The history of the Bethlehem Baptist Church is a long and glorious one, spanning over a century and numerous generations. The early pioneers were faced with a myriad of hardships. They were enclosed with segregation where political rights were not for every man, and where few lines of communication existed between the races. But despite all these difficulties, the courage and faith in God by the founders and pioneers in the years past have helped to develop the foundation for the generations.
The idea of a Baptist Church in the Black Community of Lawton, Oklahoma was conceived in the minds of the founders and organized in 1901 by William Scott Sr., C.D. Dewberry, George Williams, and William Garrett, G.W. Woods, Katie Garrett, Harvey C. Pride, and their families, in a barbershop. The church has been led by 19 pastors with the late Pastor Emeritus; Reverend O.B. Davis served 32 years (1950-1982).
During the early years, most of the churches in Lawton were housed in tents, and few in small frame buildings. Bethlehem was one of the few that were in a small frame like structure (a shed type), which stood at the corner of First and “F” street. In 1907, the church purchased a lot at the corner of First and Gore and worshiped there, which was later sold to the Public Service Electric Company. The site at First and Arlington was purchased and the late Deacon J.S. Phillip created the edifice in 1939.
The former Pastors were: Rev. Johnson (1901), Rev. T.S. Thomas, Rev. John Owens, Rev. Garrett, Rev. E.W. Perry, Rev. C.A. Hamilton, Rev. A.C. Reese, Rev. A.E. Owens, Rev. T.S. Maddox, Rev. E.A. Keith, Rev. M.M. Johnson (1928-1931), Rev. J. Samuel A. Burton (1931-1945), Rev. R. D. Drew (1946-1948), Rev. S.M. Mitchell (1949-1950), Rev. O. B. Davis (1950-1982), Rev. J.A. Marcel (1982-1987), and Rev. J.D. Phillips (1987-1993).
Under the leadership of Rev. J.D. Phillips, in January 1990, the Bethlehem Baptist Church relocated to the present location at the corner of 6th and Arlington. Pastor Phillips pastured faithfully until his sudden death. Pastor J.F. McClendon was called to the Bethlehem Baptist Church in December 1993 and was installed in February 1994. Under his leadership, many members were added to the Bethlehem Church family.
Pastor Gary Eugene Bender was called to the Bethlehem Baptist Church Family on August 7, 1995. He preached his first sermon as Pastor on September 3, 1995. He was installed on ctober 15, 1995. Gary E. Bender served until June 2008. On Sunday, February 8, 2009 Dr. Willie B.Smith, Jr., was called to Bethlehem to preach his first sermon. He was officially installed on March 15, 2009.