On the Saturday preceding the first Sabbath in August of 1820 God led twelve Christians, James Golightly, Clara Golightly, Mary Golightly, Robert Grissom, Rody Grissom, James Ming, Amy Ming, Margaret Smith, Bulinda Crawford, Siddie Holt, Elizabeth Hoke and Owen Williams, to meet with Rev. Jeremiah Tucker, pastor of Round Island Baptist Church, and Rev. William Byrd for the purpose of organizing a Baptist church in the recently incorporated city of Athens, Alabama.Preparations for the new church had been underway since 1819 when Round Island Baptist Church had sent a committee to visit Athens for the purpose of receiving members.
At the organizational meeting the name of Elim was chosen for the new Baptist church.The name is representative of the blessings of God on the Israelites when He led them out of Egypt, across the Red Sea, and through the dry, desolate wilderness to a place called Elim “where there were twelve wells of water and seventy palm trees” (Ex. 15:27).God established Elim Baptist Church to be a wellspring of living water to the City of Athens. By the end of the first year, eleven members had been added to the church.
Reverend Jeremiah Tucker became the first pastor and preached in Athens on the fourth Sabbath in each month and at Round Island on the other Sabbaths. Rev. Tucker served the church as pastor for the next sixteen years. The church met for worship in homes and in the Limestone County Courthouse during the early years.
The growing church soon required a permanent place of worship, therefore, on July 22, 1825, Elim Baptist Church purchased a half-acre lot on the northwest corner of the intersection of Hobbs and Clinton Streets from Judge John McKinley of Huntsville to construct a one-room frame church building.A copy of the deed, stating that the lot was sold to John Golightly, Samuel Tanner and John Evans for the congregation of Elim Baptist Church for the sum of $80.00, is housed in the Archives of the Limestone County Courthouse.
Church minutes contain no reference to the completed building except to mention in April 1826 that “Brother Tanner has been appointed to keep the key to the meeting house and invite traveling preachers to preach therein.”
Church minutes reveal that the early church was constantly faced with doctrinal differences that could have split the church. Depending upon God for guidance surely enabled the church to establish ordinances in keeping with His will. The church dealt with such issues as whether or not to engage in footwashing, open vs. closed communion, and whether or not to support missions. Apparently, every question was prayerfully and peacefully resolved over time. The footwashing issue was settled by giving members a choice.Minutes of February 1827 state that “all who feel it their duty (to engage in footwashing) may assemble at such time and place as they appoint and perform their duty without thinking hard of those who do not join them.”
Closed communion was accepted based on the principle that none but regularly baptized (immersion by a qualified minister) believers had a right to commune at the Lord’s Table. This rule was rigidly enforced by early Baptists, and it is only in the last few decades that any exceptions have been made.
On the question of missions, Elim Church obeyed the Great Commission and contributed to the cause of taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world.Minutes from the early years report regular contributions from $2.00 to $15.00 having been sent to the Association for Missions.
The beliefs of the friends of missions at Elim Baptist were not shared by all Baptists.Those at Elim Baptist who supported missions were opposed by a hyper-Calvinist group who believed that God would save those whom He had elected without the help of missionaries.This clash on missions caused more friction between churches and associations than any other question of the day.
The early church kept a watchful eye on all the activities of its members, and those who failed to uphold church standards were promptly disciplined. Members were chastened for such offenses as fighting, hiring on the Sabbath, stealing, failing to pay their debts, dancing, playing cards for prizes, drunkenness, and non-attendance. Committees were appointed to visit absentees and ascertain the reasons for their absences.If the absentees could not give justifiable reasons for their absences, they were promptly turned out of the church.However, the minutes also record examples of humility and forgiveness when members came before the Lord and the church body, repented of their sins, and received forgiveness and restoration of fellowship.
In 1827, Elim Church was reorganized and renamed Athens Baptist Church. No information is recorded regarding the reasons for this reorganization and name change.
