Church History

The Buildings and Locations:

The Union Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church building now stands on the property of the original Union Bethel AME Church, which was organized in the period after the Civil War. This has been the site of three separate phases of the church history beginning in the 1870’s. Today, the church complex stands in the rural area west of Brandywine, on grounds bordered by woods and including a graveyard north and west of the church.

In 1868, Jane P. Williams deeded two acres of land to the Trustees of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The first church was built soon afterwards (it appears on an 1878 map of the area) and it may have been rebuilt or replaced in 1887; it was a front-gabled building wood frame construction, with the entrance in the south gable front. The Founding Pastor was the Reverend James G. Martin. The church was originally on a circuit with two other churches, Metropolitan and Mt. Hope. Each Church had its own building, so services were held each Sunday; Union Bethel at 11:00 a.m., Metropolitan at 1:00 p.m., and Mt. Hope at 3:00 p.m. It was a demanding, but rewarding spiritual experience.

In 1900, an adjoining piece of land was purchased and a graveyard was extended to the west. By 1906, plans were being made for enlarging the church. The Baltimore Conference minutes of that year indicated considerable growth in the congregation and under Rev. Joseph B. Cordell: “This is one of the best circuits within the bounds of our Conference. It is growing so rapidly in population that it will in a short time demand the entire services of a pastor. The church building is inadequate to accommodate the people, therefore the pastor and members are collecting funds to enlarge the building.”

Soon after this, a bell tower was built on the southeast corner of the church, and entrance to the nave was changed to the east face of the tower; the original. Entrance was replaced by a double pointed-arch window. An east wing was also constructed, enlarging the usable space. The edifice was erected in 1893 during the pastorate of Reverend Richard Queen, and the parsonage was destroyed by fire in 1926.

On January 1, 1948, the frame church was completely destroyed by fire. A new building was started. With the basement being, services were held in this basement space for several years while the congregation raised money to finance the rebuilding. Under the pastorate of Reverend Richard Smith (1952) construction began on a new building. The upper sanctuary was completed in 1955 during the tenure of Rev. Daniel E. Makell. Rev. Makell and the members of the church did much of the actual construction. It was a handsome building, front-gable, with a projecting entry tower centered in the south gable front. Slim brick buttresses separate round-arch window surmounted by cross-shaped outing lighting the tower above the double door. The church surface was covered with stucco except for the buttresses and the quoined trim around the door and windows.

In 1962, Mount Hope (Camp Springs) and Metropolitan (in Clinton) A.M.E. churches were closed and their congregations merged with Union Bethel. Under the leadership of Reverend Paul Q. Baker, Sr., the circuit was combined into a station church at Brandywine (often called T.B)

Although the historic church building has been gone for nearly 50 years, it’s site, through successive rebuilding, has remained a landmark of significance in the local African-American community. The expanded congregation of Union Bethel grew steadily and by 1988 plans were underway to construct a larger church building. The building program was officially launched under the leadership of Rev. Harry L. Seawright on March 2, 1987. The newly formed building committee presented their proposal to the congregation outlining the requirements for a new sanctuary. The proposal was approved by the congregation and the committee was given permission to proceed. The building program lasted over five years. Some of the milestones in the building process were: selecting and approving an architect for the project on May 20, 1987; the design phase began in June 1987; the final design of the building was approved on September 21, 1987; the perk test passed county specification in October, 1988; the Ground Breaking Ceremony was held on November 6, 1988; the church went to settlement with First National Bank of Maryland on June 12, 1990; construction began on August 1, 1990.

To support the building fund, two programs were initiated. In 1988, ninety-one members agreed to participate in a coupon booklet program for a two year period. In August 1989, a special pledge program was initiated in which twenty members participated and over $20,000 was raised. This modern building was dedicated July 14, 1991, connected to the 1955 church by one of its low wings.

