Thirty years of ser­vice

The Rev. Ben­ton con­tin­ues to lead Beth­le­hem Bap­tist

The Covington News - - Religion - By Colleen Capes Jack­son

Cel­e­brat­ing 30 years of ser­vice, the Rev. Hezekiah Ben­ton Jr. is the 12th pas­tor of the Beth­le­hem Bap­tist Church. Es­tab­lished in 1849, the church build­ing is known as the old­est ed­i­fice in the New­ton County AfricanAmer­i­can Com­mu­nity and is lo­cated in the heart of the his­tor­i­cal dis­trict in the city of Cov­ing­ton. Un­der Ben­ton’s lead­er­ship, the church has ex­panded its call to serve the com­mu­nity. A ban­ner in the sanc­tu­ary states their motto and em­pha­sis, “A Pray­ing Prais­ing Peo­ple Serv­ing a Pow­er­ful God.”

The first ser­vices were held in the home of the Rev. Berry Fish un­til a log hut was built near the Cen­tral De­pot and the church be­came known as the Col­ored Bap­tist Church. In 1851, the Rev. Toney Baker be­came pas­tor and served for 46 years. Un­der his pas­torate, the church changed its name to Beth­le­hem Bap­tist. Lead­ers of this grow­ing con­gre­ga­tion in­cluded Henry Robin­son, Joe Slaugh­ter, Cole John­son, John Bent­ley and Neat Bagby. A wooden struc­ture was given to the church by a white fel­low­ship in 1856. The church met on sec­ond and fourth Sun­days un­til 1959. In 1963, the main sanc­tu­ary was com­pletely ren­o­vated and an ed­u­ca­tional an­nex was added.

Other pas­tors who have served in­clude the Rev. Fam­bro, the Rev. A.D. Wil­liams, the Rev. John Lewis, the Rev. G.W. Wood­son, the Rev. W. Kelley, the Rev. Joel King, the Rev. P.R. Geer, the Rev. C.W. Huff, and the Rev. E.L. Mitchell.

Beth­le­hem Bap­tist Church be­lieves that its ul­ti­mate mis­sion is to lift the name of Je­sus, glob­ally. The mem­bers are charged to walk in Je­sus’ foot­steps and to in­vite oth­ers to share in build­ing his king­dom.

Weekly events in­clude Sun­day school at 10 a.m. and morn­ing wor­ship at 8 a.m. and 11 a.m.; adult Bi­ble study and youth min­istry on Mon­day at 7 p.m.; hour of power on Wed­nes­day at noon fol­lowed by Sun­day school train­ing at 6:30 and prayer ser­vice at 7:30 p.m. The 2008 an­nual theme is “Rais­ing the Foun­da­tion of Many Gen­er­a­tions.”

The church func­tions to serve a di­verse con­gre­ga­tion through an or­ga­ni­za­tional struc­ture of min­istries, aux­il­iaries, fel­low­ship groups, boards and com­mit­tees.

The mu­sic min­istry con­sists of the se­nior choir, gospel choir, male cho­rus, youth choir, mass choir and the praise team.

New pro­grams and im­prove­ments in­clude an an­nual Prayer-A-Thon, An­gel Food min­istries, youth and adult Bi­ble classes, youth sum­mer feed­ing/ en­rich­ment pro­gram, the Beth­le­hem Schol­ar­ship, new car­pet­ing, pad­ding of the pews, a church li­brary, con­fer­ence room ma­te­rial, new or­gan and pi­ano, kitchen equip­ment, heat­ing and air con­di­tion­ing and roof­ing re­pair. Youth vis­i­bil­ity has in­creased by award­ing cer­tifi­cates to the A/B honor roll each quar­ter.

The church pur­chased the par­cel of land near the Ham­monds House and the ten­nis court ad­ja­cent to the church. In ad­di­tion, prop­erty was pur­chased on the cor­ner of Emory and Usher Streets with plans to con­struct a Fam­ily Life Cen­ter and a Per­sonal Care Home.

The Rev. Ben­ton was born to Hezekiah and Rosie Hayes Ben­ton, the sixth of seven chil­dren. His fa­ther, now 94, raised his chil­dren to honor and re­spect the gospel mes­sage.

“I gave my heart to the Lord one night at re­vival when I was nine years old,” said the pas­tor. “I re­ceived the call to preach on Sept. 28, 1974 and was li­censed and or­dained in 1976.”

Ben­ton grad­u­ated from Hutto High School as salu­ta­to­rian in 1962. He re­ceived a Bach­e­lor of Science in Agron­omy from Fort Val­ley State Col­lege and was awarded a Mas­ter of Di­vin­ity from the In­ter­de­nom­i­na­tional The­o­log­i­cal Cen­ter.

Ben­ton worked as a soil sci­en­tist with the Soil Con­ser­va­tion Ser­vice of the United States De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture in Green­cas­tle and South Bend, Ind. He was one of six black soil sci­en­tists in the coun­try and was the first black soil sci­en­tist to pub­lish a soil sur­vey re­port in St. Joseph County, Ind.

Ben­ton is a prior re­cip­i­ent of the New­ton County Martin Luther King “I Have a Dream” Award, for­mer Pres­i­dent of the New­ton County Min­is­ter’s Union and New Era State Mis­sion­ary Bap­tist Con­ven­tion of Ge­or­gia and served as In­terim Ad­min­is­tra­tive Dean of the More­house School of Re­li­gion at the In­ter­de­nom­i­na­tional The­o­log­i­cal Cen­ter.

Ben­ton spoke of many mir­a­cles in his life such as how his god­mother, Mrs. Marie Hop­son Dixon, was in­stru­men­tal in con­nect­ing him to a job with free room and board and which pro­vided in­come for him to at­tend col­lege. The Satur­day be­fore he was to en­roll, he ac­ci­den­tally cut the fin­gers on his right hand with the blade of a lawn­mower. An Air Force sur­geon sewed his fin­gers and told him it would be a mir­a­cle if he kept them.

“It has been a source of in­spi­ra­tion to me when I look at them and see the mir­a­cle that God did in my aca­demic train­ing,” said the pas­tor. “I grad­u­ated with hon­ors and made a liv­ing for 10 years as a soil sci­en­tist in In­di­ana test­ing soils with th­ese three joints that were al­most cut off.”

His min­istry part­ner and wife is Belinda Elaine Ben­ton. To­gether, they have four chil­dren: Jo­ce­lyn Ben­ton Glenn, An­thony Ben­ton, Shame­tria Nol­ley Dixon and Quincy Nol- ley. Their five grand­chil­dren in­clude Jazmine and Kevon Ed­ward Glenn, Is­rael and Am­rin Dixon, and John Quincy Nol­ley

Ben­ton be­lieves it is im­por­tant to nur­ture and train our chil­dren with the foun­da­tion of God’s word so there is no aban­don­ment of fam­ily prin­ci­ples when they reach their teenage years.

“I want to see a restora­tion of fam­ily val­ues,” said the pas­tor. “I want fam­i­lies to be­come self sup­port­ive. If we can get back to it, I be­lieve the Lord will bless us.”

For more in­for­ma­tion, call (770) 786-8229 or visit www. beth­le­hem­bap­

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