The minutes of March 1828 record that “the church ordered the commissioners to sell the lumber of the meeting house.” The minutes gave no reason for the recommended sale; however, additional information was found in memoirs of Dr. Stith Malone printed inThe Athens Post.Dr. Malone wrote that the little church building had been blown down by a storm. Its lumber was sold to a man who converted it into a cotton gin in a different location.
With faith, hope, and a mutual need for a house of worship, the Baptists and Presbyterians of Athens pooled their resources and began building a new brick building on the same site as the first church. Although the exact date of completion is not known, it has been determined that the building was completed before 1831 (possibly as early as 1829) since church minutes dated April 23, 1831, state that “the Church met in conference in the brick building.”
Miss Mary Benagh, a former member of the church, provided this description:
“The old church was a brick building, just a long, straight one with windows on each side, built with a balcony where slaves sat and worshipped.The bricks were madeby hand by slave labor and many of the bricks were in such perfect condition that when the new church was built (in 1903), these same bricks were used. …The building had a wooden porch across the front.”
The appropriately named Union Church was used for worship by both Baptists and Cumberland Presbyterians for many years.Baptists held their meetings on the fourth Sabbath of each month and the preceding Saturday and Presbyterians met for worship on another Sabbath.
The question of supporting missions continued to cause friction between churches and associations during this decade.At an associational meeting in 1835, the friends of missions from Athens Baptist had been mistreated by those who opposed missions.The minutes of October 1836 tell us “the messengers elected to represent the Athens Baptist Church at the next associational meeting were requested by the brethren of the Bethel Church of Limestone County to meet with them at their meeting house on Friday before the second Lord’s Day in December next for the purpose of conferring and consulting together, relative to missionary operations and the treatment of the friends of the mission cause at our last meeting.”The minutes of that associational meeting are not available, so neither the reason nor the outcome is known.
Rev. Tucker resigned the pastorate in 1836.Subsequent pastors are not recorded until 1870.
From time to time, the slavery question presented a challenge to the Athens Church. While the church accepted the slaves into the full fellowship of the church, their names were enrolled as “the property of” their owners.It is noted that all Baptist slaves did not have Baptist masters.Many were owned by Methodists and Presbyterians who allowed them to worship the Lord in the church of their choice.
Probably the greatest missionary activity done by the Athens Church was its work with the slaves. Having been accepted into the full fellowship of the church as early as 1826, they gradually became more involved, and by this time, were serving on church committees.
No further mention is made of joint ownership of Union Church until March of 1850 when this paragraph was recorded in the minutes:
“A proposition from the C.P. (Cumberland Presbyterian) Church was presented offering to buy or sell their interest or part in the Union church whereupon a committee was appointed to confer with the Society of the C.P. Church in the matter and report at the next meeting.”
It is implied through subsequent minutes that the Baptists bought out the Presbyterians.Minutes indicate the Presbyterians continued to worship in the building occasionally. The Baptists continued to use the building until it was torn down in 1900 to make room for the next Baptist church.
The church roll of 1853 contains the names of 89 white members and 53 slaves.Slaves sat in a balcony built especially for them, and when they wanted to confess Christ as Savior they came down to the front and told of their experiences.
From December of 1859 until the end of the War Between the States the minutes of the church were recorded rather spasmodically.In fact, there were only three meetings recorded during this time, all of them called for the purpose of granting letters of dismissal.It is believed that the church almost died during the War and the years that followed.The membership was greatly diminished and the building was in bad repair.
The first minutes after the War were written on November 26, 1866 and report that a proposal had been made to raise a subscription for the purpose of repairing the church building and paying a pastor.The church also accepted aid from the General Association and agreed to act in conjunction with the Huntsville Church in procuring a pastor.Whether they acted on these proposals is not known.The church continued to hold occasional meetings, but the name of a pastor was not recorded.
Two years after the War Between the States ended, in August of 1867, there were five candidates received for baptism, all of them Negroes.The phrase “property of” was no longer used but the word “colored” was written after their names.This is the last time that the word “colored” appears in the minutes, and it is safe to assume that the Negroes broke away and organized other churches at this time.