In 1998, the old chapel sanctuary was renovated to be used by Bethel House, Inc., as a Community Service Outreach Center with staff and offices to serve the expanding need of the surrounding community. This was made possible with a grant from the State of Maryland. Bethel House, Inc. is a 501(c)3 organization organized to provide holistic care and services to individuals and families by addressing the spiritual, physical, and mental health needs of those who seek assistance in the Southern Prince George’s and Charles Counties. The purpose of the organization is to provide “a way station” of support services to the community through several component programs which are critically needed in the area. Beginning as a part of the Community Outreach Ministry of Union Bethel providing food, clothing and rental assistance to homeless and needy individuals and families, in 1991 the ministry quickly outgrew the space in the church’s basement and acquired rental property in July 1993. As outreach expanded, the mission expanded to the degree that the establishment of a non-profit organization was warranted. The vision of Bethel House, Inc. was/is to become a place of help and healing for residents of Southern Prince George’s County by providing an array of services through an effective and uplifting community outreach center that will nurture each individual’s potential for growth.

Future history will document the “VISIONS TOWARD 2000” as the F.O.C.U.S. (For Our Children’s Unity School) Christian Academy which opened its doors as a full service private school operated by Union Bethel A.M.E. Church. Plans are underway for the development and building of a Christian Academy School that will service the needs of the community and the church. F.O.C.U.S.’s mission is to develop a school that will encourage our children to strive towards spiritual excellence; to impart Christian values for providing holistic learning environment that will prepare the spirit, mind and body of our children based on biblical; and that each child will be empowered to develop a positive identity as they become equipped for the challenges of the 21 Century. A 15-passenger van was purchased and used primarily for F.O.C.U.S #1.

The Church’s administration has expanded over the years currently the staff consists of four full time persons. We give God all the Glory and Honor for the Great Things He continues to do for UnionBethel AME Church.

The Pastors:

As remembered by a former member, Miss Mary E. Wallace, Union Bethel AME was pastored by the following ministers: Rev. James G. Martin, (1890-1892); Rev. Richard Queen, (1892-1892); Rev. John F. Wallace, (1894-1899). According to records, Rev. Wallace was the first minister to serve the church for five years- which was then the largest period that the AME conference allowed. During that era, a new interest was evidenced in the church life of Union Bethel. Some outstanding officers of the church were: Mr. Clarence Hawkins, Mr. William R. Walls, Mr. Edward Hawkins, Mr. Samuel Beale, Mr. Thomas Jefferson Hawkins. Mr. Jeff Hawkins, as he was better known to all, was Superintendent of the Sunday School for many years, and his influence over the youth of the community was evident.

In 1904, Rev. Wallace was reassigned as pastor Union Bethel for the second time. He found the same officers serving. The church was in a flourishing condition. Many young people had joined the church and were active in Sunday School and Christian endeavors. Among these were Mr. Clifton Hawkins, Mr. Herbert Young, Mr. Mortimer Hawkins, Mr. Doris Walls, Mr. Dordean Jackson, Mr. John Brown, Mr. Robert Hawkins, Mr. Alphonso Beale, Mr. Carroll Hawkins, Mr. Ellsworth Brown and others. After serving two years, the community was grievously shocked by the sudden death of Rev. Wallace.

Other former pastors who served the church are as follows: Rev. Richard T. Leach, (1899-1904); Rev. Joseph B. Cordell (1905-1906); Rev. A. O. Plumber, (1906-1907); Rev. John Wing, (1907-1910). During 1910 to 1921, Pastors were not assigned, but the pulpit was supplied by the following ministers; Rev. Rufus C. Curtis, Rev. Charles B. Bailey, Rev. John Waters, Rev. Samuel Drummer. Rev. James R. Nelson served from 1921 to 1923, Rev. Augustus A. Murray, (1923-1926); Rev. Belcher, (1926-1927); Rev. John Bailey, (1927-1934); Rev. R. Arrington Riddick, (1934-1936); Rev. E. H. Purnell, (1936-1939); Rev. Herman R. Curtis (1939-1949); Rev. Richard M. Smith (1949-1954); Rev. Daniel E. Makell, (1954-1957); Rev. Raymond P. Harrison, (1957-1962, second term 1965-1966) Rev. Spencer P. Tindall, (1966-1968- died while pastoring); Rev. Jessie C. Taylor (1968-1970); Rev. Thomas N. Hawkins, ( 1970-1975); Rev. Sherman L. Green,(intern 1975-1976); Rev. Charles Bourne (1976-1980); Rev. Mack M. Bell, (1980-1986).

