On Nov. 9, 1859, the first Mariner’s Bethel Methodist Church opened its doors under the guidance of the Rev. Robert B. Hazzard. Some 150 years later, Nov. 9 approaches again, and the church will be gathering to celebrate the landmark occasion of its founding. Jill Taylor and the Rev. Woody Wilson are two members of the church community who will be involved in the festivities this weekend.
When Mariner’s Bethel first opened in 1858, residents of Frankford, Selbyville, Bishopville, Roxana, Millsboro and Dagsboro were forced to travel by horse or on foot to Roxana to attend church services. A half-acre of land was purchased for $30, and the original church was erected near to where the current building stands.
As the years have passed, the church has needed to evolve in order to continue reaching out to as many parishioners as possible. They now hold three services each week – the most radical of which is their extreme praise service, thanks in large part to the music ministry of Christel and Paul Grandell and the Believers praise band.
While the original church is no longer present, pieces of it remain.
“We have the tin that lined the sanctuary,” Taylor noted. “We’ve tried to save some of the important pieces – the altar cross, for example. We have a really neat man in our church who makes trunks, and he took pieces of the old church to make trunks. The stained glass windows were turned into crosses, and a lot of the church members have those.”
“We’re just trying to honor our heritage, with a theme of remembering, rejoicing and recommitting,” he added.
Celebrations for the event have been going on for months. The church sponsored a float in the Bethany Beach Fourth of July Parade this summer that displayed beach life both 150 years ago and today. They also held a picnic in August where more than 300 guests gathered to enjoy each other’s company. In October, the church held a “vintage Sunday service” where church members dressed in period clothing, and the entire service was performed as it would have been in 1858.
“We normally have three services,” Wilson said of the plans for this Sunday’s gathering, “and we’re combining all three into one from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. We have former pastors from the church (the Revs. Charles E. Covington, K. Wayne Grier, Dr. Alexander L. Slonin Jr., Joseph G. Burris) that are going to be participating in the celebrations.
“Sunday’s service,” Wilson said, “will incorporate the three different services: a light contemporary service, an extreme faith service and a traditional service. The choirs will be combined, along with the praise band. All of the pastors and their wives will be taking place in a full church service.” Wilson and his wife will also be celebrating the baptism of their daughter.
At 3:30 that afternoon, the festivities will continue with a ceremonial dinner held at the Bay Center.
“We’re remembering the people who came before us. We take what we grew up with, and what we believe and pass that along,” he said. “We’re standing on those people’s shoulders, and we can see farther because of them.”
It is this mindset that permeates the community at Mariner’s Bethel.
“Everything has been done as a family,” said Wilson. “It isn’t because of any individual, or any one pastor. Doors are opened for us, and we’ve all walked through them together.”
“The Church has really grown in the past 10 years or so. Since we opened the new sanctuary in 2003, we’ve doubled in attendance,” Taylor noted.
This weekend they hope to draw as many as 700 people, filling the church to capacity. The Mariner’s Bethel youth group also regularly has the highest attendance among groups at the annual Ocean City (Md.) Christian youth rally.
Wilson explained, “In John’s gospel, Jesus said for us to ‘love one another,’ so we would welcome you to the faces of love at Mariner’s. One of the greatest gifts Jesus gives us is to not only be connected to Him, but each other. Each of us is a gift of love to each other, connected by the love of Christ.
“At Mariner’s we see you as a gift from God, and we want you to feel Christ’s love through our family connection. Each day we learn more about ‘leading to Christ, growing in Christ and going for Christ’ as we worship, study, sing, laugh and cry together.
“We all need a place where we can develop relationships that help us grow in spiritual maturity, intimacy with God, be accepted and loved,” he added. “We want to encourage you to let Mariner’s be that place for you.”
Information on Mariner’s Bethel and the 150-year celebration can be located online at http://marinersbethel.org/.