Church History

Big Bethel Baptist Church History


The Big Bethel Baptist Church was formally organized by the late Reverend James Madison in 1865. It was located about two miles southeast of the town of McKenney, Virginia. Land for the first church was purchased in 1889. The earliest congregation was organized during the period of slavery and it was one of the largest congregations in Dinwiddie County with more than a 1,000 members coming from a radius of up to 50 miles. The first building erected was an odd-shaped, three-corner structure. This building was used until the passing of Reverend James Madison. Following Reverend Madison’s death, his son, the late Reverend Henry Madison became pastor. Reverend Madison became the only black to serve as Commissioner of the Revenue in Dinwiddie County (1883-1887). Soon, Reverend Madison felt the need for a larger and better building. This new building was a frame painted building and remained in its original location until 1928. After the Madison’s, and during the early years from 1865 to 1939, a number of ministers served the church: Reverend Joseph Gregory, Reverend S. W. Timms, Reverend M. G. Skinner, Reverend Leonard Kiser, Reverend J. E. Tune, Reverend W. R. Ashburn, Reverend James Carter, Reverend L. W. Wales, Reverend G. A. Boykins, and Reverend S. W. Williams.

The Reverend James Carter served two terms. During his terms,  many members were added to the church. He resigned in the middle 1920's to accept a church in Lynchburg, Virginia.

The next pastor was a man of intelligences, integrity, and foresight. He was the late Reverend S.W. Timms, who made a vow to move the church out of the woods to a new location. The officers and members, being on one accord, went to work to achieve this goal. The officers employed Mr. J. W. Stuart to move the church building to its present location for the sum of $1, 000.00. This amount of money was not easy to come by during those days. The late Joseph Washington Cooper, Sr., and the late Deacon Joseph Washington Cooper, Jr. along with the late William Goodwyn, Sr., helped with this moving project. After serving a memorable pastorate, Reverend Timms returned to Brooklyn, New York to reside with his family.

The next pastor was Reverend G. A. Boykins, a minister of Christian enthusiasm. During his pastorate, he organized a junior church, which became a very active part of the church’s working force. After a few years Reverend Boykins resigned and returned to Richmond, Virginia.

Reverend S. W. Williams, a graduate of Virginia Union University, was our next pastor. Although his term was short, he was able to keep the church alive during some very crucial times.

During the next years of our history and development, there have been several pastors playing vital parts in the continuing growth of the church: Reverend L. W. Jacobs, Reverend T. A. Lacy, Reverend Albert L. Toney, Reverend Vater Colbert, and Pastor Emeritus, Arlester Newsome, Jr.

Reverend Jacobs came to us in 1940 and served until 1963. Under his leadership and guidance, the membership grew tremendously. He had a keen interest in the youth and the community. Membership under his tenure was at an all time high. The financial status of the church was very sound showing a substantial balance at the end of each month. He instituted an annual budget, which continued to prove beneficial to the long-range goals of the church and future planning. During his pastorate, the church purchased a Hammond Organ, renovated the interior and exterior of the church, installed a central heating system, constructed indoor bathrooms, and purchased new pews. Over a period of 22 years Reverend Jacobs led the church in a continuous upward trend, spiritually, physically, and financially. After serving over 22 years, he resigned in 1963 to become full-time Pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Hopewell, Virginia.

Reverend Thomas A. Lacy was called and installed as Pastor in 1970. Immediately, he began a Christian Education Program. In 1970, under the leadership of Pastor Lacy, the main edifice of the church was renovated, bricked, and an education complex and fellowship room was added. An electrical lighted cross on the front of the church was donated in honor of Ms. Courtney Tucker, by her nieces, nephews, and the Washington family of Atlantic City, New Jersey. The choir stand was enlarged, a new piano and organ purchased, and the baptismal pool moved to the inside of the church. The Deacons and Trustees donated thirty new chairs for the choir. God was truly blessing us. Air conditioners were also installed during this time. In 1978, a 50 state rally was held sponsored by the adult choir. The funds from this program along with funds from the building fund made it possible to burn the church mortgage. Also in 1978 Reverend Lacy resigned to become full-time pastor of Olive Branch Baptist Church in Dinwiddie, Virginia.