Over the years of this circuit, four members answered the call to the ministry, Rev. George A. Hawkins, Rev. Joseph Green, Rev. Mack M. Bell, and Rev. Thomas N. Hawkins.

Rev. Dr. Harry L. Seawright (1986-2016)

God richly blessed us once again under the leadership of the Reverend Doctor Harry L. Seawright was assigned to Union Bethel in June of 1986, a time when the congregation consisted of approximately one hundred and fifty members. Rev. Seawright’s warm, loving, and caring demeanor quickly spread throughout the congregation and the church became known by it’s theme: “A Church in Love and Unity through Christ”. It has been this warmth and love that has contributed to the vast increase in the membership which is now over 875 members. Rev. Seawright made history when his tenure at Union Bethel as pastor spanned over eleven years.

Rev. Seawright received his Doctorate of Ministry Degree from Howard University in 1995. He was awarded the Doctorate of Ministry Student of the Year Award from Howard University School of Divinity. He has authored “More Than Bricks and Mortar: Building a Church without Losing Your Mind: published 1996 and contributing author to The African American Devotional Bible, “Meditation on Quality Leadership”, 1997. He was also Trustee Emeritus of Prince George’s County Community College, Treasurer of the Washington Conference AME Church, Dean of the Board of Examiners of the Washington Conference, President of Bethel House Inc.’s Board of Directors and President of F.O.C.U.S., a committee to organize a Christian Academy.

Ministries and Organizations:

When Rev. Seawright began as pastor, the ministerial staff consisted of only two people: Rev. Gwendolyn Coleman and Sis. Evalena Bolden. Under the pastorship of Rev. Seawright, twenty-five persons have accepted the call of ministry, Rev. Gwendolyn Leftwich became the first member under Rev. Seawright’s pastorate to accept the call to the ministry. Other members are: Rev. Kenneth Dunn, Rev. Sherita M. Seawright, Rev. R. Hamilton Crump. Rev. Catherine Ferguson, Rev. Ron Ferguson, Rev. LaDelle Feemster, Sis. Alice Hawkins, Sis. Lois Hawkins, Sis. Portia Jenkins, Sis. LaTanya Jimerson, Bro. Kenneth Patterson, Sis. Michelle Montgomery, Sis. Patricia Tyous, Bro. James Parson, Bro. Anthony Williams, Sis. Cynthia White, Bro. Andre’ Revell, Bro. Dale Rutledge, Bro. Victor Thomas, Bro. Winston Jones, Bro. Dwayne Thornton, Sis. Debra Grant, Bro. Anthony Young, Bro. Derrick Brown and Sis. Vonderlear Fields.

Several organizations were added during Rev. Seawright’s tenure: Ambassadors for Christ, Unity Ensemble, VIP (Voices in Praise), True Victory, Children’s Choirs; an Intermediate Usher Board, Scholarship Committee, Ways and Means Committee, Helps and Administration, The Guiding Light, the Celebration of Life, Liturgical Dance, Praise Step Team, and the Business Alliance. Several Ministries were added also: Computer Ministry, Mentor Ministry, Basketball Ministry, Restoration Ministry, Community Outreach Ministry, Handyman Ministry, Men and Women Ministries, Jacobs Ladders, Married Couples Ministry, Youth and Young Adults Ministry, Music Ministry, Multi-Media Ministry, SHARE Ministry, Clothing Ministry. Union Bethel continues to have a strong Church School, Missionary Society, YPD Organization, Stewardess Board, Steward and Trustee Boards, and Lay Organization.

In 1997, 21.9 acres of land adjacent to the church was purchased. The land included an apartment building, a pond, a greenhouse, other structures and a house. The house on that property became the Vision Center, which houses the Outreach Ministry, Guiding Lights Seniors Ministry and extra meeting space.

