Reverend George L. Pike grew up in a small Southern Baptist church, where he became a Christian as a teenager. By his late 20s, Pike was ordained into the Church of God. In 1966, at the age of 37, he founded his non-profit organization in Olive Branch, Mississippi under the chartered name of “Jesus Christ Eternal Kingdom of Abundant Life, Inc.” Pike’s organization set up training and ordination for those entering the ministry. Over 80 churches internationally grew out of the organization.
George Pike moved to Monroe, Georgia in 1970, where he planned to build his international headquarters for world evangelism. He purchased a 70-acre tract of land that he named Little Bethlehem, affectionately referred to as the “The Home of the Soul.” The church is not affiliated with any specific denomination. George Pike focused his message and ministry on the final book of the King James Version of the Protestant Bible. That book is called “The Revelation of Jesus Christ.” The basis of Pike’s message is that God reveals Himself to humanity through shapes, symbols, and allegories just as society uses letters, numbers, and sounds to define, describe and prove theory and understanding. His sole purpose was to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ to all humankind.
The chapel at Little Bethlehem was built in 1970 by George Pike and his fellow church members. Pike solely depended on donations from the congregation to build the church. It is a patchwork of building materials and equipment gathered over time.
It was not uncommon for several hundred people to attend church services. Little Bethlehem grew to become a home for dozens of families from all over the United States. There were only a small number of members or residents from the local area. The actual residents on the property were made up of missionary families from dozens of states, including New York and California. There were even some families from other countries, who had or were in the process of becoming U.S. citizens.
The local townspeople were not accustomed to Pike’s charismatic ministry. His unconventional style and old school Southern Baptist teachings were polarizing to some, while others revered Pike as a prophet. The church experienced its most substantial growth during the late 1970s and early 1980s when three churches from different states emptied to relocate to Little Bethlehem after hearing George Pike speak at revival type crusades. Rumors began to swirl about George Pike and his ministry.
There were rumors George Pike would take the church member’s money and only give them back what he thought they needed to live. Contrary, he never handled or involved himself with the financial responsibilities of the church. George Pike was known never to carry any cash, credit, or debit cards. Weekly open meetings were held with the men of the church. At this time, decisions were made to raise funds, buy, sell, build, or pursue missionary or religious endeavors of any sort. Often more than 50 participating men would then volunteer of their own free will. They would then use fundraisers or contribute from their funds to further whatever endeavors had been voted and agreed upon.
There were also salacious rumors that George Pike had physical relationships with chosen women of the church. These rumors were fueled by the local townspeople who viewed Pike’s church as a Jim Jones cult type movement. These rumors grew from the church’s strict dress codes. Church members created a security team to protect Pike’s family and also to prevent Little Bethlehem from being overrun with visitors. The church also had a strict code of ethics between males and females. Fellowship between male and female adults were mostly limited to church gatherings or group settings. Strict rules and guidelines that included dress codes, language, conversation or unsupervised, and unmonitored fellowship were in effect daily. The majority observed these rules on a rigorous and religious basis. There was zero tolerance for any infidelity by anyone, especially the pastor and leaders of the church. Any drug use, alcohol, dishonesty, or physical abuse were grounds for expulsion and excommunication for those involved.
George Pike envisioned an open-air market at Little Bethlehem. He built a six-sided bank in 1975 to be the center of the market. The market would be where church members could sell handcrafted goods, healthy food, clothes, and dry goods, all at deeply discounted prices. Teller windows on the sides of the bank would have been where people came to pay for their products, deposit, or withdraw money. The concrete pillars were the beginning stages of a roof that would cover half of the market. Neighbors joked that the posts were for launching the souls of Pike’s congregation into outer space.
The market operated on what Pike called Script currency, which is a form of paper money that was sold at equal dollar value to U.S. currency and was also redeemable, at any time, for U.S. currency. The only individuals allowed to purchase the Script currency were church members, this prevented non-members from having access to the community economy, which was made up of handcrafted items, fresh food, clothes, and dry goods.
A member of Pike’s congregation once confused a blank check from their bank with a check from his business account with a public bank. He mistakenly paid a bill to an outside vendor with a check from the bank at Little Bethlehem. The check cleared to the Federal Reserve in Atlanta. Since it was not part of their banking currency clearing system, the FBI came to investigate. Upon their investigation and meeting with George Pike and other corporate officers, the FBI concluded as long as the members did not use their currency or checks outside of the privately owned community businesses, then it was legal. They further stated that Little Bethlehem could link their bank with the Federal Reserve so that the checks could be used at public businesses. George Pike declined the offer, and the markets continued, with a little extra caution and emphasis being placed on not allowing Script currency or checks to be presented to outside businesses.
The large house at Little Bethlehem was donned “The Father’s House” because it was built for George Pike by the church members. Construction on the house started in the early 1980s. It took ten years to build the house to the stage it is in now. Funding was part of the issue for not completing the house. There are many areas of the house that remain unfinished; plans include adding a story on top of the existing levels. The spiral staircases connect a balcony that connects every upper door to access all parts of the house. They were designed to merge with stairwells that would lead to the unbuilt top level. The staircases also doubled as fire escapes from the upstairs living quarters. There is also an area that reserved for an elevator that would go from the basement to the unbuilt upper level.
The certificate of occupancy was granted in 1996. However, it is still under construction today. The blueprints for the house show it in a much more elaborate state than what has been built so far. Now referred to as, “The Manor” and “The House of DAVAD,” the home is currently lived in by one of Pike’s sons and his family. Reverend George Pike never actually moved into the home. Instead, he remained in the smaller house next door. Pike dedicated the large house as a guest house for visiting ministers as well as visitors.
Reverend George L. Pike passed away unexpectedly on June 10, 1996. He is buried on the property inside a star-shaped mausoleum. Church leaders began construction on the crypt in the same month Pike died. However, it was not complete until 2002-2003. George Pike’s son, David, became a senior pastor after his father’s death. He resigned in 1999. The church changed hands and pastors numerous times afterward. In 2013, David Pike was invited back to pray the closing prayer and say the final words at the closing of the church. After the church closed, Little Bethlehem was left abandoned until late 2016.
David Pike was able to purchase all of the assets and proprietary rights from the original non-profit corporation through a corporation he started with a group of original church members and their descendants. Today, he and his wife maintain a residence at Little Bethlehem and plan to spend their remaining years on the property preserving his father’s legacy.