Reverend Daniel Coleman came to Big Bethel in 1979. He is remembered as a tall, slender man who was an excellent pulpit speaker. He left us after serving less than one year, and never became Pastor. Also in 1979, steel fire escapes were added to the rear of the church.

Reverend Albert L. Toney was called to lead the people of Big Bethel in 1980. He was installed in 1981. During his tenure, many innovative programs were instituted. Among them was the first observance of Senior Citizen’s Day. Reverend Toney was very supportive of education and being such, he established our church library. Also the Youth Gospel Singers purchased a bus, the cement wall around the church as removed, and the lawn was reseeded. Additionally in 1981, Deacons James Peterson and Deacon Garfield Cooper were ordained as Deacons. The Christian Flag and American Flag were purchased. Reverend Toney was quite active in the community. In 1983, under his leadership, Big Bethel became affiliated with the Dinwiddie Food Bank. Pastor Toney resigned and left us in 1989.

Reverend Vater Colbert was called to serve Big Bethel and was installed in January1992. He was an excellent motivator of the young people in the church and in the community. Under Reverend Colbert’s leadership, Brother Larry M. Goodwyn became a member of the Trustee Board also the Advisory Council and the Church Picnic were established. Additionally, the church pews were cushioned and the education complex was fitted with new carpet. A handicap ramp was added to the exterior of the building. Under his leadership, the church by-laws and policies were revised. He left Big Bethel in November 1994.

In May, 1995, Reverend Arlester Newsome, Jr. was installed as the pastor of the Big Bethel Baptist Church. Pastor Newsome brought with him many years of spiritual development and excellent leadership abilities. During his time here with us, the Pastor’s Study was renovated and new office furniture added, new hymnals were purchased, a new copier purchased, a new computer system was purchased, outside safety lights were installed, renovations to bathrooms, and the purchase of a new Hammond Organ. Additionally, a new Male Chorus was organized, and our first Big Bethel Newsletter was published. As part of his vision for the church, Big Bethel went to full-time worship. The church continued to grow and Reverend Davis Roberts became our first Associate Minister. In October 1993, we organized our first Missionary Prayer Breakfast. In 1996, we ordained Brother George Chamblee, Brother David Sharpe, and Brother Joseph Johnson Jr. into the Diaconate Ministry. Brother Johnson also served as a member of the Trustee Board as treasurer for a short period. Additionally in 1996, Brother Harry Smith became a member of the Trustee Board. In 1998, the Senior and Adult Choirs came together as one choir, and is now called the Adult Choir. During this same time, the Junior Choir was also reorganized. In 1999, our church renovation project included two new stoops at the side exits, two new handicap-accessible bathrooms located at the front entrance of the church, and repair to the steeple. In 2000, we purchased five lots of land behind the church and organized our Junior Missionary Ministry. In 2001 Sister Gracie Pegram was selected unanimously to become our Church Mother which she held with dignity and pride for many years. As time moved on, God was still blessing us, in 2002, we were blessed with new stained glass windows, installed the 1st week of August and ready just in time for our homecoming services August 12, 2002. What a blessing! Additionally the home comers were met with freshly painted walls. The families of the church responded in faith to Pastor Newsome’s vision for adding beauty to our place of worship, honoring loved ones and glorifying God. History continues as we added Sister Geraldine Coleman, Sister Doris Crittendon, and Brother Melvin Alsbrooks to the Trustee Board. Our first Big Bethel Wall Calendars were printed during a fundraiser in 2003 and 2004. Also in 2003, the Usher’s Ministry was responsible for padding the balcony pews. As time passed, Alexander Williams preached his initial sermon and was licensed to preach in March 2003. The Rorris Coleman Family donated decorative support rails on each side of the pulpit. In 2004, the Big Bethel Baptist Church was proud to publish its first Church Directory. Also, the play, “Still No Room”, daybued here under the leadership of Sister Newsome, the author and writer. God was really blessing us in 2004 as we organized the Big Bethel Praise Dancers, and the Men’s Fellowship Ministry. In 2005, Big Bethel was honored to have a street in McKenney, Virginia changed to honor one of our members, Sister Marguerita Ragsdale (Marguerita Ragsdale Street). Further, Sister Marguerita Ragsdale was appointed by the President of the USA as Ambassador of Djibouti, West Africa. In June 2006, the Big Bethel Baptist Church honored and recognized the men and fathers of the church by preparing our first “Father’s Day Breakfast.” In December 2006, Reverend Alexander L. Williams, at the age of 23, was ordained into the ministry of the Big Bethel Baptist Church under the leadership of Reverend Arlester Newsome, Jr. In September 2007, Sister Sarah Blackwell preached her initial sermon, and was licensed to preach the gospel by the Big Bethel Baptist Church. Our 1st Widows ministry was established and led by Sister Lena Buford and our 1st craft ministry was established and led by Sister Alma Roberts.

