By Grace Thornton
The Alabama Baptist
For years every time Joe Malone locked the doors of Cornelius Chapel Baptist Church, Buhl, he wondered if it would be much longer before he did that for the last time.
In 1980 the country church in Tuscaloosa Baptist Association had built its new building to accommodate a growing congregation. But in recent years it had dwindled to a handful of people — just Malone, several others and no pastor.
There were moments where he thought it might be time to leave, but he just couldn’t.
“We struggled there for several years and just kept praying and hanging on,” he said. “We thought that one day possibly the Lord would change things.”
He had no idea that a few miles down the road, the answer to his prayers was waiting in a beauty salon — a group of about 30 meeting every Sunday for worship in the midst of hair dryers and curling irons. They called themselves Faith Baptist Church.
Geoff Elrod, Faith Baptist’s pastor, said that salon was where their story of healing had begun. He and the others had come out of a painful church split situation, but over the months they began to see God begin something fresh, he said.
“One of the first Sundays we got together in the beauty shop in downtown Tuscaloosa, it was the sweetest spirit in worship that I’ve ever been a part of,” Elrod said.
Before long, Faith Baptist moved into a local funeral home to meet, but they still desired a place of their own. It didn’t seem likely — they had very little funding.
That’s when they heard about Cornelius Chapel Baptist and how it was closing, and they thought God might just be up to something. Cornelius Chapel had a paid-for building with unplayed instruments and an unused pulpit, and Faith Baptist had something it didn’t — people.
“We had a preacher, musicians and a couple of deacons,” said Linda Davis, a member of Faith Baptist.
Malone said they were an answer to every need the church had.
“I said, ‘We don’t have a pianist,’ and they said, ‘We’ve got one.’ I said, ‘We don’t have a music director,’ and they said, ‘We’ve got one of those too,’” Malone said.
He told them the church needed some maintenance — like some electrical work done in the Sunday School rooms.
“They told me they had two electricians,” Malone said. “Everything I said we needed, they had. The Lord really pulled things together.”
He drew people as only He can to a spot in the country where none of the members lived, Malone said.
Davis said the first time they drove the 10 miles out to Cornelius Chapel Baptist to see the church, she and her husband said to each other, “Oh my goodness, this is the back side of nowhere.”
But as they stood on the little front porch and watched the sun set over the rolling pasture, they knew this was exactly where they were supposed to be.
The newly combined congregation decided to keep Cornelius Chapel Baptist as the name in deference to its long history — the church had been there since 1881. And then the merged church got to work letting the community of Buhl know they were back in business.
Cornelius Chapel Baptist may be a country church but what God is doing there “is kind of amazing,” Davis said.
They’ve got young families driving from Northport. They have Davis’ 91-year-old mother who’s excited to attend church again. And on Friday nights they have around 60 people from the community coming in for movie nights at the church.
“It’s a wonderful feeling,” Davis said. “I’ve been in church all my life, but I’ve never had this type of feeling where every Sunday and Wednesday you look forward to going.”
Elrod agreed that God is doing incredible things.
“It’s been an amazing journey,” he said. “God is doing fantastic things to revitalize our church. He’s working, and I’m without words.”
He said the church is meeting a need right where it is, just being what it is.
“People still desire a loving country church and enjoy that fellowship,” Elrod said. “We don’t have to be a megachurch. I want to own who we are.”
Malone said the whole situation has been a wonderful experience.
“We pray that the good work continues through the Lord’s blessings,” he said.
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