HISTORY OF PASCO COUNTY
Bethany Baptist Church (1882-1892)
Copyright by Judith R. Jolly 2015 – Used With Permission
Bethany Baptist Church existed for only ten years, but its place in Pasco Baptist history is secure because it was the site of Pasco Baptist Association’s first annual meeting in 1885. Located “near Clear Lake” (the original name of Lake Jovita), it was only a short distance west of Dade City on today’s State Road 52. It is speculation that “near Clear Lake” could have been the homestead acreage of Dr. (Rev.) Benjamin Lawrence Ray, which was situated about one mile east of Clear Lake at the southeast corner of present-day State Road 52 and Prospect Road. The area is known today as Ray Pond or Ray Lake. Dr. Ray would have had outbuildings, perhaps a barn, in which the church could have gathered. It is also likely that his large family became some of the organizers and early members of the church.
In 1882, Bethany petitioned membership in South Florida Baptist Association. The new church had no pastor, and its one delegate was B.L. Ray. Ten members met the first ‘sabbath’ of the month. The first minister to pastor the small church was Giles W. (G.W.) Bearden in 1883. During that year the church grew by 15 to realize a membership of 25.
Bethany was one of several (then) Hernando County churches to withdraw from South Florida Association in 1885 and organize Hernando (Pasco) Baptist Association. Robert E. Bell served the church as pastor in 1885 and 1886. In 1885, G.H. Staley was a delegate, and in 1886, W.L. Mobley was clerk.
The church became involved in discord in 1886, and a Hernando Baptist Association committee was organized to investigate and give counsel. Apparently, the discord was not well resolved, and the church lost about 15 members. W.L. Mobley was representative in 1887. In 1888, Hernando Baptist Association changed its name to Pasco Baptist Association, and Joseph H. Smith was called to pastor Bethany church. Membership increased to a total of 22, and delegates were A.J. Hayman and W.L. Mobley.
In 1889, a Sunday school was established with six officers and 55 pupils, highly unusual for a church membership of 22. Per association records, it is probable Bethany was the site of a branch Sunday school organized by Dade City Baptist Church. Bethany’s property value was $50 in 1889, a sum too small for a permanent structure. Likely, a pole-barn type structure was erected for the large Sunday school.
In 1889, Jacob B. Ray and W.L. Mobley were messengers. In 1890, Jacob B. Ray was clerk, and the membership was 24. In 1891 and 1892, Bethany is listed in association records, but not represented. After 1892, Bethany does not appear in Pasco Baptist Association records.
October 14-16, 1882. “Petitionary letters were then called for, when letters from the following named churches were presented by their respective delegates, to-wit: Bethany, Sandhill and Goodhope, in Hernando county . . . and being found orthodox, were received as members of this Association.” [South Florida Baptist Association Minutes]
October 14-16, 1882. Hernando County; No pastor; Delegate B.L. Ray; Members 10; Contributions $1; Meeting First Sabbath. [South Florida Baptist Association Minutes]
October 20-22, 1883. Hernando County; Pastor, G.W. Bearden; Delegate G.W. Bearden; Baptisms 10; Letters 5; Gain 15; Total 25; Contributions $1.75; First Sunday. [South Florida Baptist Association Minutes]
October 18-20, 1884. Hernando County; Messengers, None; No report. [South Florida Baptist Association Minutes] “Whereas, Some of our sister churches in Hernando county think it best to organize a new Association, and desire letters from this body to do so; therefore, be it “Resolved, That we grant said churches the privilege to withdraw from us to form said Association, requesting them to report the same to us at our next session.”
