According to authentic historical documents, Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church had its incipiency one year after the close of the Civil War. The newly emancipated founders organized Bethel Society in 1866 in an old sword factory on Wayne Street in Columbia, SC. Worshipping there for a short while; the Church was moved to Lincoln and Hampton Streets. Records indicate that this property, owned by the Bethel Society, was later donated to the city of Columbia for educational purposes. In 1921, The Bethel Society moved to a blacksmith’s shop on the corner of Sumter and Hampton Streetswhere a larger framework was built to house its growing congregation. The structure was designed by John Anderson Lankford, one of the first black registered architects in the United States. Over many years, Bethel continued to flourish and the congregation expanding even more. By 1995, it was evident that Bethel would need to move once more to accommodate the growing membership.
Under the leadership of Rev. Dr. Ronnie E. Brailsford, Sr., Bethel relocated to our present location, 819 Woodrow Street. This expansion of Bethel’s ministry includes five acres of land, a 680-seat sanctuary, a 200-seat chapel, two three-story education and administrative buildings, a two-story Christian Life Center building, a gymnasium, five houses, 250 on-site parking spaces, and 116 surrounding parking spaces. It is reportedly one of the largest African Methodist Episcopal owned developed campuses in the world! Following the move to Woodrow Street, The Renaissance Foundation was established to oversee the restoration of the Sumter Street property and to establish a Cultural Arts Center at the site. Furthermore, the Bethel Learning Centers, started in 1995, has over 300 children and it is one of three predominantly African-American schools that has full accreditation by S.C.I.S.A. It is also one of the most highly acclaimed schools in South Carolina.