By Toni Milbourne
Courier Staff Writer
The meeting is traditionally held the last Sunday in August and serves as both a religious gathering and as a status report, to members and friends, on the historic building.
Old Bethel Church is a memorial belonging to the citizens of Clarke County. Formed in 1941, it is governed by a Board of Directors which serves to preserve and maintain the site.
The guest speaker at this year's meeting was former Washington Post political reporter, James R. Dickerson, who recently published a novel, "Home on the Range: A Century on the High Plains."
In the spirit of Clarke County, Dickerson's novel encompasses a history of small town farmers and their connection to the land.
He based the book on stories from his youth in Kansas and shared several stories of his childhood, especially the influence of his grandmother. The book has been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
A silent auction was held after the meeting as the major fund-raiser for the year. According to Ian Williams, president of Bethel Memorial, Inc., the financial status of the organization is "not spectacular but stable, and we are pleased."
Additional monies are collected through donations and through membership dues. According to Williams, "We have approximately 130 dues-paying members" and over 300 interested citizens on the organization's mailing list.
While dues-paying members are helpful, Williams insists that anyone interested in becoming involved in Bethel is welcome.
The church belongs to the Clarke citizens, he said, and while money is nice, people's interest, in whatever form, is appreciated.
Old Bethel Church originally stood as a log structure built as early as 1765 by a Quaker community.
Baptists took over the church in 1808, and when the log structure was destroyed by fire in 1827, it was replaced by the present brick building completed in 1833.
Services were held regularly in the church until 1930 when the Baptists abandoned the site.
The church is now non-denominational and holds only three services per year: the annual meeting in August, a concert in the fall and a Christmas program in December.
The site is available to the public for weddings and cultural events.
Currently, restorations are being done on the building to preserve what has stood there for 162 years.
The walls have been replastered and, according to Williams, painting will be complete in the next couple of weeks.
The next phase of renovation will involve construction of a "gathering area" in front of the church, consistent with the structure of the building itself.
According to Williams, there already exists a small brick area under the grass at the doors of the church.
These brick "aprons" were quite popular at most churches in the Northern Neck and middle peninsula as they served as a gathering area where worshipers could converse without standing in dust or mud.
An apron of this type would be a consistent addition to the present architecture of the building.
Efforts will continue to maintain the building and the adjoining cemetery which dates back approximately 230 years.
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