Photo: Rev. Lewis C. Taylor, founding pastor of New Bethlehem Presbyterian Church, Nesbit. (Image provided by the DeSoto County Museum)
Note: In late May, DeSoto County News was on hand as New Bethlehem Presbyterian Church, located on Church Road in Nesbit, was celebrating its 172nd year as a church.
Current pastor Robert L. Long III helped celebrate the occasion by appearing as the church’s founding pastor, Rev. Lewis C. Taylor, who started New Bethlehem, and provided the morning sermon.
Following is the order of service and the message Rev. Taylor provided for the morning service, as provided by Pastor Long and New Bethlehem Presbyterian Church.
Music, prayers and powerful preaching greeted the ears of a packed crowd of worshipers at New Bethlehem Presbyterian Church on Sunday, May 29, at which time the congregation celebrated the church’s 172nd anniversary.
Names of the hallowed dead of the community were read aloud by Walker Sturgeon and Lee Ashcraft, chairman of the New Bethlehem Presbyterian Cemetery Association. Annie Long led the Pledge of Allegiance
After the New Bethlehem Choir sang beautiful renditions of the old hymns “Shall We Gather at the River” and “Amazing Grace,” the church’s founding pastor, The Reverend L.C. Taylor, delivered a stem-winder of a sermon to the faithful.
The Reverend Lewis C. Taylor was introduced by Laura Long, wife of New Bethlehem Presbyterian Church’s current pastor, Robert L. Long, III.
“It is an honor for me at this time to introduce our speaker, the Reverend L.C. Taylor, the founding pastor of New Bethlehem Presbyterian Church.
The Reverend Taylor was born near Huntsville, Alabama in the year 1823, making him now in his One-Hundred Ninety Ninth Year.
He attended and graduated from Cumberland Presbyterian Seminary and married Mary Robinson of Hernando, Mississippi who preceded him in death and is buried here at New Bethlehem Cemetery, along with sons Samuel and William.
From 1849 to 1874 he was a minister of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in DeSoto County.
The Reverend Taylor would go to pastor several churches across the South and Southwest and was promoted to heaven in 1892 while serving a pastorate in Texas.
I now have the pleasure of presenting to you, The Reverend Lewis C. Taylor.”
The Reverend Lewis C. Taylor, upon stepping into the pulpit:
“My, my. It has indeed been a very, very long time since I have stood in this pulpit and delivered the Word to you dear people at New Bethlehem Church.
I received a strange summons to stand before you today, as the message was delivered that I address you, in part, on the auspicious history of this church and its importance and relevance in your day and time.
My name, for many of you, who might not have met my acquaintance is the Reverend L.C. Taylor. I was the founding pastor of this church, which was organized on the Twenty-third of December, in the Year of Our Lord, Eighteen-hundred and forty-nine, in the waning days of the eleventh President of these United States, James Knox Polk, a good Presbyterian, I might add.
Pardon me, if my speech and steps are a little slow. I am, after all, in my one-hundred and ninety-ninth year. In fact I will turn two centuries old next year, having been born in eighteen and twenty-three.
It was, as I reflect upon it, God’s holy and divine will that I was brought to this wilderness after having attended seminary at the Cumberland School.
Two years prior to coming to this land, I was to leave for the great American West as a missionary to the Oregon territory, that vast wilderness which was teeming with all kinds of vice, chiefly the lust for gold and riches.
This region, too, settled by pioneer stock from the Carolinas, Virginia, Pennsylvania and even New England, drew us here by way of the Wilderness Road, The Cumberland Gap, the Natchez Trace. We felled trees, built cabins, established schools and churches like New Bethlehem. Our choice of a name for this church is Biblical. In the Hebrew language, “Bethlehem means “house of bread.” Bethlehem was the birthplace of Jesus, and of Benjamin, and of David and a cherished place in the Book of Ruth.
It was God’s Providence that we were led here. And it was indeed God’s Providence that instead I was to meet the true treasure of my life, Miss Mary Robinson of Hernando, Mississippi, a godly woman who lived the life of a Christian and died in the triumph of faith. You see it was not my will, but God’s will!! For if I had gone to the Oregon Territory, I might not have met Miss Mary and we would not have had our family, two sons and two daughters— my two little boys Samuel and William cut down in the bloom of their youth.
For Mary and I would be married in this very church by the Rev. Meeks, a faithful servant of our Lord. Mary and her family lived in Hernando. A faithful and true believer in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ she is buried a few paces just east of the churchyard, along with Samuel and William. My heart rejoices that Mary’s soul and those of our boys have gone on to be with our Lord.
I myself hail from the great State of Alabama, in the wilderness near Huntsville.
