Bethel UCC is one of the oldest of the 16 churches within the Houston Association of the United Church of Christ, known as the Evangelical and Reformed Churches of North America before the 1957 merger which created this united and uniting denomination. Before Bethel Church United Church of Christ was formally organized in July 1918, its 15 members rode on horseback and in carriages to attend services in English and German and listen to sermons delivered by a visiting pastor who had been assigned to the area as a mission worker. Eventually, they would pool their resources to purchase the land at 1107 Shepherd in Houston’s Heights neighborhood. For more than ninety years Bethel served the community from the Shepherd location garnering the nickname as the Church with Open Arms.
In 1990, Richard Smith, then 87, relayed to the Houston Chronicle, that he had been baptized at Bethel as an infant. His father helped Bethel build its first building.“My father sold a cow for $50 to help build the original church,” said Smith, who recalls his Sunday school teacher, Mrs. Sauer, and attending church most Sundays until he joined the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1941, just before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Over the years the language of the services has changed from German and English to only English, English and Spanish and now English again. Bethel has grown and shrunk and grown again and has sought continuously to share the gospel of Jesus Christ and welcome all. Today, in a new location with a chapel and retreat center, Bethel UCC continues to evolve and to look beyond its doors to serve humankind and live the gospel story. Today, Bethel is an open and affirming congregation extending a radical welcome, reiterating the words of UCC congregations everywhere: “whomever you are and wherever you are in your life’s journey, you are welcome here.”