Pastor Earle Baker, ordained minister of Bethel United Methodist Church in Lewes, is less than a year into his new job, but to talk to him is to realize that here is someone who hit the ground running with good credentials when he moved to his new church, with its 800 members.
The pastor came to Bethel in July 2013 from Avenue UM Church in Milford, which had a capital campaign to pay for renovations.
“Our capital campaign here in Lewes started a year ago February,” said the pastor. “We are doing what is one and a half million dollars' worth of improvements. So far, we’ve raised $800,000. We even have out-of-state benefactors. The church is open seven days a week and almost every day of the year. It’s no wonder that we need renovations!”
Each Sunday, there are three services, at 8, 9:15 and 11 a.m. “We had over 800 worshippers at Easter this year,” said Baker The sanctuary seats about 300. “The 9:15 service is a contemporary service with a praise band of members, including singers, keyboard, guitars and a 15-year old drummer!”
In the church’s sanctuary, created in 1910, there are some beautiful and meaningful stained-glass windows, many now restored. The two large windows feature Christ as the centerpiece, the center of the church.
Ned Maull, a lifelong member, dedicated one of the large windows, called Christ, the Good Shepherd, to Helen W. Maull, a long-ago member of his family who died as a child. “Ned is our church historian,” said Baker.
The renovation work at Bethel UM Church has not yet gone out for bids. Baker estimates the heaviest construction will take maybe nine months or so. “We can go on with our lives,” he said. “But we may have to go outside at times to get to a certain part of the fellowship hall.”
Ministers in an active church such as Bethel UM Church traditionally work with many leadership committees. “The church council is our ultimate decision-making body,” Baker said. “We approach decisions with care. Then we take a vote, and almost always it’s unanimous.”
Other ministers on the pastor’s staff include the director of music, Pastor Joyce Mentzer, who creatively involves the congregation in many ways as far as music is concerned. And Pastor Ray Davis, who has 70 young people in his care and takes them on work camp trips.
Baker started his church ministry while in college, where he first felt the call at United Wesleyan College in Allentown, Pa. He received his master of divinity degree in 1980 at Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky.
“Even though I started out as a shy and introverted young person, I felt called to Christian service,” he said. “I wanted to see what God had in mind for me to do.”
The Bethel congregation began meeting in 1779. There are two previous Bethel church buildings which still stand in Lewes. One, built in 1790, is at the corner of Third and Market streets. The other one, built in 1870, is at 325 Mulberry St..
The future looks bright for Bethel UM Church. “We’ll have more opportunities for fellowship,” said Baker. “And, we’ll have state-of-the-art technology in lighting and sound, and other aspects of our renewed church life. Architectural barriers will be removed. We won’t destroy the historical nature of the church. We will enhance and preserve it.”
For more information, call the church office at 302-645-9426 or go to www.bethellewes.org.