History of the Bethlehem center and Our United Methodist Roots

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Mrs. Miriam Brock

As the United Methodist Women approach their 150th anniversary, the Bethlehem Center celebrates two Methodist women who helped the Bethlehem Center become the community safe haven it is today. 

The Bethlehem Center was born out of two separate Methodist missions efforts in Chattanooga: the Good Shepherd Fold day care run by Reverend Sallie Crenshaw and the Wesley House day care established by Mrs. Miriam Brock. In 1960, our current building, known as the Bethlehem House at the time, opened allowing for a partnership to form known as the Sallie Crenshaw Bethlehem Center that shapes our mission to this day. Mrs. Miriam Brock started a Bible study in the basement of Phillip’s Memorial Methodist Church in 1920, receiving a charter for a formal mission known as the Wesley House. By the following year, the Bible study had grown into a daycare and Kindergarten classes at its own location. In 1926 the Wesley House moved to a donated house on College Street where it remained until the dedication  of our current building on W 38th Street in 1960.

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Reverend Sallie Crenshaw

Sallie Crenshaw, founder of the Good Shepherd Fold day care that would become a part of the Beth in 1968, began as a traveling missionary in the South East. In 1930 Ms. Crenshaw became a licensed preaching missionary by the Methodist Board of Missions because ordination was not available to women, especially African- American women, at the time. She attended school at Gammon Theological Seminary and Tennessee Wesleyan College. She served over 12 churches in this capacity anywhere from coal mining towns in West Virginia to the poor neighborhoods in Chattanooga. 

After commissioning a beer tavern on St. Elmo Avenue to use for Bible studies on Sunday morning in 1947, Ms. Crenshaw noticed a need to take care of children left at home while their parents worked. By early spring of 1948, Ms. Crenshaw rented an old house to open an official day care center. By 1954, she was able buy a plot of land to build a brand new facility, serving up to 130 children in the St. Elmo area! Just a few years later, Reverend Sallie Crenshaw became the first woman to be ordained as a pastor in the East Tennessee Methodist Conference. The Times Free Press attributes the following quote to her: “I'm no common, ordinary person. I do God's work and I live to the part. He provides everything for me. I just stand in front of the mirror every now and then to see how I am looking."  Her dedication to children and the advancement of justice for all people remains a driving force for the Bethlehem Center.

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At the dedication of the Bethlehem House in 1960, Mayor Olgiati gave a tribute to Mrs. Brock who in turn thanked the entire staff for their hard work. The facility was a unique fixture in South Chattanooga at the time because very few community spaces were equipped to serve such large numbers in specifically African-American neighborhoods. The “house” lived up to its potential by hosting summer camps, Boy and Girl Scouts, community development activities, a church on Sundays, and Bible studies throughout the week. 
By 1968, the Wesley House, the Good Shepherd Fold day care, and the Bethlehem House had all formally partnered together as the United Methodist Neighborhood Centers Inc. known as the Sallie Crenshaw Bethlehem Center, or “the Beth” for short. Reverend Crenshaw and Mrs. Miriam Brock continued working with the Beth until their respective retirement. Reverend Crenshaw and Mrs. Miriam Brock’s shared dedication to the work of the Methodist Church in South Chattanooga continues in the programs and practices of the Beth today. 

The Bethlehem Center is excited to celebrate our Centennial Birthday coming up in 2020 and the 150th anniversary of the United Methodist Women in 2019!

1920- Charter for official methodist mission placed by Mrs. Miriam Brock

1926- Wesley House began operating in an independent building

1930- Sallie Crenshaw becomes a licensed missionary

1947- Good Shepherd Fold day care begins

1954- GSF day care gets a new building in St. Elmo

1960- Bethlehem House is dedicated - support from Miriam Brock

1968- GSF joins partnership to form the Bethlehem Center

2020- celebrating the centennial of our original charter