In March of 1870, Dr. Martin T. Sumner of the Salomi Baptist Church of Marion, Alabama was called as pastor. The pastor’s salary was $800.00 per year with the church paying $500.00 and the Home Mission Board $300.00.
Dr. Sumner served until 1877, and the church was left without a pastor.W.S. Nelson, editor ofThe Athens Post, wrote, “It is sad to see that old time-honored church without a pastor and sadder still to find so many vacant seats that were once filled with true and faithful members.”
God once again brought about a rebirth of the church. The first Sunday School was organized on the first Sunday in October of 1880 with 26 members. Historian Faye Axford recorded inThe Enlightening Eighties: “Outside painting had greatly improved the appearance of the Athens Church; the fence was repaired; and the walk from the gate to the entrance of the church was to be paved with brick…Mrs. S.M. Ainsworth was organist at the Baptist Church.” Although meetings were still sporadic, the minutes reported in 1880 that the church had thirty-five members.
Rev. J.I Stockton answered the call to pastor the church in 1883. No minutes are recorded from June 3, 1883 until September 30, 1890 when the church met to petition the State Mission Board for assistance in supporting its pastor.
Church minutes of January 1892 report that church members were contributing approximately $2,000.00 per year, and with the help of the State Board that contributed $135.00 per year and the Associational Board that gave $65.00 per year, the church was able to have preaching two Sundays each month.
What a time of rejoicing this must have been!
Although tithing and regular giving were apparently not practiced by early Baptists, whenever a need arose, and this was often, they brought offerings to meet each need.Committees were appointed to raise a “subscription” to repair the fence, to fix the roof, and at one time, to buy candles so that meetings could be held at night.Certainly this demonstrates the commitment and dedication of the church.
In March of 1892 the church appointed the pastor to have the yard fence repaired, and as they sat in the meeting wondering how to fund this project, someone remembered that the Presbyterian Church was holding meetings in the Baptist building with no cost incurred and made the motion that:“A committee be appointed to confer with the officers of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and ask them $5.00 a month for the use of our house of worship for the purpose of repairing our building, they having used it free for three or four years.”
The above motion was carried, the committee was appointed, and the church expectantly awaited their rent.However, the Presbyterian Church was having financial difficulties also, because on April 26, 1892, the following letter was received from the Presbyterians:
“We beg to report to you that after a careful canvas of ourcongregationwe are forced tothe conclusion that at presentour people can not securethe monthly payment which yousuggest, therefore, we ask you to receiveas satisfactorythe sum of three dollars whichwill be paid promptly at theexpiration of each month we may occupy your church house.”
In Christian love and consideration for the friends who had helped them build the church, the Baptists replied as follows:
“Resolved that, after careful and prayerful consideration of the plea ofthe CumberlandPresbyterian brethren in their recentcommunication tous we hereby tender tothem the use of ourchurch house free of rent asheretofore until it shall become necessaryfor us to require more use ofthe property ourselves. Unanimously adopted by the Baptist Church in Athensin conferenceApril 26, 1892.”
Sadly, following this generous gesture, Athens Baptist Church became inactive, possibly due to the effects of the Civil War, loss of members by death and the moving of some families from the area.
At the turn of the century, on Sunday night, October 28, 1900, God led Bro. W.Y. Quisenberry, pastor of the Baptist Church at New Decatur, Alabama, and the Baptists of Athens to commence a series of meetings in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.The meetings continued for twelve days with more than fifty conversions.The baptisms took place in the creek.Through the grace of God and to His glory, the church was again growing!
At the close of the meeting on November 8, 1900, by permission of the Presbyterian pastor and church, the reorganization of the Baptist Church took place in their church house.ASabbath School was organized November 18, 1900.
A collection for foreign missions in the amount of $23.48 was taken during and at the close of the meeting.The following year, on January 28, 1901, the Women’s Missionary Society was organized.The women of Athens Baptist were fully committed to spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Athens WMU was one of fifty-five societies reported to have attended the WMU Southern Baptist Convention meeting in 1901.In fact, Alabama was recognized that year for having more missionary societies than any other state in the SBC.