In November 2007, Reverend Newsome announced his plans for retirement. In December 2007, the church accepted his resignation and a retirement celebration was planned. With the certainty of Newsome leaving us, and by a church vote,  Reverend Alexander Williams was made our Interim-Pastor. During Pastor Newsome’s period of leadership at Big Bethel, there were 41 new members added to the church role. On December 22, 2007, Big Bethel celebrated the end of Pastor Newsome’s tenure with us after 14 years of service. The appreciation and retirement service was held at the Tabernacle Community Life Center in Petersburg.

In January 2008 the church elected a pulpit committee to search for a new pastor. We didn’t have to search far. God already had his eye on someone very close, one which grew up in this church, followed Christ as a little boy, as a teen-ager, and as a young adult, and one who waited patiently on the Lord. On January 1, 2008, at the age of 24, Reverend Williams led us into the New Year as interim pastor. In June 2008 after a long process and with the help of God, the pulpit committee made a recommendation to the church that Alexander Williams become Pastor. There was a motion, the motion carried, and so ordered by the church.

On September 7, 2008, at the age of 25, we were proud and blessed to have installed Reverend Alexander L. Williams as the 14th Pastor of this great church. At the age of 25, he is the youngest in the history of this church, his home church. We thank God again for blessing us.

On October 5, 2008 Big Bethel adds to history the celebration of our first Pastor Emeritus. Former Pastor Newsome was installed as Pastor Emeritus for 14 years of dedicated service and devotion to this church. In November 2008, we were blessed to have another street named in honor of another one of our members. We are proud to announce that Melvin B. Alsbrooks Avenue is officially registered in memory of the late Trustee Melvin B. Alsbrooks. Also in 2008 history continues: Big Bethel launched its first website through the tireless efforts of Trustee Larry Goodwyn,, and established a church e-mail address, To support the various building fund needs of the church, we started annual fund raisers. The first of these was themed “What’s In It For Christ”. With the proceeds generated; we dedicated 3 new overdue pulpit chairs, replaced glass in sanctuary chandeliers for improved lighting, installed safety rails in the balcony, concrete repairs completed to the handicap ramp and to the sidewalks, new lettering was purchased for the marquee in front of the church, and a brand new air conditioning unit was purchased for the sanctuary just in time for our annual homecoming services. Additionally, we had 3 Deacons in Training, Brother Reginald Drumgoole, Brother Jerome Henderson, and Brother Glenn Fields.

We celebrated the 1st Anniversary of our Pastor on September 13, 2009. On June 13, 2010, we ordained Reginald Drumgoole, Glenn Fields, and Jerome Henderson, Jr. into the Diaconate Ministry. Also in 2010 we organized our 1st Women’s Ministry, and purchased a set of drums.

