African American church receives honor of being listed on National Register of Historic Places

Bethel Missionary Baptist Church of Pocatello, Idaho. | William Beard

The National Park Service has honored a historically African American church in Idaho by adding it to its National Register of Historic Places.

Bethel Missionary Baptist Church of Pocatello, which traces its origins to 1921 when blacks needed a worship space, received the national distinction earlier this month.

Pastor William Beard of Bethel Missionary Baptist told The Christian Post that his congregation had been working toward the designation since last year, noting that this honor gives them “confidence and a feeling of permanency.”

“This collection of believers has dealt with the discriminatory practices and those not only or intently racial, but also religious for these 100 years,” said Beard, who noted that the local Mormon population used to be a source of hostility.

“Historically, the membership has participated in many years of civic activity, as well as showed their involvement in the civil rights movement in a more quiet approach, but effective.”

Beard also noted that the congregation has strong ties to Idaho State University, having contributed to events with the school, as well as becoming a “worship center for many of the students that attended the university.”

“Many of the graduates return on an annual basis to show appreciation to the university during the homecoming football celebration and stay over to attend worship the following Sunday every October,” he continued.

A native of Maryland, Beard initially served as head of the congregation from 1989 until 2007 and then returned to the position in 2014, even as he lives 130 miles away in Ogden, Utah.

“Bethel has served the community for its entire existence across color lines, which is something we are very proud of,” Beard said. “I truly feel that this recognition speaks volumes about Idaho’s openness to diversity in this postmodern era.”

Bethel Missionary Baptist Church was previously spotlighted for its history by the Idaho Architecture Project, which noted, “the church served many purposes beyond spiritual engagement.”

“As early as 1924, women in the Bethel congregation publicly expressed concerns with shortcomings in Pocatello policing,” stated the Project.

“This early activism laid a foundation for continued civic engagement throughout the 20th century. Bethel’s history is replete with individuals who served the greater Pocatello community through public involvement and outreach.”

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