On December 2, 1900, Bro. W.Y. Quisenberry was called as supply pastor, preaching on Monday nights until a regular pastor could be secured.The church adopted a resolution to pay $400.00 per year to support the regular pastor who was expected to preach two Sundays each month and to give more time if not otherwise employed.The pastor would be required to live in Athens and to give the church all unoccupied time.
Also on December 2, plans for a new building for the growing church were submitted and approved.The cost was to be $5,000.Members met in the Knights of Pythlias Hall and in the Limestone County Courthouse until the building could be completed.
Even in the temporary meeting places, the church prospered.The envelope system for collecting tithes and offerings was adopted on February 18, 1901.The church purchased an organ at the price of $100.00 on January 3, 1902 and discussed plans for establishing a mission Sunday School at the Cotton Factory.
Then on June 24, 1901, the Lord called Bro. J.R. Curry to pastor Athens Baptist Church.During his pastorate, forty-five believers professed Christ and joined the church.
The new church building was completed and the first service was held in the new church on July 5, 1903.Dr. W.B. Crumpton, State Mission Board, was guest speaker. About this time, Bros. Perry Henderson and Steen Hanson were elected the first deacons of Athens Baptist Church.
Retaining a pastor was difficult during this period. Bro. J.R. Curry resigned January 1, 1904.The church was without a pastor until June 1904 when Bro. H.W. Fancher filled the pulpit for four months.Rev. F.M. Woods of Gadsden was asked to supply until a permanent pastor could be found.Apparently this did not work out as the minutes state that from September 1904 until March 1905 the church was again pastorless.At that time Bro. J.W. Bates accepted the call of the church.From October 1905 until August 1907, the church was again without a pastor, with the exception of two months in 1906 when Dr. N.G. Curry came over from New Decatur and preached.Rev. Curry was asked to remain as pastor but was unable to do so because of ill health.In May of 1906 Mr. Cobbs was asked to preach at his convenience.Rev. Curry agreed in June of 1906 to preach two Sundays each month and hold prayer services twice a month.
In August 1907, Rev. A.A. Hutton (or Hutto) was called as pastor. During his pastorate, work continued on the interior of the building and furnishings were gradually added. On November 6, 1907, members Mr. Baker Crutcher and Mr. McAnn contributed funds to furnish the pulpit. Church pews and carpets were ordered on March 4, 1908, and in April, the old church pews were sold for $25.00 and curtains were bought for the baptistery.
At eleven o’clock on February 2, 1908, the church gathered for the purpose of burning the mortgage.Mr. R.H. Walker read the twenty-nine names of those who were members when it was decided to build a church. Bro. Perry Henderson gave a brief history of the church since reorganization, and Mrs. M.W. Rives, one of the twenty-nine members who made the decision to build, set fire to the mortgage while Bro. Henderson held it.
On February 5, 1908, the church members were asked to make pledges on the debt for furnishings of the church.Also, at this time the church was papered.
The church and furnishings were dedicated to the Lord debt-free on March 21, 1909.Dr. J.M. Frost of Nashville, Tennessee preached the dedicatory sermon.
Following Rev. Hutton’s resignation on February 10, 1910, the church was without a pastor until November 1910 when Rev. H. Ross Arnold accepted the call to serve as pastor of Athens Baptist.Rev. Arnold remained for 2 ½ years.It was during his pastorate that the pastorium was built on the lot just west of the church.
In 1912, following the resignation of Rev. Arnold, Bro. J.O. Williams, a seminary student, came to fill the pulpit for the summer. When Mr. Williams returned to the seminary for the fall term, Rev. Clay I. Hudson became pastor and assumed the work of the church on October 1, 1915.
During Rev. Hudson’s ministry, which continued until January 1, 1918, the debt on the pastorium was partially paid, the Sunday School enrollment was doubled, tithes and offerings were greatly increased, and the financial aid from the State Mission Board was no longer needed.
