Charles and Sharlene Marlow have a photo next to their couch of one of the happiest days of their lives — in 1970 when they got married at the home of their pastor at Fairfield Highlands Baptist Church in Midfield, Alabama.
They’ve had a lot of happy days at that church.
But they recently experienced what Charles Marlow called the saddest day of their life — when they disbanded their small, aging congregation.
“We had a loving church. It was a hugging church,” he recalled.
Over the years the Marlows did just about everything at Fairfield Highlands. They met there in the late 1960s and began leading a student group during Training Union. After they got married, he served as Sunday School director for decades, and together they helped run the bus ministry, cleaned the church and decorated it for all the holidays.
In its heyday in the early 1970s, when Ron Herrod was pastor, there were 150 baptisms a year, if not more. Marlow remembered taking a sledgehammer to a building and knocking out eight walls to make more room for people in Sunday School classes.
They also had a thriving Christian school for a while.
But in recent years, that’s changed, he acknowledged.
“Our young, married people started moving out, and that left us to be a mature church.”
Which eventually left them with some tough decisions — they were a shrinking congregation with a large facility to keep up.
But though it was sad to make the decision to draw Fairfield Highlands’ days to a close, the decision to give their buildings to a church that could reach the next generation was a happy one.
Torch of ministry
In July they had a joint service with the new resident — Faith Church — to pass the torch of ministry.
This all happened through the orchestration of Birmingham Metro Baptist Association.
In May, Fairfield Highlands voted to dissolve and give all its assets to BMBA. Then in June, BMBA voted to transfer the facilities to Faith Church, which had been meeting in rented space.
Chris Crain, BMBA executive director, said Aubrey Miller, Faith’s pastor, has “been a partner in the Baptist work of our city for a long time” and his “main motivation was to go somewhere where they could be a missional outpost in a community.”
Miller said Midfield wasn’t on his church’s radar earlier this year, but over time, God made it clear it was the place He had picked out for them. In October 2020, Miller — a longtime bivocational pastor — retired as executive vice president of YMCA of Birmingham, and his church plant began looking for a permanent home.
As they searched, he talked with a friend — Gary Fisher, pastor of South Roebuck Baptist Church in Birmingham — about their need for a building, asking if Fisher would keep his ears open.
Within days, Miller got a call from Michael Ethridge, BMBA director of operations.
“He said, ‘I’m standing in the sanctuary of Fairfield Highlands Baptist Church, and you guys need to be right here,’” Miller recalled, adding that he promised Fisher he would pray about it.
He didn’t feel God drawing him to Midfield, though, until one afternoon when he drove around in the area and saw all the children getting off school buses.
“I took my administration team and my wife over there with me later, and we looked around the community and thought, ‘This makes a lot of sense,’” Miller remembered.
‘Grateful’ for impact
He added he’s deeply grateful for the ministry of Fairfield Highlands, a church that started in a wood-frame tabernacle nearly 100 years ago and has had a big impact.
“The spirit of all the folks who have ever worshipped in that building and served in that place is so heavy on us, because everywhere I go and talk to friends across the city about what we’re doing, I can’t tell you how many of my personal friends will share with me that they have a connection to Fairfield Highlands,” Miller said. “The church had a very broad reach, and the church members we’ve met are just absolutely committed, loyal people who were trying to serve the Lord in a place where the work was needed.”
Faith Church’s hope is to build on that legacy. They’ve already held a back-to-school rally to get to know the community, and they’re planning to demolish one of the buildings that’s in disrepair and put up basketball hoops and a playground.
“That will be another signal to the community that ‘this is your church, we want to make it for you,’” Miller said.
They’re also partnering with Mountain Brook Baptist Church in Birmingham in a variety of ways to provide Faith Church with support and Mountain Brook with an avenue for hands-on urban missions.
Crain said members of Fairfield Highlands were to be commended for the work they have done in the community in recent years, specifically reaching out to area youth, adding he believes Faith Church will continue that ministry and “make a tremendous impact in Midfield.”
Ethridge said it’s been a great story of two faithful congregations and an association that made a connection to see ministry continue in Midfield.
“It’s the beginning of a developing story,” Ethridge said.