Preserving our Pentecostal Heritage
Having a strong desire and sensing a need for special campmeeting services that would "Preserve our Pentecostal Heritage," Bro. Cook and several brethren discussed the possibilities. He urged these brothers to look in their areas for a suitable location. For 5 years, the burden lay in his heart. As time went on, no progress was being made and the burden lay heavier upon him. So, in the summer of 1939, Bro. Cook and the congregation of Bethel Chapel erected a tent near the Braden Schoolhouse at the corner of Pontoon Road and Old Highway 67 where they conducted campmeeting. Meals were served and dorm rooms were set up in the old schoolhouse.
Bro. Cook searched for suitable property, came across the ideal location, and was thrilled at what he could envision on this land. He took Bro. Garland Parker to see the land. That evening, Bro. Parker told his wife, "I've always stood with Bro. Cook on everything and trusted his judgment even when I thought he was wrong, but, Wife, I believe he's flipped this time." Sis. Christine Parker said, "Now, Garland, you have not prayed and Bro. Cook has. If it is God, it'll work and if it ain't, it'll come to an end."
There was no question about it--the land looked impossible, but in February 1940, when Bro. Cook was 53 years old, Bethel Chapel purchased seven acres of swampland southwest of Edwardsville, Illinois, at the foot of Sunset Hill, after which the camp was named.
The combined kitchen and dining hall was the first building on the camp. A tent was used for services. Bro. Cook and the trustees of Bethel Chapel maintained the oversight of camp property and business. Bro. Cook asked Bros. Norman Smith, John Stanfield, Arvel Doan, and William Mills to serve on a committee as advisors for the direction of the camp and conducting of services.
Large crowds attended the 10-day campmeeting, starting on the last Friday in July. Dormitories, private-owned cabins, and a concession stand were built.
Sunset Hill Youth Camp-
When Bro. Cook was 71 years old, he was moved by the Holy Spirit with another burden to further "Preserve the Pentecostal Heritage." He asked Bros. L.L. (Jr.) Collins and Gerald Green to direct a youth camp at Sunset Hill. Bros. Collins and Green were well-known young preachers with anointed ministries. They had the ability, initiative, and spiritual foresight to conduct this youth ministry.
The first youth camp at Sunset Hill began Tuesday night, July 22, 1958, before family camp began on Friday, July 25. Bro. Claude Ely was the evening speaker for both youth camp and family camp. The first two daytime teachers were Bros. Ralph Cox and Don Ryan. A Soul-Winners class was conducted by the directors.
A heavy spirit of conviction hovered over the camp services. In youth camp, 22 were saved and 8 received the baptism of the Holy Ghost. By the end of the campmeeting, between 45 and 50 were saved and 15 received the Baptism.
Bros. Collins and Green successfully directed youth camp for 15 years.
Change of Leadership-
In later years of his pastorate, Bro. Cook began to seriously consider who should be the next pastor of Bethel Chapel and host pastor of Sunset Hill Campground. During campmeeting 1960, he approached Bro. Kenneth and Sis. Vera Brand and said, "I want to speak to you children." When he told them what was on his heart, Sis. Brand immediately replied, "Bro. Cook, I wouldn't touch that with a ten-foot pole." Her response shocked him and he said, "Why, Daughter? It is a good church." He asked them to promise to pray.
This conversation came as a surprise to Bro. and Sis. Brand even though an unsettling spirit had lay upon them in recent weeks and continued even though they were successfully pasturing the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Paducah, Kentucky. The Brands resigned their church in September 1960 and evangelized for two years. On April 1, 1961 and in March 1962, while preaching revival services at Bethel Chapel, Bro. Cook approached the pastoral subject.
Bro. and Sis. Brand took care of Bethel Chapel from June 5 until mid-July, 1962 while Bro. Cook was caring for his wife, Sis. Stella, who had complications from a stroke. At the age of 27, Bro. Brand was elected as pastor of Bethel Chapel on July 21, 1962. They pulled their mobile home on the campground on the first day of youth camp to assume the pastoral duties of Bethel Chapel. Sis. Sue Cox (Cole) was the evening speaker and Bro. John W. Sullivan the campmeeting speaker.