In March 1918, Rev. E.L. Edens (or Eden) was called as pastor.He remained in the service of the Lord at Athens Baptist until April 13, 1919.Upon Rev. Edens’ resignation, the church called Rev. J.O. Williams who began his work for the church September 1, 1919.The time of Rev. Williams’ resignation is uncertain, but it is likely he left in1920.Two pastors, J.O Hill and Allen S. Cutts, are listed in an undocumented church history which was included in the 1975 church directory.These men may have served during the following decade.
No minutes are available for this decade.
Church minutes of December 14, 1930 record the unanimous decision to call Rev. Virgil M. Gardner of Opp, Alabama to be pastor of Athens Baptist Church.Rev. Gardner accepted the call and began his service on January 1, 1931 at a salary of $200.00 per month.
Church records are unavailable for Rev. Gardner’s pastorate. The next minutes were recorded on April 3, 1938, when “at a called conference of the church, Bro. Gardner offered his resignation as pastor to take effect June 1st, 1938.”
On June 12, 1938, the church was again called into conference and heard the pulpit committee “through the Board of Deacons, recommend Rev. Leon Macon as pastor … and by unanimous vote Rev. Leon Macon was elected pastor to take effect July 1st, 1938.”
Two additional actions of the church are recorded for this decade.In December of 1938, the church accepted a Mr. Hayden’s offer to plant shrubbery on the church grounds.The church also voted to help in placing and feeding delegates of the Northern Methodist Convention which was to meet in Athens in November of 1940.
In May of 1940 the church voted to buy Pastor Macon a white baptismal suit to be used only for that purpose.The church agreed to pay for cleaning the suit each time it was used and to allow Pastor Macon to retain ownership of the suit when he left the church.
On a more important matter, the church voted to take a free-will offering on Sunday, August 3, 1941, to be used “exclusively in religious work among the Soldier Boys.” God was certainly honored through the patriotism and missionary spirit
of Athens Baptist Church.
Miss Frances Dauphin, believed to have been the first paid music director, was employed February 25, 1942.Miss Dauphin served as choir director and pianist at a salary of $25.00 per month. To Miss Dauphin’s credit, a recommendation was made in June of 1942 that “every person of the church boost the choir and every person who has a voice to sing meet with the choir each week and be loyal to it.” It was further requested “that the church permit the choir to use robes…”
The next three years saw pastors come and go.Bro. Leon Macon resigned March 8, 1942,
to take effect April 15, 1942.On April 26, a recommendation was made to “extend to Rev. William F. Wimberly an indefinite call as pastor.” Bro. Wimberly accepted the call and assumed his duties on the fourth Sunday of May 1942. During Bro. Wimberly’s pastorate 154 members were added to the church.Both Sunday School and Training Union provided opportunities for Bible Study and spiritual growth. Church minutes were not available for 1944 through 1946, but outside sources indicate that Bro. Wimberly resigned in 1945.The church called Bro. Lucius W. Hart in July 1945.
A resolution was filed August 19, 1948, stating “we, the members of First Baptist Church of Athens desire to become incorporated as provided by the laws of the State of Alabama, herein above referred to, and do hereby signify our intention of such incorporation as provided by law.”With the above action, the church became known as First Baptist Church of Athens.
Construction of the new church on this property was begun in the winter of 1948-49. Ground was officially broken for the new church on January 15, 1949. Raymond Patterson, grandfather of current members Jeanne Keenum and Karen Balch, was foreman of the building project.During construction, the 1903 church was still in use but would be sold to the Apostolic Church in 1951.
Bro. L.W. Hart resigned in September of 1951.On November 7, 1951, the church called Bro. E.L. Smothers as pastor.On March 6, 1952 the church purchased a house on Malone Circle for $15,000 to be used as a pastorium.
A committee was appointed on January 6, 1954 to begin planning for an educational building to be attached to the building which had been completed in 1949. At the same business meeting, the deacons recommended that a Brotherhood be organized in the church.