Papa and Mama named me Lewis Clark Taylor, in case you are wondering what the L.C. stands for, and that is indeed fitting, if I might say, as I was named for those two legendary explorers Lewis and Clark who discovered much of our western frontier.
This region, too, was frontier land, having been ceded by the Chickasaws just a few years before. The church property was purchased from an old Chickasaw Indian Chief named Sum-Mah, who later took the Christian name of William Barnette. His allotment was purchased by Denny Anderson and Charles Bowen on April 12, 1836. Miss Effie Walker, your industrious church historian, kept very good records.
Our first church-house was a log building on the Tinsley farm, a quarter mile south of this site. It was at this site where we met for several years until our first church building, a large handsome one-room frame structure was erected in the year 18 and 57.
Land was given for the new church structure by those two stalwart saints Samuel and W.N. Raines or Dr. Raines as many of you old timers refer to him and his wife Ann. We began with just a few believers: Missus Eliza Gabbert, Mr. and Mrs. Eli Meharg, Margaret Tinsley, T.M. Logan, Jimmy Logan, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Scott, Andy Bell, Sammy Bell – for whom I named my boy Samuel— Mr. and Mrs. Issac Dodds and Mr. and Mrs. Ed Nesbitt and Tommy Nesbitt.
Those were years of great upheaval. Not only did our citizens have to contend with the fever, fire, famine and flood but a great conflagration that was sweeping this land and would soon engulf our nation, that late unpleasantness that caused brother to take up arms against brother. The issue of slavery vexed our denomination and the country. It vexed our very souls.
And it was so that the battle raged in and around these parts once the fighting commenced. And New Bethlehem was not spared, not spared from the effects of that conflict.
The very cornerstone of this church was cut, pried from its lodging by the sabers of the bluecoats and carted off to prop up one of their cannons.
It was, thankfully returned and restored to its proper place but it bears the marks of our invaders to this very day. Go, and see for yourself. It bears witness to war and its scars linger as a testimony to human conflict.
For you see, the very church of God, the very foundation of our faith, is not immune from the attacks upon it unleashed from Satan himself and his furies. That steady, unrelenting onslaught of evil, sadly, has not abated in the two centuries this hallowed structure has stood upon this sacred ground.
As I look out upon the land in which you live, I see similar turmoil and tribulation.
I see the same arguments railing against tyranny and decrying subjugation and oppression broiling and fomenting in the land.
I pray that at this hour, we, this great nation, does not yet dissolve into another terrible civil war.
I share with you, at this hour and moment in time, the weeping of angels in heaven over the death of precious innocents, cut down by the evil and cruel hatred of a deranged individual. Even the soundproof walls of heaven cannot deafen the saints’ ears from the wailings of anguished mothers and distraught fathers. While there have always been rumblings and rumors of wars, I share with you the sad, celestial tears shed over the shambles and depravity of human civilization. Awake, arise from your slumber before your world as you know it, God’s world as he created it, is reduced to a mere pile of ashes.
As a messenger sent to speak to you today, I wish to impart to you the lessons, the prevailing wisdom that the incorruptible Word of Almighty God professes and proclaims that our God is a God of Peace. Our God is a God of everlasting and eternal love.
King David, seeking wisdom from the Lord, united the kingdoms of north and south in his day.
Down through the long corridors of time, men of faith and courage have been called upon to act, not of their own volition, but in obedience to the will of Almighty God that His truth is sovereign above all other edicts and that splendid and blessed truth triumphs over the follies of all human endeavor.
Indeed, after the battles ceased and men returned from the battlefield to hitch themselves to their plows once more, this little community would recover from war and bloodshed. This is the testament I share with you. The cessation of war and violence can and will give way to the quiet, steady work of rebuilding, restoring and healing our land.
The Reverend E.B. Crisman would follow me in this pulpit. He and I both would serve our congregation on two separate occasions following the great war. Like E.B., I would go on to pastor churches in the great state of Texas and like E.B. we would be reunited in God’s kingdom where we were both blessed with seeing our beloved Savior face to face. Many of our beloved pastors have gone on to be with the Lord. From this sacred little sanctuary have gone forth thirty pastors of the Gospel, six missionaries, including a medical missionary to the Orient, and a host of sturdy men and women scattered from coast to coast, Pole to Pole, East and West, North and South.
God has granted us the privilege of telling the story, saved by grace. Of entering beyond the veil, some mysteries of which I cannot share with you.
But my dear brothers and sisters, in God’s time, the hand of the Almighty shall gently pull back that veil and allow you to glimpse with crystal-clear vision the truly majestic home that awaits each and every one of you. That veil now separates us. I am not permitted to share everything with you. But that veil is pulled back just far enough to see what is occurring here on this earth. It brings us great sadness but also joy because we have the hope of that which is to come.
