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Gloucester’s Bethel Baptist celebrates 150 years

The bell atop Gloucester’s Bethel Baptist Church tolled 150 times on Sunday, ringing in both the New Year and the historic church’s 150th anniversary. Parishioners gathered for a Genesis Celebration and Rededication to recognize the beginning of a year of events, “Rooted in faith, Celebrating our legacy and moving toward the Kingdom.”

According to church historian, Dr. Dorothy C. Cooke the church, which was originally known as “Old Sassafras Stage Church,” represents one of the oldest independent black congregations in Gloucester.

During the days of slavery, wrote Dr. Cooke, it was illegal for black Christians to worship without at least one white man present. Due to this law, black Christians used clandestine meeting places so they could practice their faith. Canopies made of tree branches and other foliage, known as brush or bush arbors, were constructed at many of these meeting places to provide shade and privacy for worshipers. One such arbor s...

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