The building of Hilldale Baptist Church, Center Point, is pretty big — it seats 700 or 800 people, more or less.
But even so it’s not big enough to hold all the memories Amanda Hendricks said she has of the place. She remembers walking down the burgundy-carpeted aisle as a little girl to give her heart to Jesus. She remembers sitting in the office of then-pastor Edwin Jenkins when she questioned whether or not she’d done it for real.
“I remember him talking to me to see if I understood the decision I had made,” she said. “He asked me to talk to the small statue of Mickey Mouse on his desk and tell him how you become a Christian.”
The little girl suddenly became very articulate in her faith.
“To this day, I like to say that although I’m not sure if Mickey made a decision that day, I for sure witnessed hard,” Hendricks joked.
It’s seared in her memory — as are dozens of Vacation Bible Schools, worship services and life-changing friendships, she said.
But the building that housed all those memories is now on the market, something sentimental for sure — but Pastor Ron Pate says it’s a God thing.
After a long legacy of lives like Hendricks’, Hilldale had entered a new season, and that season’s reality was an aging congregation and a changing neighborhood, Pate said.
“We did several general church congregational studies over the past few years to see what we could do to better reach our community,” he said. Two decades ago, he had been brought on as pastor and tasked with turning Hilldale into a multigenerational church.
They had seen some success with that. But over time, some of their new members of different ethnicities had moved on other churches because they felt they were the only young people there, Pate said. “We decided finally that we could either stay as we were and try to survive a little bit longer, or we could do something.”
They opted to do something.
After deliberation, Pate began talking to a few area pastors about the possibility of a merger.
“Several expressed that they would be willing to merge with us,” he said.
He thought any of those might be a possibility that God might lead toward. But one day as he was talking to someone about it, a voice popped up.
God is faithful
“Our church might be willing to do that.”
It was Jeff Oates, the 30-year-old pastor of nearby Palmerdale Cross Baptist Church, Pinson. Already a merger itself between First Baptist Church, Palmerdale, and Cross Baptist Church, it was small but growing — and young.
“Pastor Ron and I started praying at the end of last year to see what God might want to do in the situation,” he said.
“We knew there were some things God would have to move or clear to make it happen, and He did — faithfully.”
The two started getting their congregations together a little bit, and “we just loved his people,” Oates said. “It wasn’t about us growing budgets or numbers but a question of can we be better for the kingdom of the Lord separate or together?”
The resounding answer, he said, was together.
Both churches voted in favor of the merger in mid-August, and on Oct. 1, they had their first service together at Palmerdale Cross, with Oates serving as pastor and Pates serving as executive pastor.
“To have somebody like Pastor Ron on staff is a huge asset for me. They bring a lot of anchoring to our church,” Oates said of Pate and the other staff members of Hilldale, all of whom had been there at least two decades. Palmerdale Cross was in need of a worship pastor, and Hilldale had one, as well as a children’s minister. And Palmerdale Cross had a youth minister.
“We took some steps of faith, and we’ve seen God do amazing things,” Oates said.
In their first joint business meeting, the new church voted to purchase 13 acres of land next to the church for future expansion — they’re bursting at the seams in Palmerdale Cross’ current building.
And Pate said the merger has breathed new life into the people from Hilldale.
“Our people are excited about ministry again,” he said. “We could’ve hung on and survived here but we made a choice not to survive but to thrive and help another congregation thrive with us.”
Around 350 friends and former members came back for the final service in Hilldale’s building Sept. 24, Pate said.
Hendricks, who attended the last service and is now attending Palmerdale Cross with her husband and young son, said the building may have memories, but the legacy goes with the people.
“The building God built — His church where each brick was a person and His Son the Cornerstone — we’re still moving,” she said. “The building lives.”
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