Duke Divinity School has announced the establishment of the Joseph Bethea Endowment Fund, which will support the work of the Office of Black Church Studies (OBCS), now celebrating its 50th year.

Bethea headshot in black-and-white wearing a suit and tie

The fund will support OBCS students, programs, lectures, hospitality, conferences, and travel and was established to honor Bishop Joseph B. Bethea, who served as founding director of the OBCS from 1972 to 1977. In addition to recruiting and supporting countless students, Bethea was instrumental in Duke Divinity School becoming the first mainline seminary in the South to require a course in Black Church Studies for graduation. Bethea went on to become the first African American person elected to the episcopacy by the Southeastern Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church.

“The Office of Black Church studies has contributed innumerable blessings to the life of Duke Divinity School,” said Dean Edgardo Colón-Emeric. “From our curriculum to our chapel services, from scholarship to ministerial formation, and from invigorating lecture series to powerful preaching, OBCS has continued to celebrate and share the resources from the Black Church that enrich the whole church. I am grateful for the opportunity to give thanks for God’s work through OBCS and to contribute to its ongoing work.”

To donate to the fund, give online (select Joseph Bethea Fund in the drop-down menu) or send a check to:

Bethea Endowment Fund
Box 90966
Durham, NC 27708

About Joseph Bethea

Bishop Joseph Benjamin Bethea was born in Dillon, S.C., on September 9, 1932. He graduated from Claflin College in 1953 and earned an M.Div. at Gammon Theological Seminary in 1956, completing additional studies at Union Seminary in Richmond, Va.

Bethea served the United Methodist Church in the South Carolina Conference, the North Carolina Conference, the Western North Carolina Conference, and the North Carolina-Virginia Conference of the Central Jurisdiction. He was named the Director of the Office of Black Church Studies at Duke Divinity School in 1972. In 1988, he became a bishop in the South Carolina Conference.

He served on the General Board of Church and Society, was a member of the World Methodist Council, and was a delegate to the Jurisdictional Conference and to the General Conference, both in 1984 and 1988. Bethea died on March 12, 1995, in Columbia, S.C.