Pictured above: Bill coaching his 4-5 year old flag football team.
IMMOKALEE— For 40 years, he has loved. He has served. He has taught. And, even when times were tough, he has not given up.
Fellowship Church in Immokalee recently honored William (Bill) Bethea for 40 years of service as a deacon.
To many inside and outside the walls of the church, Bethea could be described as a committed prayer warrior, one who has a heart for biblical hospitality and service, a text-driven Bible teacher, a fervent evangelist, a man with a character marked by integrity and steadfast faithfulness. And for the last four decades—a deacon.
Although the office of deacon is often overlooked or viewed as a constant and nagging pressure among pastors, Bethea is rewriting the script. Timothy Pigg, lead pastor of the southwest Florida church for nine years, champions the quiet and crucial role of a deacon and believes that Bethea has far exceeded the deacon qualifications outlined in 1 Timothy 3 every step of the way.
“Bill loves God and God’s people,” said Pigg. “He seeks to serve in every opportunity, and he looks to be used by God to lead others to Jesus. That quiet and crucial work within a local church is immeasurable.”
Bill loves God and God’s people. He seeks to serve in every opportunity, and he looks to be used by God to lead others to Jesus. That quiet and crucial work within a local church is immeasurable.
Even during some tumultuous years at the church, Bethea was steadfast in his commitment. He and his wife, Peggy, who have been married for 56 years, have been members of the church, formerly known as First Baptist Church Immokalee, since the early 1970s.
At the celebration, Kim Blocker, longtime church member and deacon’s wife, noted the spiritual concern and intentional heart Bethea has had for people for more than four decades.
“This amazing group has all learned how to serve and how to love through his [Bill’s] years of service,” she said. “We are all looking forward to many more years with you, to teach us how to be a kind, caring and true example of God’s love. Thank you, Peggy, for showing all of us wives how to support our husbands with faithfulness, patience and love.”
There are countless testimonies of the Bethea’s ministry of hospitality, discipleship and faithfulness—impacting far beyond the pastoral staff, deacons and their families.
In rearing their children in the church and its ministries, they did the same with their families. Now, on Sundays, the Betheas can look across the church sanctuary and see their oldest grandson, five great-grandchildren and countless spiritual children they have invested in over the years.
If one were to walk with Bethea into the local Mexican restaurant in the rural, migrant town of 28,000, countless people would line up, waiting to say hello.
His years of faithfulness and patience in agriculture have come in handy over the years, not just in weathering difficult years in the church, but also as he continues to serve in various church ministries.
Bethea has taught Sunday school or a home group for nearly 20 years, ranging from teaching youth and young adults, and now, a home group with members from 6 to 75 years old. Bethea is committed to participating in church visitation and outreach, serving in the church’s weekly food pantry, and coaching a children’s flag football team for the church’s community sports ministry.
In more than four decades of sacrifice and ministry in the local church, both of the Betheas have displayed hearts for biblical hospitality. The two have hosted ministry couples in their home for long weekends, provided a space for young adults to land, participated in hundreds of meal trains for their church family, and cooked and served hundreds of meals each week for the church’s Wednesday night meals.
It’s a heart for ministry and a culture of service that is contagious. Domingo Gaspar, who has been a member of Bethea’s home group and deacon for three years, considers Bethea a spiritual father. Gaspar serves and leads his own family in community outreach and regularly feeds those in the community through street ministry.
“He has set an example of what it looks like to serve and love others well,” said Gaspar.