“AN IRRESPLACABLE SHEPHARD, FATHER, COUNSELOR AND FRIEND”
Welcome and thank you for visiting the Bethuel Temple Churches of Christ Apostolic, Inc., USA and the United Churches of God, Ghana, Africa website.
“Thou art the man,” were the resolute words of prophetic destiny written in 1959 by the hand of the late Establishmentarian, Apostle Robert Clarence Lawson, as he replied to correspondence written by Elder William R. Palmer, Jr., charging him with the awesome commission of branching the Refuge Temple Church of Our Lord Jesus
Christ to the Greater Washington area. This prophecy was a result of Elder Palmer’s (at that time the youngest ordained Elder in the church organization) suggestion to Apostle Lawson that there needed to be a pastor appointed to a church in Washington D.C. since Bible Way had pulled out of the organization boasting that they were “going world-wide“.
William R. Palmer, Jr. was born in the hills of Bluefield, West Virginia on June 25, 1935. He was the eldest son of eleven children born to the late Evangelist William R. Palmer, Sr. and Mother Mildred Geneva Palmer. In 1948, at the age of 12 years old, during a January revival, William was baptized by Elder R. A. Fleshman in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ and two days later, along with nine other souls, he received the gift of the Holy Ghost with the evidence of speaking with tongues as the Spirit of God gave utterance. Brother Palmer served under Elder Fleshman until his passing, and then he was given the right hand of fellowship by Elder Robert Bell.
As time passed, not only did his singing and playing evolve out of his family’s rich musical heritage, but he often mimicked every choral part in quartets and choirs that performed. The magnificence of his gospel-piano style developed and his fame spread throughout the state of West Virginia. At the age of seventeen, he was asked to serve as church musician and choir director by Bishop Posey Diamond Smith, the presiding diocese Bishop overseeing Virginia and West Virginia. Aside from his responsibility as minister of music, Brother Palmer served Bishop Smith and the Little Rock Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ diligently in various capacities including chauffer and fundraiser. Brother Palmer gained spiritual wisdom and tenacity while under this great man of God’s direction and tutelage.
After his high school graduation and attending college for one year, Brother Palmer enlisted in the United States Air Force and after completing basic training, returned to take his bride, Lerah Smith, the youngest daughter of Bishop Posey and Mother Ersie Smith.
A young airman in the United States Air Force, Brother Palmer was called into the ministry shortly after the birth of his first child and he preached his trial sermon at Bishop Herbert Spencer’s church in Columbus, Ohio. His subject was, “The Spirit of the Lord is Upon Me, Because He Has Anointed Me to Preach the Gospel….” Elder Palmer did not completely grasp the divine strategy that God was navigating for his life. Being stationed aboard in England, he seized the opportunity to do foreign mission work; preaching, teaching and baptizing candidates who were convicted by the Word of God during the many revivals and street services he conducted. One such convert was his first son in the gospel, Brother Robert K. Byrd.
While in England, Elder Palmer ministered in Chelveston, Tooting Beck, Lewisham and Birmingham. Elder Palmer also served as a liaison minister reporting to Apostle Lawson about the progress of the missions in that country. Five thousand miles across the Atlantic Ocean on the continent of Europe, away from his wife and two children, Pamala and Pamella, the Lord began to reveal His purpose for his ministry.
As God’s purpose was being developed, Elder Palmer was suddenly stricken with a life-threatening disease that resulted in his transfer, via Wiesbaden, Germany, to the United States Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital in Washington, DC where he was hospitalized for nine months. After returning to the United States and seeing the devastation caused by the separation of the largest local church from the organization, Elder Palmer was stirred to inform Apostle Lawson of the urgent need for the re-establishment of another church in Washington, D.C. to accommodate the wandering flock. Although his early childhood experiences in the church, along with his local, state and national involvement as a musician, preacher and advisor equipped him for further reciprocal involvement on any appropriate developmental level, Elder Palmer felt that the appointment of one of the higher officials would have a better chance of offsetting the powerful reputation of the pastor who existed the organization. Apparently, Apostle Lawson was not lead to place anyone else; and much to Elder Palmer’s surprise, Apostle Lawson appointed him.
Apostle Lawson’s confidence in Elder Palmer was evident. In private conversation, Apostle Lawson addressed Elder Palmer by the nickname that he gave him, “Bubbles”. This familiarity was developed through Apostle Lawson’s acquaintance with the entire Palmer family. Later, after Apostle Lawson charged Elder Palmer to pastor in Washington D.C., he sent another telegram instructing Elder Palmer to meet him on the following Tuesday at Washington National Airport. Elder Palmer picked Apostle Lawson up in his green 1952 Chevrolet and the two of them went to Elder Palmer’s sister’s house, Mildred Conway, at 4333 C Street, S.E.
Later that day, Apostle Lawson and Elder Palmer drove together looking for a place that they could rent for service. Elder Palmer took him to a building he had previously seen at 3114 Georgia Avenue, N.W. The vacant building was once a bakery shop. They both agreed that the place was suitable for worship if properly cleaned and rearranged. Apostle Lawson suggested that Elder Palmer name the church Refuge after the mother church in New York, but Elder Palmer graciously declined explaining that God had already given him the name “Bethuel”. Apostle Lawson was pleased and conceded stating that “Bethel” means house of God and “Bethuel” means God is in her. Apostle Lawson and Elder Palmer closed the deal. Elder Palmer immediately drove Apostle Lawson back to the airport where he caught a plane out of National Airport.
