Written by Betsy Abraham Thursday, 12 September 2013 00:00
Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church has already made its mark on the Westbury community, but now that mark will be official. As the church celebrates its 126th anniversary, a portion of Maple Avenue was recently renamed Bethel AME Way.
The street renaming ceremony was held on Sunday, Sept. 8. The church worked with Nassau County Legislator Robert Troiano to change the name of the street, beginning east at School Street and ending west at Linden Street.
“It’s something I had in my heart to do for the church and the village of Westbury since we’ve been here so long and to show that we’re important to the community. I felt people needed to know the church has a long standing history in Westbury,” Reverend Marcus D. Briddell said.
Albertha Fraser has been attending Bethel AME since 1970, serving as the administrative assistant to the pastor and member of several committees.
“I like the fellowship and it’s a good fit for the people who come here. The worship services are really great. We have great choirs and the gospel is not adulterated,” Fraser said. “There’s a lot of community involvement and we get to do things with other churches.”
The church does several community outreach activities, including diabetes programs, tutoring for third graders, and computer classes. Over the years, the church has also placed more of an emphasis on youngsters, including a children’s church for those 13 and under that meets on the first and third Sundays of the month.
Fraser attributes the church’s 126 year longevity to the dedication of members, some of whom are descendants of the founding members.
Arthur Thompson’s great grandfather was one of the men who founded the church in 1887 with about 15 former members of New Light Baptist Church. Thompson remembers growing up in the church, and as a trustee, usher and member of the men’s choir, remains an active member.
“When I was young, on a Sunday, church was the place you had to be. Church was the hub of Westbury and New Cassel. Any activities we did, we did at the church,” Thompson said. “You looked forward to it and it was a pleasant place to be.”
The church looks vastly different than it did when Thompson was growing up. The building has gotten rid of the potbelly stove and coal chute, and replaced the plain glass windows with stained glass ones. And much to the comfort of the congregants, the broken, splintery pews have been replaced.
While church membership nationwide has been declining, at Bethel AME, numbers have stayed pretty consistent at about 120 people.
“People join, others move away. It’s transitional but membership basically remains constant,” Fraser said.
And members like Thompson and Fraser, provide assurance that Bethel AME will continue to have a strong presence in Westbury.
“I’m glad I’m still at the same church that my parents and great grandparents went to,” Thompson says. “I like the church, it’s close knit and everybody helps each other. It’s good for the community and the people.”