Located in the heart of Downtown/Overtown Miami, Greater's heritage is rooted in the Black Church Experience while embracing the multicultural diversity of South Florida. A member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, a global church and the oldest black denomination in the United States founded as a social justice movement, Greater's core values are LOVE. LIGHT. LIBERATION! Join us as we seek to transform our community through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
On March 12, 1896, an acorn for the establishment of Bethel Church was planted, when a small group of concerned Black Christians living in the area that would soon become Miami, gathered at the home of Alex. Lightburn for the purpose of organizing an African Methodist Episcopal Church. Bethel A.M.E. was organized under the leadership of Bishop James Crawford Embry and Presiding Elder L.T. Long at that time. The services were held in Lightburn’s home for several months. As membership grew, the home became too small. A tent, donated by Mrs. Cora B. Anderson, was set across the street from the first meeting site. The first church was a little frame structure with a dirt floor located on Tenth Street and Avenue H. The structure was known as “Little Bethel.”
In 1899, just three years after its organization, the little wooden church was placed on a horse drawn wagon and moved to Bethel’s present site at Eighth Street between Second and Third Avenues. Very soon after the relocation, the new pastor, Rev. Fields, began planning for the construction of what would be called “Bigger Bethel.” The frame church and parsonage, located on the new site, were complete under the leadership of Rev. J.W.B. Jackson.
As Overtown grew and flourished, Bethel was moving towards the completion of the first phase of its present site. Under Rev. R.B. Sutton’s leadership, the foundation was laid for its present structure. For several years, structural growth was at a standstill due to a severe hurricane.
The 20th Century
In 1934, the Lord saw fit to bless Bethel with the appointment of Rev. H.W. Fayson as pastor. The members began to work, save, and plan to complete their goal, the upstairs portion of their beloved church. Approximately nine years later, under Rev. Fayson’s leadership, the upper auditorium was completed and the church was renamed and dedicated Greater Bethel A.M.E. Church on October 31, 1943. Bishop Tookes, Presiding Prelate of the Eleventh Episcopal District attended the service and renamed the church.
In 1948, Rev. William Franklin Ball was sent to take the reins of this vibrantly growing institution. His special presence assisted in the continued growth of Greater Bethel. Rev. J. Benjamin Blacknell was sent to Greater Bethel during the 1952 South Florida Conference. Rev. Blacknell was responsible for the erection of a new parsonage and the establishment of various meeting rooms.
In 1957, Rev. Sylvester A Cousin became the new administrator of Bethel’s congregation. During Rev. Cousin’s tenure, additional classrooms for the Sunday School were erected; the church secretary was provided a private office; a central air conditioning system was installed, and a parcel of land adjacent to the west side of the church was purchased.
Rev. T.S. Johnson added flavor to a church on the move when he became pastor of Bethel in 1967. Rev. Johnson’s administration procured the first off street parking area. Rev. J.B. Blacknell returned to Bethel in 1973, and his second term heralded changes such as the renovation of the upper auditorium of the church with new pews and carpet. His greatest accomplishment during his tenure was the burning of the church’s mortgage.
In 1978, Rev. Ira D. Hinson was appointed pastor. Under his leadership, the church grew as additional property was purchased for a parking area; the parsonage was renovated; a new air conditioning system was installed; new pulpit furniture and pews for the balcony were purchased; and a radio ministry enabled the community and Greater Bethel’s sick and shut-in to enjoy Sunday services.
In January 1988, Rev. John F. White answered the call as pastor of Greater Bethel. The explosive growth and transformation of Greater Bethel was a phenomenon under the guidance of Pastor White. The entire church was renovated which included new pews and carpet, new organ and grand piano, and the installation of an elevator for easy access to the main sanctuary for the handicapped. During this time, Greater Bethel was registered as a historical landmark in the state of Florida and the National Register of Historic Sites.
Rev. White also established the following ministries: AGAPE (Academic Enrichment Center), Ujima, Bus Ministry, Narcotics Anonymous, BAME Development Corporation of South Florida Inc., Legal Assistance Program, Feeding the Homeless, Food and Clothing Ministry, SAM (Senior Adult Ministry), Youth and Children’s Ministry, Singles’ Ministry, Married Couples Ministry, HIV/AIDS Prevention Ministry, Head start, Welfare to Work Outreach Program and the Mattie Koonce Computer Lab. Under Rev. White’s leadership, the church’s portfolio grew to over 4 million dollars.
The 21st Century
Following Rev. White’s tenure, Bishop John Hurst Adams, the Senior Bishop of the A.M.E. Church sent a visionary leader in the person of Pastor Dwayne K. Gaddis, on December 1, 2001 to serve as the 21st pastor of Greater Bethel A.M.E. Church. He assumed the helm and proceeded to provide continued leadership to the array of ministries at Greater Bethel.
In 2005, the Rt. Rev. McKinley Young, saw fit to assign the 22nd Pastor to Greater Bethel, the Rev. Milton Broomfield. He merged several of the Boards and Clubs to make them more efficient in providing services to our community. Rev. Broomfield was also very instrumental in strengthening the financial structure of the church.
The Rt. Rev. McKinley Young saw a greater need for the church and sent to Greater Bethel the Rev. S. E. Sullivan, I to continue guiding and directing the congregation to higher heights. Having been appointed on December 1ST, 2007, Rev. Sullivan and his family brought a new perspective to Greater Bethel A.M.E. Church. Rev. Sullivan embodied a love for the church that constantly radiated from him and was ultimately the force for the church’s new vision and new birth. Even though his tenure was short, the pastor along with his beautiful and competent wife, placed the church on a God-filled trajectory through spiritual growth, financial enhancement, youth involvement, community involvement and church membership growth.
In December 2010, Bishop McKinley Young appointed a spiritually energized leader to guide the flock at Greater Bethel in the person of Pastor Eddie Lake. He came to us embracing spiritual growth and development, outreach and community involvement and many more spiritual aspirations to enhance the growth at Greater Bethel.
In 2012, Bishop Adam J. Richardson Jr. passed the torch to the new shepherd of our flock, Reverend Willie Cook. Pastor Cook initiated a worship service dedicated to the widows and widowers. The Sunday following Valentine’s Day, they received special recognition and a token of love from the Pastor and First Lady, Mrs. Dorothy Cook. Rev. Cook also paid tribute to our senior citizens in April by hosting a special luncheon for those 80 years and over. The guest waiter for this occasion was the Pastor himself, Rev. Willie J. Cook.
During this time, Greater Bethel initiated a Brick Project to honor former and present members of the church. Pastor Cook secured funding for the program to go forward in order to complete the sidewalk project. This project allowed generations to how their ancestors were influential in the life of Greater Bethel A.M.E. Church.
In November of 2018, Bishop Richardson appointed Rev. Willie N. Barnes, Jr., to Greater Bethel. Since his arrival Greater Bethel has formed partnerships with community agencies, churches and businesses. We truly believe that GREATER is still to come!