On June 2, 1961, Apostle Lawson returned to Washington, D.C. with a busload of saints from New York City to dedicate the Bethuel Temple Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Some of the people on the bus were Apostle Lawson’s son, Elder Nathaniel Lawson, Minister John Lewis, Minister Reed Johnson, Elder Alfred Powell, Elder Chris Dobbins, and Mother Delphia Perry. Two years later Bishop William L. Bonner, scheduled to preach at Bible Way Temple for Bishop Smallwood E. Williams during a morning service, accepted an invitation from Elder Palmer to preach at his church that same day for a 6:00 pm. service. Elder Palmer continued to work diligently in the church and the congregation grew rapidly. He was among many men in the Washington area who preached against erroneous doctrines such as baptism in any other name than the Name of Jesus, divorce, the acceptance of women preachers or pastors, etc.
Elder Palmer began to glimpse false doctrines and false spirits creeping into the church. Things were being accepted that were once condemned, favoritism had become blatantly obvious and there were no corrective actions being taken by those in authority. Apostle Lawson had died and Bishop H.J. Spencer was presiding over the Churches of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Elder Palmer realized that things were getting out of control, and after the unacceptable behavior of one of the officials in charge was blatantly ignored during the State meeting in Washington, D.C., he felt lead to resign from the organization. Although very hurt and bewildered by the confusion of the brethren, some begging Elder Palmer to remain, fight, and vindicate his integrity, he elected to separate from strife that God might prove all things in August 1962.
Elder Palmer’s firm stance did not go over well with compromisers who were willing to turn their heads and accept what later became a big mess, causing a greater separation among the brethren. He faced many obstacles in his ministry and the church triumphed through one battle after another. Even through personal challenges, there were very few and sometimes no one, he could talk to. Elder Palmer loved Bethuel and was sincere in his leadership. At times he sought the counsel of older men only to be advised to padlock the doors of the church because there would never be a church as long as he was the pastor and maintained the stance that he took.
He knew that God called him and that he was given the charge to pastor by Apostle Lawson. He recalled the struggles of Bishop Posey Smith and others who were opposed by men. Sometimes Elder Palmer was very discouraged, but was afraid not to obey God. Therefore, he continued; not only preaching the unadulterated Word of God to the saints as he traveled throughout the United States, but he also took the message of God’s love and the plan of salvation to the sinner by way of Saturday afternoon street services at 10th & Q Streets, Northwest and the “Moments of Truth” television and radio broadcasts. However, he seemed to be losing his symbols of stability. His father, Elder William R. Palmer Sr., whom he loved, died in the summer of 1974; followed by the passing of Mother Ersie Smith in 1977 and Bishop Posey Smith shortly thereafter.
Elder Palmer was elevated and accepted the call to the Bishopric in 1975 at a meeting attended by several Elders and Bishops, later establishing missions and churches in the United States and Manchester, England. He also ordained Elders and officiated in the elevation of Bishops. Much suffering was yet to come in the life of Bishop and Mother Palmer and the Bethuel Temple Church family. The Lord saw fit to take their young 7 year old child, Princess Toinette Palmer, who was struck and fatally injured by a drunk driver in late August 1977. This was the most devastating experience the church ever faced. It was almost unbearable until Bishop Palmer explained the true reality; “That God did not take anything that belonged to us. He took what was ready and rightfully His.” The blessing in this was that the Lord took someone who was ready and left us with an opportunity to get ready. He eulogized her Homegoing Service using as his subject, “Weep Not for Me but Weep for Yourselves”.
Bishop Palmer and the church continued steadfastly in the faith. Standing on the Word of God and under his leadership, remained despite the test, trials and challenges, within and without. Bishop Palmer guided us through the highs and lows that any family faces including the celebration of a mortgage burning and two major church renovations. The first renovation was completed in the late 1980’s and the last commenced in a dedication service as we marched to “The Little Cathedral” on March 13, 2002.
For several years the Lord dealt with Bishop Palmer about the Apostleship. He had pondered and discussed this subject with many of his colleagues and Episcopal superiors. Knowing what God had told him to do, he was compelled to obey. After approximately three years of much praying and fasting, at the next beckoning call he accepted the divine obligation and made know to his family and the church what God’s divine will was for him. On Saturday, December 6, 2008 during the pre-confirmation service, one of Bishop Palmer’s early adulthood fellow clergymen, Bishop Raymond Dunlap, flew in from Michigan and preached the message entitled “God Still Has A Man”. The message was enjoyed by all; it was a glorious fellowship AND God gave us an Apostle!
Apostle Palmer embarked on several apostolic missions. For his final mission the Lord sent him to the continent of Africa assuring him that there was much work to be accomplished there. Despite knowing that he was sick, he obeyed the voice of the Lord. Once he arrived in Ghana, Africa, he preached to thousands and baptized several, including baptizing one soul in the Mediterranean Sea. However, the most perfect gesture for nurturing a lifelong commitment to God was when the Lord allowed Apostle Palmer to bring into the organization seven churches under the banner of the United Churches of God.
On October 18, 2010 Apostle William R. Palmer, Jr. took his flight and is now resting and waiting for the Lord’s return. Before his passing, he left with us words of assurance and comfort, “It’s Still Victory”; and his history ended, but his legacy lives on!!