Our History

Our Beginning

In December 1955, Robert W. Dickerson began to discuss with trusted friends and associates the possibility of starting a new Disciples of Christ congregation in Cleveland, Ohio.  If this dream became a reality, the church would be named Bethany Christian Church based on the fact that Bethany was the place where Jesus spent a great deal of time.


Having received positive feedback, a small group of people, which included Pastor R.W. Dickerson, Sr., Mrs. Dorothy Dickerson, Lessie Penn, and George and Gladys Dickerson began meeting at the home of Melvin and Lula Hampton in January 1956 to discuss organizing Bethany Christian Church. The church motto, Matthew 17:20, was chosen at this meeting.


The first worship service was held on Sunday, February 15, 1956, at the home of Pastor and Mrs. Dickerson with 17 people in attendance.  An offering of $10.00 was entrusted to Melvin Hampton, who along with his wife, Lula, served as treasurer for 24 years.  The second service was held at the home of Mrs. Grace Dickey where five more people joined the congregation. She invited them back for six consecutive Sundays.  By that time the overflow had filled the living room, hallway, and stairway.


The need for a larger facility caused the growing congregation to move to A.J. Rickoff Elementary School at 3500 E. 147th Street where they remained for the next three years. There the congregation flourished in an atmosphere of faith and love.  The Bible School grew to be the largest among Black Disciples Churches with an average attendance of 100 persons each Sunday.  Among the highlights of this time spent at A.J. Rickoff, was Fellowship Day held when the church was about six months old.  Approximately 35 churches of all denominations were invited, along with the Interdenominational Ushers Association (ICUA).  Dr. Waymon Parsons, Pastor of Heights Christian Church, was the speaker.

Our First Edifice

The need for a larger facility caused the growing congregation to move to A.J. Rickoff Elementary School at 3500 E. 147th Street where they remained for the next three years. There the congregation flourished in an atmosphere of faith and love.  The Bible School grew to be the largest among Black Disciples Churches with an average attendance of 100 persons each Sunday.  Among the highlights of this time spent at A.J. Rickoff, was Fellowship Day held when the church was about six months old.  Approximately 35 churches of all denominations were invited, along with the Interdenominational Ushers Association (ICUA).  Dr. Waymon Parsons, Pastor of Heights Christian Church, was the speaker.


With very little money and an overwhelming faith in God, the young congregation began negotiations to obtain a church located at 12306 Soika Avenue. They raised $600.00 in two weeks to add to the $1,462.00 they had saved during their three years at A.J. Rickoff. The Cleveland Disciples Union gave them an additional $3,000.00. On Sunday, February 8, 1959, Bethany Christian Church celebrated the first worship in their new home.  When the charter was obtained in 1961, the membership totaled 145.


The first two ministers to be ordained from the congregation were the late Rev. William Hannah and Rev. Arthur Hill.  Rev. Hannah organized Fifth Christian Church and later became the Executive Secretary of the National Convocation.  Rev. Hill served as pastor for several churches including Lincoln Avenue Christian Church in Youngstown, Ohio.  Other ministers who came from Bethany include the late Rev. James Hannah, the late Elder Donald L. Jackson, Rev. Dr. Joseph Crockett, Bishop Robert W.H. Dickerson, Rev. Rodney Smith and the late Min. Roderick Dickerson.

Early Morning Worship

The 7:30 AM early morning service began in the Fall of the early 1980's after six Bethany members were found two different times by Pastor Dickerson attending early service at East Mt. Zion Baptist Church.  Pastor Dickerson met with the six members and determined there were others interested in an early morning service.  He took the request to the Board and two Sundays later Bethany held its first 7:30 AM worship service with about 10 members in attendance.  Joyce Crowell played the piano and the congregation sang from the hymnal.  Soon afterwards, Charles Dickerson organized a choir and the congregation grew.


One of the purposes for early morning service church was to make it possible for people who worked nights to come to service on their way home.  The service became more than that because the presence of the Lord could be felt there more than any other service.  The early morning service didn't take anything away from the 10:45 AM service, instead it added to the church.  Most of those six members have passed away, but there is hope that their love for the service can still be felt.  Those members included:  Mildred Bailey, Catherine Broxton, Roscoe Dickerson, Diane Jordan, Arthur Laney, and Mary Sue McDonald. 

A New Edifice

In the late 1980's, the congregation began to discuss options to meet the current and future needs. They contemplated renovating the existing church but decided that the present needs and future growth would best be met by erecting a new edifice.  With that in mind, Bethany's current site was purchased and the plans for the building were developed in-house.  The Harris Architects of Youngstown, Ohio fine-tuned the design.

