a couple of sections in town, which African Americans could live. The typical wage was 35 cents an hour, and only 6 black people in town even had cars. The mission numbered fifty members, but after a three week “Soul Saving Campaign” they gained sixty-one new members, thirty-seven of them candidates for Baptism. The Sunday School, B.Y.T.U., and Mission Society was organized. 1922 was a very successful year for the Mission, both spiritually and financially, however, it was too small and after bitter controversy, it was agreed that the Mission would purchase a site and build a church.
The location for constructing a building was found at Commercial and Hensley Streets at a cost of $650.00 and at this new site a large tent was set up to accommodate the crowds. Because the mission now owned property, they had to comply with State of California laws and incorporate, which they did, as the Bethel Baptist Church. In 1925 the members raised $5,000.00 to build a church building. Everybody, men, women, boys, and girls built the building, no contractor was hired. The children would come by after school and on Saturdays to do their part hammering into place the lower parts of the building. Deacon De Witty worked for the Benson Lumber company and was able to purchase all the lumber needed for construction at a 75% off discount. Mr. Ladd would lay the work out so the men could hammer into place the different parts when they left their regular employment. Mr. Ladd was responsible for about 75% of the work even though he was never a Bethel member. It was completed in 1926 and could seat 275 people in its pews.
The Hensley Street site had a parsonage upstairs for the pastor and his family, a small room in the back of the church used for Sunday School social gatherings, etc., and restrooms with flushed toilets. The pews were homemade. The Adult Sunday School (22 years old and up) met in the back room. One of the church members, Mrs. Venable, donated a piano, and Mrs. Edna Henry became the first church pianist. The church also had a baptismal pool which was put into use by emptying the choir stand and having two strong men standing on each side, remove the floor boards and lift up the huge tub used. The church had about 50 members at this time, so there was initially a big space behind the last bench. This space was used to lay down young children so they could sleep, especially during B.Y.T.U.
In the 1920’s and 1930’s the annual church picnics were held with the congregations of Bethel AME, Jackson Memorial, and Calvary Baptist in Pepper Grove at Balboa Park. Blacks could only go to the park on Thursdays, unless they had special permission. So, the churches would get together and get special permission to have the picnic on a Saturday. The food tables would be about two blocks in length and loaded down with fried chicken, neck bones, fried fish, ham, roast beef, corn bread, greens with ham hocks, potato salad, butter beans with okra, green beans, cakes, pies, cookies, cobblers, etc. People would go all out and do their best to out do each other to make the most delicious food. The beverage would be lemonade and red soda pop. They would play ring-around-the-roses, pitch horse shoes and play softball and checkers.
The Church experienced financial difficulties and a decline in attendance after moving into the completed building. Rev. Melton resigned and the officers carried on services with the aid of visiting ministers. In late 1927 the Church called Rev. Hill to serve as its third Pastor. He conducted Revival Services which immediately added to attendance. Under his leadership the Church became affiliated with the Western Baptist State Convention. In 1930 Rev. Hill suddenly passed away and the pulpit was temporarily occupied by Rev. P.E. Robinson, one of California’s pioneer ministers, until December 1931. On October 16, 1931, Bethel Baptist Church extended a call to Rev. Charles H. Hampton, Pastor of the Second Baptist Church of El Centro, California. He accepted the call and became Bethel’s fourth Pastor at the age of 29.
Dr. Hampton was an anointed preacher who was also educated. After Dr. Hampton began pasturing the church, the membership grew from eighty to well over 200 members within six months. The two hour messages Dr. Hampton preached drew very large crowds consistently as word got out about him around San Diego. Wooden folding chairs were purchased to provide seating for the new influx of people and were placed in aisles. Eventually row upon row of chairs were placed even outside the windows during morning and evening services. The membership was 600 and rising. The Church made plans to build a larger place of worship and in 1933 the church established a building fund.
The church purchased more property on the corner of 29th and Clay Streets in 1933 and by the summer of 1934 the foundation was laid but the effects of the Great Depression began to be strongly felt which caused church members to be unable to fulfill pledges. Banks would not loan black people money to build or buy anything in those days. Several church members tried to put up their homes to get the church built, but banks refused to loan the money. Many members were discouraged to the point of doubting the church would ever get built because of the tough times. Indeed, the average wage was $3.00 per day if you had a job at all. In San Diego there was only one African American doctor, dentist, policeman, and six firemen. Typically blacks had jobs where they worked as maids, cooks, janitors, landscapers, handymen, etc.
The work done to build a foundation and basement was in peril of being ruined by a very rainy winter which frequently turned the construction sit into a swimming pool. All of the men and boys spent long arduous hours bailing out water through the bucket brigade method. The grace and mercy of God delivered them from this labor intensive task when brother Wesley Long who worked for the City of San Diego was able to get the city to loan the church a water pump which did the job easily and quickly.
