On a cool, overcast Sunday morning in October, a small congregation in North Alabama met at Dotson Baptist Camp.
With some 55 in attendance, from children to seniors to one “furry baby,” Philadelphia Baptist Church celebrated its 75th anniversary, as well as a note-burning for a much-needed family life center.
Paul Mason, pastor of the Jasper church for the last 12 years, said he is blessed to be part of that history.
When Mason first arrived, Philadelphia Baptist averaged 30–35 each Sunday.
In March, the church was averaging about 125 and has retained those members through the pandemic. It even gained 10 members in recent days.
During the celebration, David Nelson with the Alabama Baptist Historical Commission presented a plaque to the congregation, along with one from Walker Baptist Association.
The church’s actual anniversary was in August and the note was paid off in September, but members decided to wait until October to celebrate.
The church already had a tradition of holding “Worship in the Woods,” an outdoor service, twice a year and decided to combine it with the celebration.
As a congregation that emphasizes loving its community — and needing space to do it — the desire for a family life center was born. One specific event made the need even more apparent.
Each year on the last Saturday in February, the men cook and the women provide desserts for a community-wide wild game event called the “Beast Feast.”
“The 2012 Beast Feast sent us over the top,” Mason said. “We had a limited amount of space, and we had over 150 show up. It was the impetus for us to decide to [build the new building].”
The family life center is used for everything from birthday parties to weddings to anniversary parties for both church members and the community. An unaffiliated home-school co-op also uses the facility.
“It’s been a ministry for our surrounding area,”
The church came together and paid off the 10-year note in seven years.
“The only time it became an issue where we didn’t pay the [extra] principal payment was the next-to-last payment,” Mason noted. “That was when we weren’t meeting together with COVID and were working out how to get tithes and offerings sent in. We didn’t have a financial problem but didn’t want to create one either.”
Starting as a “brush arbor,” Philadelphia Baptist has seen a lot through its 75 years of ministry. In 2010, lightning hit and the structure burned down. After the initial shock, church members realized it was a “God thing.”
“About six months prior to that, we had come to the realization that we needed to remodel our bathroom/foyer area. … We got some quotes and the best quote we had was about $8,000. At that time the church didn’t have the kind of money to do that. We began praying. In March of 2010, the Lord provided His way — burning the place down!” Mason said.
The congregation came together during that difficult time.
“When the building burned, … folks came to the church and gathered around. Robin Roberts, one of our deacons, gathered us up and said, ‘Let’s pray.’ So, we prayed together in a big circle, probably 40–50 people there. We held hands and we prayed about it.”
Tearing up as he talked, Mason said, “These are the most loving people I’ve ever met in my life.
“Splits in Southern Baptist churches [can be] caused by the color of the carpet. … During the time we were redesigning the new building, we never had one dispute during the redesign and rebuild — not one. No disputes, no anger, no frustration, no heartache, no people getting mad at each other. It was the most amazing work of God I’ve ever seen.”
“That depicts who our folks are. We’re family, but we’re not just a local community church anymore. We’ve got folks from almost an hour away. We’ve got arms that reach out quite far.”