On March 4, 1956, in a special conference, the Building Committee presented plans for Athens First Baptist Educational Building.Following discussion, the church voted to proceed with the erection of the building. Groundbreaking ceremonies for the educational building took place on August 18, 1956.
Following the completion of the Educational Building, which included space for a library, Mrs. Jerry (Coy) McGivney, church secretary, went to Shocco Springs to acquire information needed to establish the church library.The library was started with a total of 368 books, most of which were donated by church members.Church members who have served as librarians from 1957 until 2009 include Coy McGivney, Algie Lipham, Sue Glaze, Rubinell Bowen, Alise Earney, Nancy Shew, and Grace Holland.Many others have assisted in this
Upon recommendation from the deacons, on March 4, 1959, the church voted unanimously to renovate the Garage Building in order to provide space for the Married Young People’s Department. The church also requested that the Pastor and his “Cabinet” begin seeking a Music and Educational Director.
On April 13, 1960 a Missions Property Committee was appointed.This committee guided the church toward the purchase of property on Highway 72 West on which would be built an auditorium and an educational unit of a proposed mission church, Emmanuel Baptist Chapel, at a cost of approximately $55,000.00.
At the invitation of the Pulpit Committee, Bro. Tilford Junkins of Birmingham filled the pulpit of Athens First Baptist on April 19, 1964.After hearing Bro. Junkins preach, the church voted unanimously on April 26thto call him to serve as pastor.
Following the resignation of Donald Bearden as Minister of Music and Youth, the church voted unanimously on September 13, 1964 to call Bro. Kenneth Jacobs as Minister of Music and Education. The call was accepted, and Brother Ken, as he came to be known, and his family moved to Athens.
The Building and Planning Committee, the Trustees, and the Board of Deacons recommended that Mr. Albie Reeves Smith be employed as architect to design and supervise the construction of the pastorium. The pastorium was completed and dedicated on March 6, 1966.
Under the direction of Bro. Ken Jacobs, the Adult Choir recorded a 12-inch souvenir record titled “Sing Praises” in May of 1966.Other actions of the church in 1966 included hiring Miss Judy Woolridge as Youth Director for the summer, contracting for the first Pictorial Directory of members in November, and adding a New Member Orientation Class in December.
The AlabamaBaptist, was the speaker.
Cliff Garrett was employed as Youth Director for June, July, and August of 1967.Pat Riley, a junior at the University of Alabama, held that position in the summer of 1969.
Athens First Baptist’s heart for missions continued to develop during this period.The church voted to sponsor the Elkton Road Mission and requested that Piney Grove Baptist Church transfer memberships of those presently members of the mission.Elkton Road Baptist Church was constituted in June 1974.
On this sesquicentennial celebration,Bro. Junkins wrote in a letter to the church, “On this one-hundred, fifty year birthday of Athens First Baptist, we look back with gratitude to those who were her beginning, those who loved and supported her from her birth and now we who are privileged to be a part of her life claim her as our church and His church, and we pledge our all to her future and pray that she shall never be destroyed by infidel theologians, but shall be shining brightly in the dark world when Jesus Christ comes for His Church.”
Following Bro. Junkins’ resignation, Rev. Fred Lackey accepted the call to assume the pastorate of the church in November of 1972.The church membership had grown to 1,063 members.The Space Age had brought many new people to the area, many of whom were Baptists, and a thriving bus ministry was bringing an average of 95 county people to the church every Sunday morning.
It became evident that the current building facilities were not adequate for the present membership and future growth.In February of 1974 Brother Fred recommended that the church have two morning worship services each Sunday, one beginning at 8:30 a.m. and the other at 11:00 a.m.This was to be a temporary solution until a new sanctuary could be built or the existing one expanded.This wise solution doubled the seating capacity of the church and made it possible for more people to worship in the church.
On February 20, 1974, the church voted to convert the pastor’s previous study into a prayer room dedicated to the memory of Kathleen Jacobs, the late wife of Brother Ken Jacobs, Minister of Music and Education.The alterations and furnishings were paid for by the Kathleen Jacobs’ Prayer Room Fund.
