Pastor Forell Bering Sr. celebrates 31 years at Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church

Published 12:05 am Wednesday, August 21, 2019

LAPLACE — When asked how many children he has, Pastor Forell Bering Sr. joyfully answers, “about 200 on each side.”

Bering is the pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church and New Pilgrim Baptist Church in Reserve. It’s been a landmark year since the beginning of 2019 marked his 20-year anniversary at New Pilgrim. This month, he’s celebrating 31 years of service at Bethlehem, where he has witnessed generations of lives changed through God’s love.

Decades ago, Bering made his living as a truck driver. After he was called to join an evangelist group called Truckers for Christ, he knew his future was not on the road, but behind a pulpit in the River Parishes.

“That’s when I knew the Lord gave me a pastor’s heart,” Bering said. “Having a pastor’s heart means that you’re stationary. You’re not moving around.”

In celebration of 31 years at Bethlehem, church members attended a “Brunch with the Berings” Saturday in Reserve, where elder Kevin Gray served as speaker.

An anniversary church service will be held at 11 a.m. Sunday at Bethlehem Baptist Church, located at 147 E. 20th St. in Reserve. Pastor Willie Smith of Providence Baptist Church will be the guest speaker.

According to Bering, Bethlehem Baptist Church has been a fixture in the St. John the Baptist Parish community for 154 years as the oldest Baptist church in the area. During the Reconstruction era after the end of the Civil War, church founder Dennis Burrell became the first African American state representative for St. John.

Despite the church’s age, Bering said the message has not changed.

“The effectiveness of the church is on point, and it’s on time,” Bering said. “She is on schedule. The church is so relevant and current, and it is as accurate today as is was yesterday.”

He hopes his legacy within church will carry through far into the future.

“To some degree, Bethlehem has always been cutting edge,” Bering said. “How she has evolved from that point from the time of my leadership, I can say families have been strengthened and lives have been changed. The best part about pastoring is to see peoples’ lives change and to see there lives evolve. That is so rewarding. I pray my work will speak long after I’m gone.”

Before St. John Parish schools had redirectional centers for children who have been expelled, Bering and the church assisted getting struggling students promoted to the next grade.

Children receive instruction at Bethlehem Baptist Church

“When the children were expelled, they really were on the street, and our church took them in,” Bering said. “We actually got their agenda from the school and paralleled whatever they were doing in their grade. At the end of the year, the school came over and tested the children, and they were able to go on to the next grade.”

In 2018, Bethlehem was instrumental in working with the governor’s office to secure $50,000 to help at-risk children at Fifth Ward Elementary.

Through summer tutoring, the church helped 30 children realize academic growth.

“Without question, we understood that it really made a difference with their test scores,” Bering said.

Bering also helps coordinate annual Martin Luther King Day marches and rallies in St. John Parish to reflect on progress and keep the dream alive for a future where people are not judged by the color of their skin.

Youth choir, swim days, lemonade days, Vacation Bible School and other ministry events promote outreach to the younger generation, something Bering is passionate about.

“Those types of facets have always been a blessing,” Bering said. “We were blessed to be able to help people.”

When church member Ann Harvey was searching for a spiritual home 28 years ago, she heard Bering’s teachings, and God showed her she was right where she belonged. Harvey said the growth she has experienced has been remarkable.

“Through his teaching and constant repetition, it made us believe in it and let us know, whatever we do, always put God first in our lives,” Harvey said. “He instilled that in us. Morning, evening or night, if we call him, it’s just like he’s indispensible. He’s always there for everybody all the time.”

Harvey said Bering has been there for her through life’s joys and sorrows. When her mother passed away, he drove to Natchez, Mississippi to support the family.

“He is a pastor, teacher, preacher,” Harvey said. “He makes sure every parishioner he has is a person for the Lord.”

For more information about Sunday’s anniversary service, please contact Sister Latoya Haley at 504-782-6032.