EDITOR’S NOTE — A year from now, Alabama Baptists will celebrate a huge milestone — 200 years of doing ministry together since the first group gathered and decided they could do more together than they could apart.
That’s the story you’ll read here — a story of beginnings. And once a month between now and the Alabama Baptist State Convention’s bicentennial celebration in November 2023, you’ll read more stories about who Alabama Baptists have become over the past two centuries. From evangelism to disaster relief to race relations, you’ll get to read more about the journey we’ve all been taking together — and see more about where we’re headed from here.
Rick Lance, executive director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, said when he thinks about Alabama Baptists, he thinks about fruit.
Fruit starts with tiny seeds scattered across the ground, and that’s what Alabama Baptists planted nearly 200 years ago when they banded together to start the Alabama Baptist State Convention. There were only about 5,000 of them in about 125 churches. They were scattered across the state, which had only been admitted to the Union four years before.
When they gathered at Salem Church near Greensboro on Oct. 28, 1823, to start the convention, they had the present and the future in mind, Lance said.
“The early organizers of the state convention were forward-thinking leaders who sought to be on mission with the Great Commission in their day,” he said. “The fruits of their leadership built a solid foundation for the next 200 years of ministry in Alabama, across North America and around the world.”
One of those leaders was James A. Ranaldson, who rallied a handful of leaders to journey to Greensboro by foot or horseback.
Others had talked about the idea, but he was the one who made it happen, according to “Baptists in Alabama” by A.H. Reid.
Ranaldson, originally from Scotland, knew the importance of a convention. In 1814, he had gone to the Triennial Convention, the first national convention of Baptists in the United States, as a delegate of North Carolina, and he served as a home missionary from that convention in New Orleans and Mississippi.
So in 1823, he and 14 other delegates — Charles Crow, W.N. Calloway, James Goree, Temple Lea, W.M. Ford, Hosea Holcombe, John Marrass, Job Calloway, Lewis Stephens, W.M. Post, John May, Joseph Ryan, Dempsey Winborne and J.A. Ranaldson — organized the Alabama Baptist State Convention. (James A. Ranaldson and J.A. Ranaldson were different delegates representing separate societies.)
Several of the delegates present were men representing local women’s missions societies, and one of them brought a letter from the Ladies’ Aid Society of Greensboro that illustrated their heart for missions:
“Being fully convinced of the importance of missionary operation for the spread of Divine truth … we wish to bear some humble part in so glorious a work.”
They sent gifts to back that up, and at that first meeting, the delegates started four committees — one to get a constitution together, one to focus on domestic missions, one to handle finances and one to deal with nominations.
The new convention had some struggles at the beginning that made it hard to keep things going. But their perseverance planted seeds for the work that is bearing fruit today, Lance said.
Today the Alabama Baptist State Convention is 3,234 churches strong, representing 74 Baptist associations and 782,533 church members. Carrying out convention responsibilities on a daily basis, the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions also has 41 state missionaries representing a range of Great Commission ministries from disaster relief to church planting to global missions and campus ministry.
Over the past 200 years, Alabama Baptists have seen thousands make decisions to follow Jesus at evangelism rallies, in Sunday School classrooms, at disaster sites and on missions trips. And through the strong generosity of the state’s church members, they’ve seen needs met and ministries started.
“Alabama Baptists have made a Kingdom difference in every era of the state convention’s history,” Lance said. “Today we give respectful tribute to the sacrifices and service of the early leaders.”
“Like all of us, they were not perfect people, but as the trite but true saying goes, ‘God often uses us despite ourselves.’ We have learned many lessons from our spiritual ancestors in Alabama Baptist Convention life.”
Much like Alabama Baptists’ forebearers, Lance said he’s excited for the days still to come.
“The future is bright because of the promises of God,” he said. “May those who come behind us find us faithful as followers of Christ. Let us blaze the trail for those who will be in leadership in the days to come, Lord willing.”