Bethel Baptist Institutional Church of Jacksonville
Bethel Baptist Institutional Church of Jacksonville is one of the oldest Baptist churches in the state. With 12,000 members, it is also one of the largest congregations in the United States. Established as the First Baptist Church, the congregation now uses the name Bethel Baptist Institutional Church. This historic church building was completed in 1904 and has been expanded to accommodate its growth.
Backstory and Context
As required by the church, the whites started a church called Tabernacle Baptist and purchased the Church Street location from Bethel Baptist. In 1895, there was a massive fire that took place that destroyed much of downtown of Jacksonville. The fire left the church completely savaged. The church was reconstructed in the year 1905.The church faced more hurdles in the mid 1900s as it sunk in a huge amount of debt. The huge sum of debt caused their educational building to be repossessed.
Bishop Rudolph W. McKissick was the prior pastor and was there 47 years. He and his son Rudolph W. McKissick Jr. both pastored the church together. Under his leadership, the church grew rapidly from 500 members and since then it has remained a megachurch with a congregation of 12,000. As the longest-serving pastor at Florida’s oldest African-American church, McKissick had fulfilled so many duties during his tenor there as pastor. He baptized, married and eulogized countless amount of people.He inspired about 50 of them to join the ministry, led others to community service. His son is now the Senior Pastor of the church.