In 1936 God moved on the heart of a private lender, Mr. Fisher of Point Loma who liked helping African Americans, to lend the funds necessary to complete the building. On Sunday, June 7, 1936 the congregation assembled for the last time at the Hensley Street site and “marched” over parade style to Clay Street. The new church was built with classrooms, which allowed for a more efficient division of the different age groupings. Sunday School classes at this time were expanded so that several adult classes were offered. Church membership grew so large that Dr. Hampton had to organize new ministries and reorganize some of the older ones. The Trustee Board, Deacon Board, Deaconess Board, Christian Education Commission, Mission Circles, the World Wide Guild, and other auxiliaries were affected or added to meet the needs of this ever growing congregation. By 1937 chairs were again being placed in the aisle ways and also in the lobby to accommodate the overflow attendance.
World War II caused membership to swell well over 1,000. African Americans came to San Diego from the South in huge numbers to work at Convair, Rohr, General Dynamics and other factories engaged in manufacturing war machines and war supplies. Most factories had around the clock shifts, people would arrive in town on the train in the morning, and by that evening would be at work on a shift. To accommodate much larger crowds, Dr. Hampton had the wall between the main Sanctuary and what was at that time Sunday School classrooms removed and the space incorporated into the Sanctuary to provide more seating for morning worship services. This is why there are three posts on the right side of the Sanctuary placed in an awkward position to this day. They are part of a main structural support for the building and could not be removed.
The church embraced the servicemen and their families, and more ministries were formed to meet the needs of the entire congregation. In the 1945 Dr. Hampton resigned and took a position with the Foreign Mission Board of the National Baptist Convention, USA Inc. Rev. W. J. Hutcheson the Assistant Pastor was called to serve as Bethel’s fifth Pastor. Rev. Hutcheson served until May 1948. In June of
1948 Dr. Hampton was again called to lead Bethel, he accepted the call and once again immediately began improving and expanding the Bethel Baptist Church ministry.
There was a groundbreaking ceremony in 1949 to build much needed Sunday School classes and a new church office. Rain however, kept the construction workers idle, so much so that the contractor proposed putting in a balcony which would be indoor work for his employees. He gave the church officers a price too good to refuse and the balcony was added.
The next two decades saw Dr. Hampton adding youth ministries, Male Chorus, circles/cell groups were added to the Missions Ministry, Laymen’s Ministry was formed, Children’s Choir, and Solace Ministry. By 1949 it was evident Bethel had outgrown its facilities and ground breaking for an educational facility had begun. The educational unit which was added housed the Primary, Junior, Junior High, and Senior High Sunday School Departments, as well as church offices. During this expansion the balcony in the main sanctuary was added and eventually adjacent land was purchased for parking.
In 1970 Bethel Baptist Church represented an investment of $350,000.00 in property and a membership of 1,200. In July of 1973 Pastor Hampton recommended the Bethel family accept Rev. John W. Ringgold as the Assistant to the Pastor. In 1979 Pastor Hampton’s health began to fail and Rev. Ringgold became the Co-Pastor. April 30, 1979 Pastor Hampton went home to be with the Lord. He had pastored Bethel Baptist Church for 44 years. Many years before his death all mortgages and notes had been paid in full and he left a solid legacy for future generations of Bethel worshippers.
Dr. Hampton had served as Vice-President of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. for several decades and as President of the Western Baptist State Convention for over thirty years. He was a member of the Corporate Board Sunday School Publishing House, National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc., Past Moderator of the San Diego American Baptist Association, Past Moderator of the Southwest District Association, Past member of the General Board of National Council of Church of Christ, he was an Accredited Delegate to the Baptist World Alliance in 1955, 1960, 1965, and 1970, member of the Advisory Board of the U.S. Army Chaplain’s Commission, World War II; served as Special Representative of the
Foreign Mission Board of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. He had visited 62 Mission Stations in Africa and received two honorary degrees of Doctor of Divinity and one Doctor of Laws from Central Mississippi College and Bishop College of Dallas, Texas. He was nationally known and respected as a venerable pastor, preacher, teacher, and mentor of future pastors and leaders. His memory and legacy is greatly treasured and valued by the many men and women whose lives he touched on behalf of Jesus Christ.
“Where there is unity of purpose and effort, all things are possible. Only doubters say it cannot be done, people of faith say, by the help of God we will accomplish it.” - Dr. C. H. Hampton
Upon Dr. Hampton’s death, Dr. Ringgold took over and led Bethel through its dark days of sorrow. In May of 1979 the Bethel membership unanimously voted to call Dr. Ringgold as its seventh Pastor.
The 1980’s saw the Bethel Church change and redevelop under the leadership of Dr. Ringgold to become a highly relevant ministry in the changing times. Dr. and Mrs Ringgold traveled to Haiti and established a relationship with an orphanage which the church began supporting. The Institute of Christian Ministries was formed to develop members’ knowledge of the Word of God and how to be effective in ministry. Women were appointed to the Trustee Board and the Board of Directors. Congregational Bible Studies called “Through the Bible with Pastor Ringgold” were initiated and heavily attended by Bethel members and members from the church community. The Christian Knights and Angelites boys and girls’ Saturday ministries was formed. As homelessness became a serious urban problem, the Bethel Church aggressively responded by providing food vouchers, rent assistance, and utility assistance through the Deacons Ministry Benevolence Fund. The Young Adult Ministries of the church began serving hot meals once a month downtown on 12th street to the homeless.
