McConnells’ Bethesda Presbyterian ordains its first black elder

dworthington@heraldonline.comJanuary 13, 2014 

— When Alberta Anthony entered Bethesda Presbyterian Church in McConnells three years ago, she felt a great sense of peace.

Standing underneath the sanctuary’s chandelier, she looked at the balcony where her ancestors and her husband’s – the Davidsons and the Anthonys – once sat. That was standard in many York County churches prior to the Civil War: White parishioners sat in pews; their slaves worshiped in the balcony.

During Sunday’s 11 a.m. service, Anthony was one of six new elders ordained at the historic church, which was organized in 1769. Three men and three women comprise the latest class of elders that will serve for three years.

Anthony is the first black church member elected as a Bethesda elder.

“I feel like this is getting me closer to God,” Anthony said. “I’m not doing this in rebellion, not with an attitude... In heaven it will be blacks and whites.”

Bethesda’s spiritual leader, the Rev. Daniel Smoak, called Sunday’s installation “an exciting moment for the church.”

“But in another way, we’re doing what we have always done, setting apart by prayer and the laying on of hands leaders chosen by God for service to His church,” he said. “I believe Alberta was chosen for leadership in this church for the right reasons – not as a political statement about race – but simply because of her gifts and service to the church.

“She and her husband James are good members; she’ll be a good elder.”

Anthony said she didn’t intend to change churches when she visited Bethesda with friends three years ago. Her home church was St. Paul’s Baptist, where she attended until she married James in 1972. She and James attended Galilee Baptist.

She was active at Galilee, but felt led to change churches.

At Bethesda, the former fifth-grade teacher at Hickory Grove-Sharon Elementary attended services, went to Sunday school and Bible study. Others recognized her servant heart, and she was elected by the congregation as an elder.

In her new role, Smoak said, Anthony will be asked to “consider ways the church can share the good news of Jesus with a broken, hurting and fragmented community and world. She cares about those things.”

Anthony also is interested in expanding the church’s annual food drive and using her experience as a teacher to work with the church’s youth.

Most of all, she said, she wants to be seen as a peacemaker when differences arise among the elders.

Don Worthington •  803-329-4066

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