During Bro. Brand's pastorate at Bethel Chapel and Host Pastor at Sunset Hill, two additions were made on the tabernacle. Restrooms with running water and showers were added. These restrooms replaced two hand pumps that campers had used to pump buckets of water for drinking and bathing. A concrete-block boys' dorm was built, which the State Highway Department took later. A block dorm accommodating 96 girls, several private cabins, and a tool shed were built. A walk-in cooler was installed at the old kitchen, and a new concession stand was built.
Under the leadership of Bro. Brand, Bethel Chapel relocated in 1967. Five acres of land were purchased for $15,000 at 25th and Ohio, Granite City, Illinois. The groundbreaking ceremony for the new church was on Easter Sunday. Six months later, the first service was held at the new location.
Bro. Brand has often said, "Bethel Chapel is a church with great respect for the ministry." He resigned in January 1972, ending 10 years of another successful pastorate. The Brand family left with a burden to give a portion of their ministry to Peru, where they became pastors in Lima.
Changing Pastors -
Bro. Brand and Bethel Chapel tarried before the Lord to know who should be the next pastor. In the meantime, the Lord dealt with Bro. Clifton Galiher of Fairfield, Illinois, while he was in prayer late one night. With bold assurance, he told his wife, "Bessie, we are going to be called to pastor Bethel Chapel." At first, it seemed unreal, but she too began to sense it must be an unction of the Spirit.
A call came from the Bethel Chapel board. Before being told the reason for the call, Bro. Galiher said, "I was expecting you to call." The Galiher family began their ministry at Bethel Chapel in February 1972. In July 1972, Bro. Cook passed away and was buried at the Sunset Hill Cemetery on the first day of campmeeting.
During the course of Bro. Galiher's pastorate, the church debt was paid in full and the mortgage burned. Also, a successful bus ministry and van service for the elderly was started. In the fall of 1974, a new kitchen was started on the campground and finished in time for campmeeting 1975. During campmeeting 1977, the Camp Ministers' Committee appointed Bro. Gerald Green to ask Bro. Leon Belt to serve as the next youth camp director beginning in 1978.
Bethel Chapel began an extensive addition on the church, including an educational wing and fellowship hall. The church built this on a pay-as-you-go basis.
Passing the Torch -
Bro. and Sis. Galiher served the church and camp for 13 years. Their pastorate ended in May 1985. Bro. Galiher says, "Bethel Chapel is a strong church with a good foundation. We consider it a privilege to have raised our children with families who are solid Christians."
After Bro. Galiher's resignation, the Bethel Chapel board contacted Bro. Leon Belt, asking him to meet with them on Easter Sunday, April 17, 1985, to discuss the possibilities of assuming the Bethel Chapel pastorate.
Bro. Belt began pastoral duties May 20, 1985. His wife, Velva, is the granddaughter of Pastor Ralph Cook. The first 3 weeks of their pastorate were spent preparing the campground for youth camp. During the 1985 campmeeting, a spirit of giving moved across the congregation and over $20,000 was raised to begin construction of the new tabernacle. Construction of walls began in September and the 11,000-square-foot building was under roof by Thanksgiving. During the time of construction, ministers and laity from across the country joined in united labor building a new tabernacle to "Preserve the Pentecostal Heritage." The old tabernacle was remodeled and covered with vinyl siding and converted into a boys' dorm.
Bro. Danny Hudson was the last evening speaker for the campmeeting in the old tabernacle in 1985 and the first evening speaker in the new tabernacle in 1986. Bro. Alan Pascarella preached the last sermon in the old tabernacle in October 1985 at an Old-Fashioned Youth Rally.
Under the leadership of Bro. Leon Belt, the family lodge was built.
In 2003, Pastor Belt resigned as the pastor of Bethel Chapel. In September 2003, Bro. David and Sis. Ruth Brimm became pastor at the age of 39. Bro. David and Sis. Ruth both were raised in Bethel Chapel. Ruth is the daughter of former pastor Clifton Galiher. They had recently resigned the church they had pastored for 16 years in Vandalia, Ohio.