In 1998, a $100,000 grant was allocated by the State to renovate the old sanctuary to house Bethel House, Inc., a community outreach program. A school bus was purchased for FOCUS I. An additional 9.995 acres of land was purchased. Also, the Saturday Academy, a tutoring program, was formed.

In 1999 Rev. Dr. Harry L. Seawright established six additional commissions (There are currently seven commissions) to assist him in the administration, growth and operations of the church.

In 2001, Union Bethel F.O.C.U.S. Intergenerational Center, Inc. (IGC) was dedicated. The IGC is located in Temple Hills, Maryland, and offered a variety of programs that includes F.O.C.U.S. II – a daycare program for infants and toddlers, and a before and after school program; banquet facility; a computer lab; and a second worship location. Another 15-passenger van was purchased. A Community Thrift Store was opened in the basement of the Vision Center.

In 2002, a Maryland Bond Bill was approved for $250,000 to launch a Recreation Center and plans are underway for a F.O.C.U.S.I building to offer a full service day care program on Union Bethel’s property in Brandywine. A house was purchased adjacent to Union Bethel’s property.

2003-2005, Twenty-five members accepted the call to preach.

2008-2012, parking lot was expanded. Two beautiful fountains were placed in front of the church, donated by the Hawkins and Walls families. A 22, passenger bus was purchased. Two homes were purchased and named the Hope Houses. Union Bethel hosted the Capitol District Conference, twice, in 2010 and 2012.

2013, paid off the mortgage of the Church and 35 Acers of land. Union Bethel’s vision under the anointed leadership of Rev. Dr. Harry L. Seawright, the longest presiding pastor of this great church (27 years), continues to grow. Also, the air condition was replaced in 2013.

2014, The Intergenerational Center (IGC) renamed to Union Bethel North (UBN). Replaced the roof on the sanctuary; began the process to obtain public sewage to the property for the purpose of expansion.

2015, Paid off one hundred thousand dollars bank loan from SunTrust Bank. Permit was approved for the public sewage installation.

June 2016, Rev. Dr. Harry L. Seawright Prayer Garden was constructed in his honor.

July 2016, Union Bethel’s vision under the anointed leadership of Rev. Dr. Harry L. Seawright, the longest presiding pastor of this great church (30 years) was elected and consecrated the 133rd Bishop of the AME Church.

On August 27, 2016, the Reverend Dr. William M. Campbell, Jr., was assigned as the church’s 30th pastor. He introduced a new season into the spiritual journey of the congregants and challenged them to grow even more in their walk with the Lord. He committed to preach all three of the Sunday services at both campuses and teach the church’s three weekly bible studies (Walking in the Word). Under his leadership, the congregation engaged in five (5) Membership Chats to talk informally about what they would like to see in their church. His mantra, “what do you think?” and “how do you feel?” encouraged the members to share their ideas and feelings as the church went through the transition of leadership. The Membership Chats were comprised of seasons (summer, fall, winter and spring) and these seasons became the narrative for the New Season Capital Projects. In New Season: Season I, the transition of the new pastor, updating of the pastor’s office, addition of a full video system with live streaming at the Temple Hills campus (UBN), and the addition of screens, were all completed without budgetary impact or financing.

At the annual conference in April 2017, he was reassigned to the church for his first full year. Together with his wife, Lady Detra – an architect and designer by profession – they are giving leadership to the upgrade and enhancement of the physical campuses as the New Season Capital Projects continues with Season II: the modernization and upgrade of the Brandywine sanctuary and additional furnishings for the Temple Hills location.

Union Bethel today is a product of the legacy left to us by our families and love ones who were once a part of this congregation, who now have gone on to be with the Lord. Much of the history we speak of here does not account for the prayers, devotion and dedication that went into making this congregation what it is today. But the present of these things are very evident through the children, grandchildren, and great-grand children who have chosen to follow the same path in worshipping and serving the Lord as their forefather. This is the history we would like to pass on to our future generations.

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The Second AME District Mid-Winter Meeting Gathering is February 21-23 at the Renaissance Portsmouth-Norfolk Waterfront Hotel – 425 Water St. Portsmouth, VA 23704.

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