October 14-18, 1885. “By resolution the following churches have been dropped from our roll, they having reported to this body the forming of a new Association, Anclote, Bethany, Emmans (Emmaus), Hebron, Midway, Double Branch, New Hope, Oak Grove, Pleasant Hill, to form a new Association styled the Fort Date (sic) Association.” (Note: Should be Fort Dade, but the ‘new Association’ was officially named Hernando.) [South Florida Baptist Association Minutes]
1885. First Annual Session of the Hernando Association was held with Bethany Baptist Church, near Clear Lake (present-day Lake Jovita). (Note: HBA organized May 1885); Pastor, R.E. Bell; Delegate, G.H. Staley; Members 12; Contribution $2; 2nd Sunday; “Moved and seconded, that thanks be extended to the brethren and members of Bethany Church, and their friends surrounding the same, for their hospitable treatment to the messengers and visitors of this Association.” (Page 7). [Hernando Baptist Association Minutes]
November 6-7, 1886. Hernando County; Pastor, R.E. Bell, Dade City; Clerk, W.F. Mobley, San Antonio; Members 11; 2nd Sabbath; Minutes $2.50; “Committee on the State of the Churches Report: Your committee beg leave to report that from what we can gather up from the messengers and letters sent up by the churches, some of the churches are living in harmony and growing in members, while in others we find discord and disturbances of such a nature as to involve their unity. We therefore call your attention to Emmans (Emmaus) and Hebron, Bethany and Gum Slough churches.” (Page 8); “Resolved. That a committee of five be appointed by this Association to investigate the difficulties existing between . . . Bethany and Gum Slough churches, and adjust the same if possible; otherwise report to the next meeting of this body. The . . . following committee was named by the Moderator: W.C. Sumner, Elijah McLeod, Brother Lightfoot, Leroy and Dr. Roberts.” (Page 10) [Hernando Baptist Association Minutes]
November 4-6, 1887. No Pastor; Representative W.L. Mobley; Baptisms +1; Dismissed -2; Total 11; contributions $2.25; 2nd Sunday. [Hernando Baptist Association Minutes]
November 2-4, 1888. (Name changed to Pasco Baptist Association) Pastor, J.H. Smith; Delegates, A.J. Hayman, W.L. Mobley; Letters +10; Total 22; 2nd Sabbath and Saturday before. [Pasco Baptist Association Minutes]
November 1-3, 1889. Messengers, Jacob Ray, W.L. Mobley; Sunday School Officers 6, Pupils 55; Church Property $50; Minutes $1.50; Home Church Work $55; Letters +5; Baptisms +3; Letters -4; Expelled -2; Total 24. [Pasco Baptist Association Minutes] (See 1890 re: Dade City church for possible explanation of SS numbers.)
October 31-November 2, 1890. Not represented; Clerk, J.B. Ray, Dade City; Members 24. “On motion, that we allow a change to be made in the letter of the Dade City church, so as to admit a branch Sunday school to be represented in their statistics.” [Pasco Baptist Association Minutes] (Perhaps the Dade City church had a branch Sunday school at Bethany in 1889.)
October 30-November 1, 1891. Not represented. [Pasco Baptist Association Minutes]
November 3, 1892. Not represented. [Pasco Baptist Association Minutes]
November 2-4, 1893. Not listed. [Pasco Baptist Association Minutes]
Bethany Baptist Church No. 2 1894-1896
Research indicates this is a new and separate church, unrelated to the original Bethany, organized 1882. The ‘new’ Bethany gives 1894 as its organization date.
November 1-3, 1894. Pasco County; “Bethany received by petitionary letter; Messenger, L. Kersey.” Pastor, J.C. Rodgers, Menotasasie (Thonotosassa); Males 5, Females 8, Total 13; Home Missions .50; Minutes .50. [Pasco Baptist Association Minutes]
October 31 – November 2, 1895. Pastor, J.C. Rodgers, Thonotosassa; Members 13. [Pasco Baptist Association Minutes]
October 29-31, 1896. No Pastor; Members 13; Organized 1894. [Pasco Baptist Association Minutes]
November 4-6, 1897. Not listed. [Pasco Baptist Association Minutes]
Judith Richbourg Jolly Dade City, Pasco County, Florida April 18, 2015
Chair, Board of Directors Florida Baptist Historical Society