The first steps in the development and organisation of our church were taken in 1956, eleven years after the end of World War II. At that time no English-language Baptist churches existed to serve the U.S. military forces serving in postwar Germany and their families. In order to meet that need, Captain Paul V. Davis and Mrs. Shirley Davis, along with Sergeant and Mrs. George P. Graveline, organised an English-speaking Baptist Mission in the Frankfurt area, which was established on Sunday 1 July 1956.
The Mission grew steadily during the next couple of years and, on 7 May 1958, the Mission unanimously decided to call Rev Herbert L. Stout to bring his family from the United States to Frankfurt and become the pastor of the congregation. A red letter day in the history of Bethel was 13 July 1958. It was on this day that Bethel Baptist Mission became Bethel Baptist Church! The church was constituted with 56 members.
The church grew, and for the first several years had to move continuously to bigger and more comfortable accommodations. Of primary importance to the newly formed church was a building to call our own. Financial contributions and prayers came from many directions and, eventually, the church was able to purchase the land in Frankfurt and start the construction of the church building. The groundbreaking ceremony for our present building was held in 1962 and 14 July 1963 was the day for dedication of Bethel Baptist Church Building, as we know it.
During her early years, Bethel and her sister church in Wiesbaden organised other 19 English-speaking Missions and churches in different areas of Germany. Realising the need to cooperate with other churches for greater evangelistic efforts, these two churches made an even more significant contribution to the Gospel advancement by founding the Association of Baptists in Continental Europe, which is now known as International Baptist Convention (IBC) - an association of more than 70 international English-speaking Baptist churches all over the world. Bethel continues to be involved in the ministry of the IBC Convention as well as being a full member of the German Baptist Union (Bund Evangelisch-Freikirchlicher Gemeinden in Deutschland k.d.ö.R)
The tenure of Rev. Stout ended in April 1964, when he returned to the United States. From that time until the late 1980's the church had six permanent pastors coming from the U.S. to serve in Frankfurt for different tenures1, plus other interim pastors coming for a few months to cover the gaps. Each one of those pastors brought numerous contributions to the development of the church work: teaching the Bible, helping to make improvements in the building, supporting the International Baptist Convention (IBC), helping local mission efforts, etc. Throughout these long years, Bethel was still largely composed by U.S. military personnel and their families, who were always happy to find a place of friendship, comfort and spiritual nourishment at Bethel; a home away from home.
In l992, the U.S. military began reducing its presence in Europe and several English-speaking churches serving the U.S. military forces closed their doors. By 1995 there was no longer a U.S. military presence in Frankfurt and the number of people attending Bethel decreased drastically. However, the church refocused its vision and started to reach out to people of all nations living in Frankfurt who could speak English. The word ‘international’ was added to the church’s name: Bethel International Baptist Church. The transition from being a U.S. military church to becoming a multicultural church was not an easy and quick process. Two former pastors, Dr Thomas Hill (Jul 1990 - Aug 1995) and Dr. Doyle Searcy (Sep 1996 - 2009) were serving at Bethel during this period of transition and changes.
During the 1990's and 2000's the church persevered in pursuing its new vision and people from different nations started to join the congregation year by year. Sadly, there were also many people leaving the church year by year, as many students and international workers would return to their home countries after fulfilling their terms in Frankfurt. This transient nature of the church has always been very challenging. On the other hand, it has also been a privilege to know that Bethel is reaching out to the nations by teaching and encouraging these Christians in the ways of the Lord while they are in Frankfurt, empowering and preparing them to continue to serve the Lord after they go back to their home countries or elsewhere.
After the departure and subsequent retirement of Dr Doyle Searcy in 2010, Bethel faced a challenging time, when the church was for almost four years without a permanent pastor. The lay leaders and church members did extremely well in keeping things going, with the support of different interim pastors who came to help the church temporarily. During this period of seeking a permanent pastor all the services and main activities of the church were kept running. The church even experienced some growth with new believers being baptised and new people being received into church membership.
Today we can say Bethel is truly a multi-cultural church for people of all nations living in Frankfurt. The church currently averages 110 people (including the children) attending the Sunday worship services and more than 33 nationalities from all over the world are currently represented. The congregation is made up of those who live long-term in the Frankfurt area (e.g.: German nationals and their families, long term international employees, asylum seekers, etc.), as well as those who are here short-term, which can range from people on business trips for a week to those who are here for two or three years assignments with consulates or international companies, as well as students. It is a young congregation with a large number of young adults, singles and young families. But there are people of all ages, including senior citizens and a large group of children. English is not the mother tongue for many but it is the language they feel comfortable in for church life.
In August 2013, after accepting the invitation of the church, Rev Rodrigo Assis da Silva moved to Frankfurt to serve as the pastor of Bethel International Baptist Church. Under his leadership, Bethel continues to make efforts to reach with the gospel English-speaking people of all nations living in Frankfurt and surrounding areas constantly exploring ways of doing that more effectively. In a region with so many international people, so many global businesses, several large universities and colleges with many international students, and several consulates (including the largest U.S. Consulate of the world) and a large influx of refugees and asylum seekers - Bethel surely has an important mission to fulfil as an international English-speaking church in Frankfurt am Main.
1Rev. Kenneth B. Coleman (Jul 1964 - Jul 1967); Rev. John M. Cann (Jan 1968 - Dec 1970); Rev. Vernon P. Perkins (Dec 1970 - Feb 1974); Rev. Bobby Gaines (Feb 1974 - Dec 1976); Rev. Harry Poovey (Jan 1977 - Jun 1980); Rev. Harry D. Wood (Jul 1980 - Sep 1989).
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