Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church is located at 2428 Franklin Street in the Near North Side neighborhood. Founded in 1922, it is one of the oldest Black churches in Omaha.
The Northside AME mission started meeting at 2513 North 28th Avenue in 1922. It was soon renamed Bethel AME Church. In 1925, the congregation bought the former First United Evangelical Church building at 2428 Franklin Street. Built in the Near North Side neighborhood in 1899, Bethel bought the church from the Evangelicals for $14,000 in September 1922. In November 1924, the Omaha World-Herald alleged the church was behind $2,400 in payments and said the Evangelicals were going to repossess the building. Rev. Fred Divers, who was the leader of Bethel in 1925, worked with his congregation to raise the final $6,000 owed, and paid it off that year. During those early years, Rev. Divers also oversaw the inclusion of Bethel in the Union Services, a gathering of Black churches to celebrate and worship together.
In addition to weekly services, Bethel has hosted men’s and women’s groups, choirs, bible studies, Sunday school programs, and much more. They were part of the United Services from the 1930s into the 1950s, too. The congregation added an educational addition to the church in 1962, and eventually added parking lots around the church.
Serving the church in the early 1960s was Rev. Emory G. Davis. When he resigned in 1966, he said he was leaving because of “an increasing conviction that the institutional church is not meeting the basic needs of society.” He also claimed the 400-member congregation at Bethel was “apathetic” about civil rights. In the late 1960s, Rev. William A. Fowler served the church. During the 1969 riots, he was quoted as saying, “I asked my people to pray for love. That’s what we need.”
“I asked my people to pray for love. That’s what we need.”—Rev. William A. Fowler, Bethel AME Church
In June 2015, the congregation purchased a building at 3737 Lake Street. Originally the headquarters and plant for Pilgrim Cleaners, the building had been a Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services office for years. Apparently, the City of Omaha rejected plans for the church to expand in its original location and this move was necessary.
There are no plaques or honors bestowed on the original location of Bethel AME for its significance, neither as a designation as an official Omaha Landmark by the City of Omaha Landmark Heritage Preservation Commission, or as a listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
As the congregation continues today, Bethel AME Church is one of the oldest Black churches in Omaha.
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- Bethel AME Church official website