Today, we celebrate all those who have stood in this pulpit to proclaim that Almighty God is the sovereign Lord of the universe, our beloved sustainer and redeemer.
We, today, in the year of our Lord two-thousand and twenty-two lift up this historic little church, which grew and was transformed from a log building, then wood-frame, to a cinder block sanctuary, to this fine handsome edifice of brick masonry today.
Rugs, which once adorned these floors were once woven from the garments of those who worshipped in these pews, representing six generations of laymen, elders, pastors and missionaries that New Bethlehem Church sent forth into the world.
We cherish our youth and have brought them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. The Logan wing, which was dedicated in the year of our Lord, Nineteen hundred and eighty, provided much needed Sunday School space.
Our eyes were always on the future, and sadly the complete details of our cherished history have grown dim with the passage of time. Yes, it is true our old original building could not be saved. Even a disastrous fire in 1898 would not deter the dedicated and devoted men and women of New Bethlehem from rebuilding this church.
For New Bethlehem Presbyterian Church is God’s House and not even the gates of hell shall prevail against it.
And so, as I near my two-hundredth year and you all dear people celebrate the 172nd milestone of your founding, I beckon each of you to continue to be a beacon of light and a bulwark for our Lord Jesus Christ.
Give heart that a great cloud of witnesses await you in heaven.
People whose names roll easily off our lips and beat warmly in our hearts:
“John Gartrell … Annie Logan … Effie Walker … William Walker … Maggie Dodge White … J.W. Davidson, John Fuller McGowen, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Quick, Mrs. Lillian Rasco, Nancy Rainey, Lee Rainey, Wiliam Lundy Walker, Mr. and Mrs. J.P. Walker, and our dedicated servants of our Lord Ann and Billy Worsham, among many in this congregation. Yes, God has reserved a place for each and everyone one of you. There are so many dear souls that I am unable to mention. Forgive me … my memory has faded after all these years but my heart remembers.
The fact this church endures to this day is testament to the undying devotion and dedication of this church body to our Lord and Savior and to this community.
Let us bow our heads. Most merciful and everlasting Father, if it be Thy will, grant us pardon and forgiveness for our wanton sinfulness, teach us to love, heal and forgive in Thy precious name, bestow patience to our restless and rebellious hearts, bolster us with Thy divine wisdom and impart us with courage as we travel on our earthly journeys and welcome us to thy bosom as we prepare to join that great cloud of witnesses in Your heavenly realm.
In the name of Almighty God and our precious Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
We will now depart this hallowed and sacred place at this appointed time and convene around our bell tower and remember all of our former pastors who guided and sustained this wonderful little church all these years.
The Pastors of New Bethlehem Presbyterian Church
- Rev. Lewis C. Taylor, Founding Pastor, 1849-1866
- Rev. E.B. Crisman 1866-1876
- Rev. Lewis C. Taylor 1876-1879
- Rev. T.H. Padgett 1879-1881
- Rev. John L. Robinson 1881-1883
- Rev. J.E. McDonald 1884-1884 (March-May)
- Rev. A. Douglas 1884-1885
- Rev. U.J Hearon 1886-1888
- Rev. Richard Inji 1980-1890 (February-August)
- Rev. E.B. Crisman 1891-1898
- Rev. F.M. Holcomb 1898-1900
- Rev. W.H. Buntin 1901-1906
- Rev. L. J. Braswell 1908-1910
- Rev. J.N. Cunningham 1910-1911
- Rev. M.E. Gabbard 1912-1915
- Rev. I.N. Yokley 1916-1930
- Rev. F.D. Ballard 1930-31
- Rev. Charles W. Dilworth 1932-39
- Rev. David H. Templeton 1939-1939) April-July
- Rev. Ray W. Teeuswissen 1943-1943 (June August)
- Rev. C.P. Thrailkill 1945-1950
- Rev. Irvin K. McArthur 1950-1952
- Rev. W. Vernon Robinson 1953-1954
- Rev. Frank J. Tufvander. 1955-1958
- Rev. Arthur L. Nix 1959-1964
- Rev. Stanley Smith 1964-1971
- Rev. Dr. Virgil Todd, Professor Cumberland Presbyterian Seminary, 1971-1976
- Rev. Thornton N. Thompson 1976-1985
- Rev. Robert H. Tant 1986-1988
- Rev. Marcus R. Barber 1988-1998
- Dr. Virgil Todd 1998
- Dr. Jerry Haughton 1998-2012
- Rev. Jim Barber 2012-May 22, 2017
- Pastor Robert L. Long, III 2017-