 

After much preparation, the groundbreaking ceremony was held on Sunday, October 13, 1990. On March 8, 1992, 17 months later with special permission from the City of Cleveland, the first series of dedication services were held. The first was the Black Ministers Retreat of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  In the following weeks, many of Bethany's friends were invited to join the congregation in thanking and praising God for His goodness.

A New Shepherd

In April 1997, Elder Robert W. Dickerson was called from labor to reward. During his illness, Rev. Dr. Joseph Crockett and Rev. Dr. Robin E. Hedgeman faithfully served the congregation. They stood in the gap rendering attention to the administrative details, visiting the sick and shut-in and preaching. This was time of prayer, fasting and discernment for God's will.  In May 1997, the congregation extended a call to Rev. Dr. Robin E. Hedgeman to serve as interim pastor and on September 21, 1997, the congregation extended a call to her to serve as full-time pastor.


Prior to accepting this call, Dr. Hedgeman had been serving as Associate Regional Pastor for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) since August 1990, a charge for which she was overseer and advisor for area Disciples Churches.  In this role she served as Pastor to Disciples ministers and preached when necessary.  It was in this capacity that Elder Dickerson and the Bethany family developed and deepened its affinity for Dr. Hedgeman, personally and professionally.  It was with this affinity that Bethany asked her to serve as Senior Pastor.


Our legacy continues under the innovative leadership of Rev. Dr. Robin E. Hedgeman. Pastor Hedgeman's preaching has certainly been a holy stimulant to visitors and members alike. Weekly church attendance increased manifold as did participation and service in the choirs, men's ministry, women's ministry, youth ministry, and Christian education ministry.  Fellowship events for Stewardship, Sunday school, Ushers, choirs, and ministries added opportunities for members to participate and contribute their time, talents and treasures.


One stellar distinction of the church's second Shepherd is that Dr. Hedgeman attracted national attention to Bethany Christian Church when in year 2000, she was elected and served as President of the National Convocation (Christian Church, Disciples of Christ), 2000 - 2002.  In addition to spearheading Bethany's growth and ministries, this honor catapulted her leadership nationwide regarding the unique service of Black spiritual leaders and congregation members to the Body of Christ and Christian Discipleship.  Bethany members used their training and spiritual gifts to assist, support and uphold its Pastor during this time.


The Great Commission season (1997 - 2004) was marked with hundreds of Baptisms, hundreds of new members, expanded ministries, increased training, and inductions of new deacons and ministers. Expansions were made in Sunday school offerings and attendance by all age groups, including children and adults.  


Midweek prayer and Bible Study provided continuity with Sunday worship and Sunday school topics. Outreach to the community took the form of the Summer Enrichment Program and Summer Camp for Disciples and neighborhood children. An annual outdoor Sunday Worship service and community picnic was launched in 2004 and in 2005, a weekend of gospel music for different ages was added to this spiritual event. Bethany's Hot Meals Program for the community became a reality in 2003 and thousands of meals were served annually.  Hundreds of Thanksgiving and Christmas food baskets were prepared and delivered mostly to non-members.

Expanding Our Legacy

With disciplined stewardship, the $1.1 million mortgage on the current church home was retired in 2001. But, God wasn't done with Bethany yet. On Sunday November 18, 2007, the Bethany Christian Church family gathered yet again to break the ground of "faith" for The Joshua Project - an expansion plan to answer the call for more space, more classrooms, an elevator, easier access, more parking, and various other improvements.


The Ribbon Cutting services for The Joshua Project were held on Sunday, October 12, 2008. Each member was challenged to “Grab Hold of the Vision” as they strived to be a five-star church fulfilling the vision. At that time, the five stars of the ministry were: 1) Excellence in our Service to God; 2) Excellence in our Service to Humanity; 3) Excellence in our Community Witness; 4) Excellence in our Worship; and 5) Each member executing their Ministry with Excellence.

 

Overall, The Joshua Project enhanced what the Lord already gave to Bethany. It improved upon the ministry space as Bethany Christian Church is now a handicap accessible, state of the art facility that is a blessing to the community and to the members.

 

During its more than 60 years as a church, Elder R.W. Dickerson and Rev. Dr. R.E. Hedgeman have without question “preached the Word; been prepared in season and out of season; corrected, rebuked, and encouraged - with great patience and careful instruction.” (2 Timothy 4:2 NIV) Both servants have dedicated their life to God and the Christian Church.  Bethany believes that their best years were the church's gain.  The congregation cannot fully know the value of their sacrifices to serve God, to serve Christ, and to serve the congregation, but Bethany Christian Church has been blessed under their leadership!