The Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea
In 1889, four communicants gathered on the shores of Lake Worth, beginning what would become the Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea. In response to a request from the Rt. Rev. E. Gardner Weed, Bishop of Florida, the Rev. Joseph N. Mulford, then rector of Christ Church, Troy, New York, volunteered to travel to the tiny island community of Lake Worth, on the eastern side of the eponymous body of water. His calling was to establish a mission in South Florida, and he gathered a small, seasonal congregation in a simple wooden structure accessible only by boat from the mainland across the intracoastal waterway. The congregation grew, and a second structure, slightly north of the first (and currently a private home), was consecrated in 1896. In 1925, through the vision of Canon James Townsend Russell who had previously served at the National Cathedral, the congregation began construction of the iconic structure in which we worship today.
The property the vestry chose for the new building in 1924, on the northeast corner of South County Road and Barton Avenue, came with its own history, however. The year prior, a group of white town residents lynched Henry Simmons, a Black man living in West Palm Beach, on the site that was to become the parish’s new home, in retaliation for the death of a white police officer on this same site. Though the parish had no direct involvement in these heinous events, parish leaders are praying and working to honor Mr. Simmons, to confront the reality of racial injustice in our midst, and to discern how best to respond to our call to strive for justice in the face of it.
At Bethesda, we welcome all of God’s people to share in worship, fellowship, and leadership. As Jesus loves all, we strive to love and include all in Jesus’ name, unconditionally and without regard to sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, race, culture, age, national origin, socio-economic status, family configuration, education, physical and mental challenges, or spiritual and religious traditions.
Bethesda is a community of people from all walks of life discovering the joy of knowing and following Jesus Christ. We gather throughout the week to hear the sacred stories of God’s love and to be nourished in word and sacrament. Then, inspired by our fellowship, we strive to make God’s love a living reality in our lives every day. Even during this pandemic, we have experienced the clear and strong presence of God through worship, learning, and service online. Now gathering both online and in-person, we hope every person seeking the peace and presence of God will join in worship and other programs regularly.