Pioneer Work Still Bearing Fruit
On a crisp autumn day in 1943, Lenora B. Annabel and Donna J. Liebler moved to Adrian, Michigan, to plant the community’s first Assemblies of God church. Liebler had been saved under Annabel’s ministry at an AG church in Peck, Michigan, and the two set out to launch the new work after Liebler finished Bible college.
Driven by their mission, Annabel, then 53, and LIebler, 26, set out to pioneer a church that could reach the children of a local government housing project who otherwise would not have access to a Pentecostal church.
Because of their love for their new growing community, with more than 15,000 residents during World War II, Annabel and Liebler decided they would name the church Bethany Assembly.
“Bethany, as mentioned in the Bible, was a place that Jesus loved to go to be with friends,” says William F. Leach, onetime pastor of Bethany Assembly. “Jesus was a friend of sinners, the forgotten society.”
The church started as a simple Sunday School that met in a small apartment owned by Deerfield Park, the local government housing authority. As children attended classes, parents started hanging out to hear the contents of the lessons.
Shortly thereafter, evening services began in a rented storefront. However, the landlord stopped leasing the building, so Annabel and Liebler found themselves without a brick-and-mortar establishment. Services continued on lawns if temperatures accommodated, and in residences — or even automobiles — during inclement weather.
In 1947, Liebler and Annabel purchased a large home used both for a main place of worship and as a parsonage. Church attendance continued to increase, and in the mid-1950s under new pastor Arthur G. Clay, construction began on another building. In 1956, Bethany Assembly had a permanent home.
Growth continued at an exponential rate, and in 1961 the church embarked on a series of expansions. Eventually, unable to build further on the existing property, newly elected pastor William Leach oversaw completion of an edifice that seats 1,500 in the main auditorium and has 67 classrooms.
Today, weekly attendance at Bethany Assembly averages more than 700 people.
Liebler — who turned 100 years old in August and lives in Maranatha Village in Springfield, Missouri — isn’t surprised that the church continues to be a force in Adrian, which now has 20,600 residents.
“Lenora knew that the birth of Bethany would likely be her last work, but that it would have the greatest impact and farthest reach of any of her previous ministries,” says Liebler, who remains mentally sharp. Annabel co-pastored until she moved to a nursing home. She died in 1959. Liebler remained a part of the church until 1980.
“Bethany’s legacy is far reaching,” says Leach. “It is a great missions church and has produced great leaders in the professional ministry who are now serving in the U.S. and around the world.”
The church launched several influential young people who became leaders within the AG. Leach, who pastored for 16 years at Bethany, went on to serve as Michigan District superintendent for a record 28 years before retiring last year.
“In 1972, Bethany took a monumental risk and invited my wife, Marilynn, and me to be their pastors,” says Leach, who started his duties there at 22. “I was young, green, and inexperienced, but Bethany affirmed us and encouraged us.”
Newly elected General Superintendent Doug Clay attended Bethany, where his father pastored, as a child and youth.
“While growing up in Bethany, I was able to see how a healthy, functioning, and biblically sound church should operate,” says Clay, who recounts his spiritual journey in the new book, Ordered Steps. “At Bethany, I had the opportunity to get involved in ministry at an early age and was afforded spiritual mentorship within the church that helped me develop into who I am today.”