Over two hundred years ago, African American worshippers at St. George's Methodist Church in Philadelphia were pulled from their knees during prayer by white worshippers. Richard Allen, one of the African Americans, asked that they be allowed to finish prayer and they then would leave and trouble St. George's no more. Prayer ended before the commotion did and Richard Allen led the African Americans out of St. George's Methodist Church. The year was 1787. In the days that were to come, Richard Allen and those few men and women founded the church that became the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The new congregation worshipped in a blacksmith's shop that Allen purchased with his own money. Allen, who later became Bishop Richard Allen, preached in the blacksmith shop, with an anvil as his pulpit, a doctrine of self-help. He taught the people that they should rely on God and their own resources to make a difference in their lives, their church and their community.
The legacy continued when Daniel Squires and Delaney H. Miller organized the church in 1815 after founding the Sunday school one year earlier. Sunday school and the church met in the homes of Amityville residents for the next 20 years. They saw North Amityville had a need for a church.
In 1839, Elias and Fanny Hunter offered land on Albany Avenue to the congregation. In 1843, four years later, a building previously used as an ice house was donated and moved to the site on Albany Avenue. This small building was refurbished and served as the first church building for the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Amityville. The church included an auditorium for the Sunday school, stained glass windows, a beautiful sanctuary and a steeple. In 1912, the cornerstone of Bethel was laid.
Some of the contributors to the building of Bethel Church were the Squires, Millers, Hunters, Fowlers, Brewsters, Devines, Jacksons, Pierces, Holmes and Steel families. Some were the children of slaves. Some were Native Americans from Montauk Point and others were former slaves who had purchased their freedom on Shelter Island.
These Native American and African American families settled in Amityville in the early 18th Century seeking work as farmers and fishermen who joined forces to build a place where people of color could worship freely. They were not free to attend local churches or schools attended by whites in the area.
In 1844, Benjamin Bates served as the first pastor of Bethel Church. He traveled from Jamaica, Queens each Sunday by foot to preach the Gospel. When the congregation was able to raise enough money, they provided the pastor with a horse. In 1866, the church joined the New York Conference Branch of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Rev. Alexander Posey was the first appointed pastor of Bethel on record. The church grew through the years and another addition was added in 1940. In 1957, another plan to enlarge the church was abandoned due to lack of ample space for the building.
There was strong opposition to moving the church from its original location to a new location from a segment of the congregation. Many parishioners felt as though they were “leaving their heritage behind” while others understood the necessity for growth. However, the decision was made.
Mrs. Martha Green Costa, a member of Bethel, formerly deeded a Copiague site to the community which was eventually abandoned. The land was then donated to Bethel AME Church to build their new home.
Under the pastorate of the late Rev. John W. Lee, a huge building fund campaign ensued with a goal of $125,000.00. Finally, on June 28, 1962, groundbreaking ceremonies were held at the new Bethel AME location in Copiague with Bishop George W. Barber, Prelate of the First Episcopal District presiding.
The very first service in the new church building was on March 12, 1967 in the lower auditorium because the Sanctuary was not quite complete. On Palm Sunday, March 19, 1967, the congregation worshipped in the main sanctuary. “What a Palm Sunday Service!” It signified the ending of Lent where one convened with God as they evaluated themselves, it was the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem before His crucifixion and it was the beginning of worship for the members in their new sanctuary. The service was tearful and uplifting. It was a monumental yet historical event. Consecration Sunday was held on July 9, 1967, dedicated by the Rt. Rev. John D. Bright, Senior Bishop of the First Episcopal District.
Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church of Amityville has an abundantly rich history from it’s foundation to the establishment of Bethel AME Church, Copiague.
Bethel AME Church of Amityville was the first black church on Long Island. It is the oldest black church on Long Island, 202 years strong and counting. It is the largest AME church in Western Suffolk.
The Shepherds (Visionaries) of the past has brought their spiritual gifts and talents to Bethel. They left many indelible marks on the growth of Bethel. Today, under the leadership of Rev. Dr. Keith Hayward, Bethel Copiague worships in a New Way. On Sunday mornings, as the bell tolls, it ushers in the Trinity, the spirit of our ancestors and our own spirits as we fellowship with the saints. Our worship is high as the spoken Word anchors our soul.
With our unique way of worship, Bethel Copiague has grown stronger in Faith, Spirit, Love, Bible Study, Membership, Community Outreach, Education, Assets, Financially, Politically, Technically and more. As we continue to spread our Love and Joy far and wide, Bethel AME Copiague stands on the promises of God.
Lastly, the artifacts from the old Bethel, The Bell, The Cross, The Cornerstone are imbedded into our present edifice.
“Unless Souls are Saved, Nothing Is Saved”