Rev. Dr. Ronnie Elijah Brailsford, Sr. is the pastor of Historic Bethel A.M.E. Church of Columbia, South Carolina and has provided over 30 years of faithful and visionary leadership in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Dr. Brailsford answered the call of God on his life to preach the Gospel, love God's people, and serve all. His commitment, dedication, and determination to serve are undergirded by his faith in God and the fact that he has been called, anointed and appointed by God to serve this present age.
Dr. Brailsford is a native of South Carolina, born and raised in Clarendon County. He graduated in 1976 from Scott’s Branch High School of Summerton, SC as Valedictorian, and is a graduate of the University of South Carolina, with a Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing. His Master of Divinity degree was earned at the Interdenominational Theological Center (ITC) in Atlanta, GA. During his tenure at ITC, he was a Benjamin E. Mays Fellow and a John Middleton Scholar. An honorary Doctor of Divinity degree was bestowed upon him by A.M.E. University of Monrovia, Liberia. He did further studies in the Doctor of Ministry program at I.T.C. and he earned his Doctor of Ministry degree in 2007 from United Theological Seminary.
Licensed to preach January 20, 1980 at his home church, Historic Liberty Hill A.M.E. Church in Summerton, SC. Prior to his present pastorate, he served as pastor of Amanda Flipper A.M.E. Church, Decatur, Georgia; associate pastor at Big Bethel A.M.E. Church, Atlanta, GA.; and pastor of Mt. Carmel A.M.E. Church, Gray Court, SC. His rich and varied professional background is strewn with numerous academic, professional and community awards and honors. In 1999 he was inducted with Bishop Desmond Tutu, Bishop Vashti McKenzie, Rev. Bernice King and others into the Martin Luther King, Jr. Board of Preachers at Morehouse College. And ministering abroad has taken Dr. Brailsford to over 20 countries including the Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Jamaica, Liberia, Namibia, Swaziland, Malawi, Lesotho and South Africa on the continent of Africa.
A leadership that is defined by perpetual motion and progress has continued during his tenure at Bethel. His arrival at Bethel A.M.E. Church at 1528 Sumter Street on December 6, 1992, marked the beginning of a renaissance in the life and works of the church. His initial sixteen plus years have been highlighted by exceptional spiritual, numerical, and financial growth. In 1995, under his leadership Bethel relocated from its Sumter Street site to 819 Woodrow Street and acquired an 86,000 square foot facility that sits on five acres of land. The one and one-half city blocks campus offers 366 parking spaces and has all the modern accommodations necessary to serve this present age, including 107 classrooms and offices, a Christian Life Center and Gymnasium. A new school, Bethel Learning Centers, was founded and accredited since 1995. Bethel Learning Centers is one of only three predominantly African American elementary schools in the entire state of South Carolina that is accredited. Sixty plus new ministries have been established to better serve membership needs as well as the surrounding community. Also during his tenure more than 1,900 persons have joined the church; and over $8,000,000.00 (eight million) in assets have been added to the church, including a $3,000,000.00 new school building project completed in 2008.
Under his leadership, the church’s overall annual revenue has grown from $160,000.00 in 1992 to nearly $3,000,000.00 in 2008. The Renaissance Foundation that he founded has raised over $2,000,000.00, provides numerous jobs and spearheads the $5,700,000.00 Renaissance Cultural Arts Center which will be housed in the old Bethel church building. The Bethel Bishop Chappelle Apartments generate over $1,000,000.00 a year and also provide numerous jobs in the community. In addition, there are 64 jobs provided on the campus by the church and school. Hundreds of households are blessed daily through this seven day a week ministry and thousands are blessed through the Sunday morning television and radio broadcasts.
Called to serve at various levels of the Connectional A.M.E. Church Dr. Brailsford is a member of the A.M.E. Church’s Retirement Board and holds the office of Secretary to this Board. His General Conference services have included the General Conference Commission (Executive Committee), the Credentials Committee, the Episcopal Committees and the General Board. He served as General Chairperson for the Seventh Episcopal District’s three Pentecost in the New Millennium events that averaged over 14,000 in attendance. Locally, Rev. Brailsford has served on many Boards and committees including:
- the Trustee Board of the Sisters of Charity Foundation of SC for 10 years (2nd largest foundation in SC);
- the Columbia Urban League Board of Directors (Former Chairman);
- the Board of Directors of Bethel Bishop Chappelle Memorial Apartments, Inc., a housing complex for 188 low income families (Vice Chairman);
- the Trustee Board of Allen University;
- the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance;
- the Columbia Annual Conference: Board of Examiners (Chairman), Trustee Board and member of the Finance , Ministerial Efficiency and Judicial Committees;
- the Bethel Learning Centers Board of Education (Chairman);
- the Renaissance Foundation Board of Directors;
- the University of South Carolina Community Advisory Committee to the President; and
- the 7th Episcopal District Finance Committee and Christian Education Board.
In 1983, he married Carolyn Elizabeth Irvin. She is an Itinerant Elder in the A.M.E. Church, Minister of Worship Arts at Bethel A.M.E. and a professional recording artist. She is the founder and director of the highly regarded CaBrailSong School of Vocal Arts in Columbia, SC. They have three children: one daughter, Veronica-Carol, two sons: Ronnie Jr. and David, and one grand-daughter, Harper. He is a very devoted husband, father, pastor, and community leader.
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