By Grace Thornton
The Alabama Baptist
This whole year’s a party at Mulberry Baptist Church, Maplesville — a party that’s two years in the making.
“We’ve got a busy year,” said Sherrell White, who is on three committees related to the church’s yearlong 200th anniversary celebration.
What does that mean exactly? It means an old-fashioned day with buggy rides, three-legged races and pony rides. It means the church sanctuary is getting a facelift. It means fireworks and banquets and historic memorabilia.
And it doesn’t stop there. They’re working on the church grounds too.
In cleaning up the old church cemetery, White and others found some spots they thought might be unmarked graves, so they brought in someone with a ground-penetrating radar to find out.
“We are having markers made for all the graves we found,” White said.
They’re also clearing out a spot at Mulberry Creek for an old-timey baptismal service like the ones the old log cabin church had years ago.
A special time
So why are they doing all this? Because the church has meant a lot to a lot of people for a long time, and the 200-year mark doesn’t come around every day, White said.
It’s a big milestone but Mulberry Baptist isn’t alone — it’s one of 10 Alabama Baptist churches marking 200 years in 2018.
Lonette Berg, executive director of the Alabama Baptist Historical Commission, said those churches are having “a wide variety” of events, but whether the celebration is big or small, simple or elaborate, it’s a special time.
“The fact that they have made it to this milestone is a demonstration of God’s faithfulness,” Berg said. “It also shows the faithfulness of the people who have served there for 200 years. Those people have changed over time, but they have all had the same focus — to know the Lord, worship Him and share Him with others.”
Over the years, those churches provided a gathering place for the community. They provided a place of worship. They may have provided a place for burial. They also may have been the local school, Berg said.
“That’s 200 years of life that they’ve had. They took care of neighbors when they were sick and they helped them bury their family,” she said. “They’ve served as an integral part of the life of Alabama.”
And they’ve clung to God through storms, she said. Whether it was a tragedy, a fire, a tornado or something else that impacted them, they stayed focused and continued the ministry and mission for which they were planted.
“And God is no less faithful now than He was to them then, like in World War II when many of the men and women went off to fight or during the Depression when people didn’t have enough to eat,” Berg said.
Because of that they’ve had a long, rich history of ministry, she said.
“Think about all the lives that have been changed as a result of those bicentennial churches,” Berg said. “How many people have found Christ? How many people have been called into the gospel ministry? How many have become missionaries? How many have been called to teach Sunday School or Training Union or open a food bank?”
Morgan Bailey, pastor of Canaan Baptist Church, Bessemer, said he definitely sees the faithfulness of former and current members at play in the life of his church.
“One word captures the storied history of Canaan Baptist Church — devoted,” he said. “Those who have gone before us demonstrated an unshakable devotion to Christ, His community and His causes. Their faithfulness to God’s kingdom enabled them to traverse the often turbulent tides of 200 years of history while writing their own faith story.”
That’s what Canaan will celebrate this year as it looks toward the anniversary — and that history will urge them to dig deep, Bailey said. This year they’re kicking off a capital campaign to pay down the church’s building debt, hoping to position themselves to be a better light to the community in the years to come.
“The next chapter in Canaan’s storied history will be written boldly when we unite ourselves together in selfless sacrifice,” Bailey said.
Celebrating with sacrifice
Sammie Barstow, a member of First Baptist Church, Tuscaloosa, said her church also is celebrating with sacrifice — they’re being challenged to give big for missions and Bible translation this year.
“Declaring His Glory” is their bicentennial theme and the celebration started in January with special speakers, presentations from local officials and a reunion choir and orchestra, Barstow said. They also showed video testimonies of members who have been at the church for more than 50 years.
“We have 59 people who have been members for more than 50 years,” Barstow said. “We have five members who have been members for more than 70 years, including one lady who has been there for 79 years. It’s just awesome to me to see that consistency.”
The church’s events, which are also the product of two years of planning, will stretch throughout the year.
Celebrating 2 centennials in 1
When the centennial of Canaan Baptist Church, Bessemer, rolled around in 1918, World War I had been raging for more than three years. On top of that, an influenza epidemic swept across Jefferson County that year, resulting in thousands of deaths. With all that was going on, the church marking 100 years was barely a blip on members’ radars. Canaan’s 200th anniversary, however, won’t go unnoticed (see story, above).
Churches celebrating their 200th anniversary in 2018
• Bethel Baptist Church, Brent
• Canaan Baptist Church, Bessemer
• Chestnut Creek Baptist Church, Maplesville
• Mulberry Baptist Church, Maplesville
• Belleville Baptist Church, Evergreen
• Catawba Springs Baptist Church, Brewton
• Old Town Creek Baptist Church, Moulton
• Friendship Baptist Church, Danville
• Shiloh Baptist Church, Sardis
• First Baptist Church, Tuscaloosa
The Alabama Baptist Historical Commission offers help for churches planning anniversary celebrations, including planning workshops held at your church. For more information, call Lonette Berg at 205-726-2363.
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