Black Pentecostal Church in Harlem Started in 1917 by Single German Woman

Bethel Gospel Assembly, purchased the former James Fennimore Cooper Junior High School in Harlem in 1982.

Bethel Gospel Assembly purchased the former James Fennimore Cooper Junior High School in Harlem in 1982.

This Week in AG History–August 26, 1933
By Darrin Rodgers

Also published in AG-News, Mon, 25 Aug 2014 – 4:15 PM CST

Lillian Kraeger (1884-1964), a young single German woman, demonstrated incredible courage and character when confronted with racism within her church in downtown New York City. Two young African-American girls, Mae Allison and another whose name is now lost to history, had accepted Christ in 1915 and applied for membership in Lillian’s church. They were rejected on account of their skin color.

This broke Lillian’s heart. She did not want the young girls to fall away from the Lord. In January 1916, Lillian began traveling to Harlem, where the girls lived, and held “cottage meetings.” These home Bible studies blossomed and grew into a small congregation.

Lillian’s commitment to her African-American congregation came at great personal cost. Her own family rejected her, as they did not approve of her crossing the racial barrier. Lillian had been engaged to a young man, but he called off the engagement because of her leadership of the mission. Lillian’s love for African-Americans caused her to be forsaken by her own people.

Lillian was an unlikely missionary to African-Americans in Harlem. She did not have ministerial credentials, she was a single female in her early thirties, and she had accepted Christ just nine years earlier. In addition, her German heritage may have put her under suspicion because the United States was at war with Germany. The United States government carefully watched (and sometimes imprisoned) other white ministers who ministered among African-Americans during the First World War, suspecting them of crossing the racial lines in an effort to create an alliance with Germany or the Bolsheviks in Russia.

In the Spring of 1917, a Pentecostal evangelist remembered as “Brother Jamison” shared the Pentecostal message with this small group of believers. Kraeger and several others in the congregation were baptized in the Holy Spirit. In November 1917, the congregation organized as Bethel Mission.

Lillian felt a call to serve as a missionary to Africa. The Assemblies of God confirmed this calling and issued her credentials as a missionary in 1918. Lillian did not go to Africa, however, and remained as pastor of Bethel Mission. Her heart for missions became part of the DNA of the congregation. In 1924, Lillian established Bethel Missionary Home, a ministry that provided room and board for missionaries who had returned from overseas.

In 1924 or 1925, James Barzey, one of the members of the church, was chosen to be succeed Lillian as pastor. Lillian retained her title as “Founder” of the church and put her energies into the development of the missionary home. The name of the home was changed in 1930 to Mizpah Missionary Home.

The August 26, 1933, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel published a report by Lillian about the Mizpah Missionary Home. She wrote, “When God spoke and showed us He wanted a missionary home in New York City, it seemed like a great impossibility in the light of the recent stock crash in Wall Street.” However, Lillian recounted that God faithfully provided: “He reminded us that He still had riches in glory which were inexhaustible and that when he speaks the word all that we have to do is to be obedient and He will bring to pass what He has said. And so we stepped into the Jordan and it has been rolling back ever since.”

Several years later Lillian married Assemblies of God missionary Alfred Blakeney, whose first wife had died.

What happened to the small congregation founded by Lillian Kraeger? Bethel Mission, now known as Bethel Gospel Assembly, is led by Bishop Carlton Brown and ministers to over 1,500 people each week in Harlem. Bethel Gospel Assembly is one of the most prominent congregations in the United Pentecostal Council of the Assemblies of God (UPCAG). The UPCAG, a historic black Pentecostal fellowship organized in 1919, united with the Assemblies of God as a cooperative fellowship in February 2014. In a fitting turn of events, Bethel Gospel Assembly is honoring its roots and developing a deeper relationship with the Assemblies of God.

It would have been easy for Lillian Kraeger to listen to her family and her fiancée and to forget about the two little African-American girls who had accepted Christ. But the courageous young German woman, despite great cost, followed God’s call. Almost 100 years later, Bethel Gospel Assembly has emerged to become a powerful voice within the African-American community in Harlem.

Read Lillian Kraeger’s report published on page 8 in the August 26, 1933, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

* “Paul’s Ideal for a Gospel Assembly,” by P. C. Nelson

* “Discouragement of Elijah,” by Ernest S. Williams

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center. For current editions of the Evangel, click here.

Do you have Pentecostal historical materials that should be preserved? Please consider depositing these materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC). The FPHC, located in the Assemblies of God national offices, is the largest Pentecostal archive in the world. We would like to preserve and make your treasures accessible to those who write the history books.

Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
1445 North Boonville Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA
Phone: 417.862.1447 ext. 4400
Toll Free: 877.840.5200
Email: Archives@ag.org

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