Tarentum’s Bethel A.M.E. Church celebrates a century of worship with banquet Saturday

August 20, 2018
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Twyla Glasgow (left), Janice Johnson, and the Rev. Melva Hartzog pose in front of the Bethel A.M.E. Church’s altar in Tarentum on Aug. 7, 2018.

The Bethel A.M.E. Church in Tarentum will celebrate more than 100 years of service and faith on Saturday and church leaders hope the community will join them for dinner.

Founded in 1917 by the Rev. Lula Moore, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, on West Seventh Avenue, will celebrate their more than a century of embracing the teachings of Christ and welcoming all members of the community into their house of worship with a dinner at the Quality Inn in New Kensington.

“All are welcome here,” the Rev. Melva Hartzog said. “We don’t care what color you are. This is Christ’s church.”

The inclusion practiced by A.M.E. churches, and Bethel in particular, is especially poignant considering the history of the denomination.

Hartzog, of Pittsburgh, said the faith, founded in 1816 by the Rev. Richard Allen, a former slave, came about in response to the racism Christians of African descent were finding in their own churches.

“They were not allowed to pray with the rest of the congregation,” Hartzog said. “It’s a denomination born out of discrimination.”

Allen responded to the treatment the faithful were experiencing at the hands of fellow Christians by founding the church, one of the first denominations to splinter from their parent organization based on differences of race, not theology, Hartzog said.

Nearly 100 years later, Moore would begin holding nondenominational meetings in the small grocery store she ran in Creighton, East Deer. After a time, with interest building, the group of gathering faithful needed a larger place of worship and moved to a building on West Seventh Avenue in Tarentum in 1917.

By 1923, the group had saved enough, along with a donation of land, to buy the material to build their own church, which they would use until the construction of their current house of worship in 1966.

Today the A.M.E. denomination spans the globe. With 13 districts in the U.S. and seven in Africa, which include more than 2.5 million members, it is one of the largest Methodist denominations on the planet, Hartzog said.

A history of exclusion has taught the church a thing or two about inclusion, though, according to Twyla Glasgow, a church organizer.

“We are a strong, faith-based church,” Glasgow said. “We believe that everyone is here for a purpose, that we all have a purpose.

“We embrace everyone. Whether you are a member of this congregation or a stranger, this church is still a sanctuary.”

That’s exactly why the church is celebrating with a banquet on Saturday, Glasgow said. Speaker will be the Rev. Dr. Helen Burton.

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