In 1994 the Lord blessed Dr. Ringgold with insight and understanding into the Hundredfold Harvest as taught by the Lord Jesus Christ in Mark chapter 4. Over the years the Bethel congregation began to grow in wisdom and understanding in how to be Hundredfold Believers and these teachings greatly impacted the overall spirituality of the congregation. Several new programs and ministries were instituted such as Hemera Prayer Assembly, Twelve Fruits Ministry, Sisters In Christ, Youth/Children’s Church services, Praise and Worship Team formed, and a School of Evangelism started. The prayer ministry of the church grew from
Wednesday noon and 7pm to Monday through Saturday 7:30am to 8:30am, 7:30 pm to 8:30pm Monday, Tuesday, Thursday through Saturday, and Sunday at 6am.
In 1997 Dr. and Mrs. Ringgold began going abroad on Missionary journeys and taking teams of Bethel members with them through the prayers and financial support of the congregation. They went to Jamaica and South Africa first, where they began missionary outreaches. Dr. and Mrs. Ringgold began heading up a missions journey at least three times each year and to highlight the needs of world missions the yearly Faith Conference was started in 1999. The emphasis of the mission journeys is saving souls, preaching the gospel, encouraging and building up the saints, and assisting local ministries in being successful. To fulfill this goal, revivals, pastors only seminars, conferences, and services have been held all over the world. Sight seeing and recreation are not on the agenda. Former mission journeys have been to Nigeria, Liberia, Ghana, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho, Kenya, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Swaziland, Botswana, South Africa, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore, Guyana, Panama, Cuba, Mexico, Jamaica, Haiti, Barbados, Bahamas, St.Vincent, Trinidad, St. Lucia, France, England, Germany, Switzerland, Northern Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Australia, Kenya, and Israel. Periodically the church has sent ocean-going shipping containers filled with clothing, bicycles, educational supplies, household furnishings and other supplies to Haiti, Liberia, Mozambique, and twice to Uganda.
In 2002 the church accepted the challenge to build a ministerial training school in New Delhi, India for Christian locals who are then sent out to evangelize the two million plus lost souls who live in the slums of the city as well as the lost who live through Northern India. The training school graduates church planters, pastors, and evangelists. Bethel raised $15,000.00 from the congregation to fulfill the pledge and the school was built and named the Hundredfold Ministerial Training Center of New Delhi. It currently graduates ministers every four months, typically a class of 50 students who have their lodging, meals, and study materials provided.
The late 80’s saw the church begin to make plans to build again at another location. Property was found on Euclid Avenue totaling almost six acres at a cost of approximately $500.00. It was purchased and plans were drawn to build and develop a total of five buildings including a main Sanctuary. The property was paid off in two years, and in 1994 the first building was constructed. Upon its completion, early morning services were held in it at 7:45 am. The mortgage for the building was burned in 2003 and the church began construction on the second of the five buildings planned for the multi-million dollar development of the six acre property.
On June 27, 2004 the Bethel congregation moved from 2885 Clay Avenue, its home of 68 years, to its new home at 1962 North Euclid Avenue. In cars which processed parade style with official police motorcade, they journeyed from 28th and Clay Streets to North Euclid Avenue and dedicated the new Multi-Purpose Building which would serve as their Worship Center until construction of Phase three began on the planned new Sanctuary.
In April 2007 a new ministry door was opened for one year by the Lord which allowed the church to reach the uttermost parts of the earth. A television program named “The Word of Life Television Ministry” was launched on the Adonai Television Network based in Johannesburg, South Africa. The television ministry was launched by Dr. Ringgold and the Bethel Baptist Church in conjunction with the Center for Hundredfold Living (CFHL). While it aired it reached viewers in most of Africa, Europe, and some parts of Asia and was broadcast by satellite two days of each week; four times on each day that it is aired. The show’s hosts were Dr. Ringgold and First Lady, Rev. Donna Ringgold. In August of 2010 Dr. John and Rev. Donna Ringgold began preaching the gospel on San Diego Gospel Radio KURS on Sundays at 4:00 pm for one hour until the station ceased broadcasting..
As Bethel Baptist Church moves ever forward in doing the will of the Father, we strive to continue to carry out the mission of the seven faithful Christians. We press on and to bring to realization the vision God has for our community and our involvement in global ministries. United we will raise up a new generation as we work to transform believers into hundredfold believers all over the world through mission outreaches, television, and any other tool which God opens Kingdom doors for us to walk through. God our Heavenly Father continues to prosper and grow the Bethel Church as it moves forward in focusing on spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ at home and abroad. We continue to add ministries and expand existing ones as we move with the Spirit of God to remain relevant for our time and fulfill our purpose in Christ Jesus. Once again, the best is yet to come in the name of Jesus!!!!