TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — It once shared a building with a pool hall, and its longest-serving pastor also ran a barbecue restaurant and a plumbing business.
But members say the most important thing about Terre Haute’s Bethlehem Temple Church is that it has served God and the community for 100 years.
The Apostolic church will mark its centennial this week with a series of special services that Suffragan Bishop Glenn Purnell, the church’s pastor, said will honor its past, present and future.
“We are celebrating an appreciation of all of the founding fathers, all of the former pastors, all of the willing workers that have helped over the 100 years,” he said. “This celebration is covering all of that as well as the current congregation and the future. We have children who will be our future church.”
The church has its roots in a tent revival conducted by Bishop G.T. Haywood in 1917. The first building was at 13½ and Dean streets.
A second building was erected in 1921 at 13 ½ and Putnam and, in 1923, Bethlehem Temple moved to its current location at 1352 S. 13th Street in a building also occupied by a pool hall.
“Through prayers and supplications God soon blessed the church to tear down the middle partition and occupy the whole building,” said a church history written in 1998.
“Most of those people were from the same community as the church,” Pauletta Turner, church administrator, said of the pool hall days that predate her and Purnell by decades. “No doubt their relatives were on this side praising God and … praying for this person over there that was supposedly in sin. It worked itself out.”
Purnell said, “Regardless of lifestyle, church is a place for everybody. If there’s any chance for them to mend their ways it’s in the house of God.”
Purnell became pastor in 2003 following the death of his father, Bishop Jester Purnell, a legendary figure in the church and the Terre Haute community and well known internationally for his service at revivals. He also served as bishop of the church’s Indiana diocese.
The Terre Haute City Council recently set aside a moratorium on memorial street designations and approved such recognition for Washington Avenue from Third Street to Brown Ave. The church thus stands at the intersection of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Bishop Jester Purnell memorial ways.
“Generations to come will be able to see that and ask questions about who Jester Purnell was and what he contributed to this community. A lot can be said for his efforts,” Glenn Purnell said.
“It is such an honor for the city to recognize his contribution, not only to this church but to those that were in need,” he said. “He reached out to help through the food pantry as well as working with troubled teens in the court system — many times asking that they be released to his church for rehabilitation. His life and legacy represents an outstanding contribution to this community.”
Turner calls it exciting that Bethlehem Temple is now at the intersection of two major city thoroughfares recognizing “two powerful figures.”
Jester Purnell was also known as owner and operator of Purnell’s Barbecue restaurant and a local plumbing business. He became an entrepreneur to support his large family.
“He loved us very much; he did not want to put all of the financial burden on the church and typically that’s true today,” Glenn Parnell said. “A lot of pastors work while pastoring.”
Valerie Craig, whose family moved to Terre Haute when she was 7, grew up attending Bethlehem Temple and said Jester Purnell influenced her to join the NAACP. She served six years as president of the organization’s Terre Haute chapter.
“His thoughts on that were progressive,” said Craig, still an NAACP executive board member. “He thought Bethlehem members should definitely be involved in the community. The church has a life membership with the organization. I always thought I was there representing Bethlehem. I still do.”
Craig said she learned parliamentary procedure in church because members voted for delegates to conventions.
“I learned how to talk to elderly people, which is something you don’t see nowadays,” she said. “You learn groupthink. You learn when to shut up. Students now don’t have that experience.”
Jester Purnell brought his family to Terre Haute in 1969 after serving as an assistant pastor at a church in Chicago.
Glenn Purnell previously served as assistant pastor and worked nearly 20 years at Sony.
“My original goal was to move out of Terre Haute and get another corporate job, but the call of God interrupted,” he said.
His father “had a profound respect for the word of God, which I think for the most part has been lost today by the younger generation,” his son said. “He manifested a fear and a reverence for God and his word which was unparalleled.”
It takes two things for a church to survive for 100 years, Purnell said.
“It takes God to favor the work that has gone on here and it takes a constant submission to the will of God in man,” he said. “It’s very important for any work being completed to the glory of God, no selfish ambition, just adherence to the word of God as Jesus did.”
Bethlehem Temple’s current building has served the congregation for nearly 65 years, almost two-thirds of the church’s history, and plans are in the works for a new church complex.
“We do plan at some point in time to erect a new edifice, multi-purpose room, resurrect our child care ministry, and hopefully build some low-income housing,” Glenn Purnell said.
Source: Terre Haute Tribune Star, http://bit.ly/2zqFz6w
Information from: Tribune-Star, http://www.tribstar.com
This is an AP-Indiana Exchange story offered by the (Terre Haute) Tribune-Star.