In 2011, God continues to smile on us in mighty ways. He has blessed us to have 16 new vinyl windows installed in the rear of the church and no more painting is needed. We were blessed with new window trim and all new gutter guards. Additionally we installed 5 new steel doors on the outside of the church and 3 storm doors in the fellowship hall. A certified copy of the deed to the church cemetery was obtained from the courthouse. Sister Mary Johnson Fields was added to the Trustee Board. Pastor Williams and the church family was pleased that Reverend Cynthia Gathers has returned to her home church. It wasn’t long after that that she was voted in as the Minister of Christian Education working along side the Pastor to grow our membership spiritually.

 Understanding that our youth of our church are our future leaders in this world, we were compelled to launch the Big Bethel Baptist Church Memorial Scholarship. God truly was blessing us. Additionally in 2011, Ranette Leigh Goodwyn, a graduate student at Virginia Tech, was recognized as the first recipient of the Big Bethel Baptist Church Memorial Scholarship.  She received a scholarship award in the amount of $500.00.

In 2013 we installed new exterior glass doors to the front entrance of the church.  Latoya Bates and Tykwuan Weaver became the second and third members to receive the BBBC Memorial Scholarships.

In 2014 we proudly ordained Brother McKinley Mason and Brother Clarence Roberts into the Diaconate Ministry. By order of the church, Deaconess France R. Hicks was appointed as Mother of the Church. Christopher Sharpe was awarded the forth BBBC Memorial Scholarship. Additionally the Praise Dance Ministry ”Exalted Praise” was formed in November of 2014 with one innocent question from one of our very own young people, ”Why don’t we have a praise dance team?”  Reverend Williams embraced her vision and Exalted Praise was formed.

Standing on the shoulders of other notables in the Big Bethel family like Dr. Elsie Goodwyn Holland, Dr. Marguuerita Ragsdale, Dr. Delano Tucker, and Dr. Linda Drumgoole Ampy all members of this great church, on May 16, 2014 Ranette L. Goodwyn received her Doctorate Degree in Veterinary Medicine from the Maryland-Virginia School of Veterinary Medicine/Virginia Tech University. The church family was very proud to have produced yet another high academic achiever.

On September 22, 2015 we broke ground for the paving of the churches parking lot and we are pleased to report that this vision of our former Pastor, Pastor Emeritus Arlester Newsome had become a reality. It was indeed a major focus for Pastor Williams, the Church leadership and members for over 22 months. In October another memorable occasion was marked with the 150th church anniversary celebration. Many of the descendants of the late James Madison family were in attendance.

2016 Year to Date accomplishments include the awarding of the fifth recipient of the Big Bethel Baptist Church Memorial Scholarship to Lauren A. Fields. As a result of the passing of former Trustee Board Chairman Trustee Roy L. Crittendon, The Pastor, church leaders and members voted Trustee Larry Goodwyn in as The next Chairman of our Board of Trustees. Additionally Sister Twanda Brown Jefferson, Sister Demetira Greene and Brother Ricky Coleman were voted in as Trustees. As we continue to forge ahead, we are currently in the process of computerizing the churches finances under the direction of Trustee Larry Goodwyn. Lastly we celebrated another year of Pastor and people as Reverend Williams was honored at his 8th anniversary. Since Reverend Williams has been Pastor, 39 individuals have become members of this great church.


We have been on the battlefield for the Lord 151 years now. AND WE HAVE COME THIS FAR BY FAITH, LEANING ON THE LORD AND TRUSTING IN HIS HOLY WORD. So, Let us not forget how faithful God has been to us since 1865 when this church was founded.

Let us remember God’s Faithfulness and Rejoice in His Goodness.

Submitted by: Delores Carey, Clerk

Big Bethel Baptist Church

P.O. Box 1

Mckenney, Virginia 23872

Source: Previous church history and Patricia D. Tucker (former Church Clerk)

October 8, 2016