God surely provided a way for the church to have an activities building, because in 1975, the 1903 church building came up for sale, and the church bought it back for $25,000.Ownership of the old building presented additional problems, however, because some members wanted to restore and repurpose it and others wanted to tear it down.
Work progressed quickly in preparing the site, and in 1979, a contract was signed to build the Family Life Center.The building was completed within the agreed upon 365 days.In 1980 the building was dedicated and named the Lt.j.g. Reginald Hill Britt Family Life Center, as a memorial to a member of the church who had lost his life in the service of our country.The gym was later named in honor of David Owens who died in the Vietnam War.The game room became the Bobby Golden Room at his death.
The year 1980 brought recognition of accomplishment to our beloved pastor Brother Fred.He became Dr. Fred Lackey, having earned his doctorate from Luther Rice University.The church staff was further enhanced when Greg Mayo was called on September 1, 1983 to serve as Minister of Youth.
The 1980s brought more opportunities for Athens First Baptist to participate in missions.The church sponsored Lindsay Lane Baptist Church in 1988.The church began with 63 members and by the year 2007 had 1800 members.
On May 27, 1988, the church sanctuary, fellowship hall, and nearby areas sustained smoke damage from a fire that originated in the heating and cooling system.Although local firemen sustained injuries, they were successful in saving the church building.Johnny McCartney, manager of physical facilities, brought a suggestion from the Building and Grounds Committee that since cleaning and restoration work was underway, it might be wise to clean and refurbish the nursery.Months were spent in restoring the damaged areas of the church and updating the nursery.
The Long Range Planning Committee still struggled with decisions as to the location of the proposed new sanctuary. Options included building onto the north side of the main building, buying and building on the Beattie property on the southwest corner of Hobbs and Clinton Street, or selling the entire church plant and buying 20 acres of land near Interstate 65 and Highway 72 East.
The church proceeded with the purchase of the Beattie building and property as well as some additional lots below it.Once the property was purchased at a price of $145,000, the church could not decide whether or not to build on it.Ron McConnell, Minister of Education, brought a recommendation that the church remodel the existing building to house the older preschool children.Because of safety concerns for the children, the church did not act on the recommendation.Finally the committee gave up trying to utilize the building and sold it for $175,000 to Athens College for a classroom building.
The third option of purchasing land on the east side of town fell through because of legal complications.The papers on the sale of the property did not specify the correct price or the exact land to be bought.Neither was there a legal description of the land. There were also questions raised regarding the cost of preparing the land for a building site.
The first option of building onto the north side of the existing church was finally adopted.In 1988 Frank Orr, an architect from Nashville, and a former member of the church, was retained to submit plans and drawings for a sanctuary at this location.
Phase One of Frank Orr’s plan called for the reroofing of the old sanctuary, installing an elevator that would access all three floors of the Educational Building, and bringing the existing building up to State Fire Code requirements.
Shortly after Rev. Rickey Michael was called as Associate Pastor and Minister of Education in 1990, a Building Committee was selected to oversee construction.Bro. Rickey served on the committee and acted as liaison between the Building Committee, the contractor, and the architect.
Phase One of Frank Orr’s Master Plan was completed in 1991 and plans for Phase Two were submitted to the church and approved.This phase included the construction of the sanctuary and the first floor of the Children’s Education Wing.
The second phase was completed and the building was dedicated on July 2, 1995.The new 18,441-square foot sanctuary with a seating capacity of 839 enabled the two morning worship services to be combined.
The beautiful sanctuary was furnished with an Allen electronic organ (presented to the church by Lurline Clem in memory of her husband Turner Clem), a Steinway concert grand piano, oak pews with burgundy velvet cushions, and a distinctive pulpit anchored by a large cross inlaid in the brick wall behind the podium. Stained glass windows representing the crucifixion, the ascension, and the second coming of Jesus Christ add to the beauty and reverence of the sanctuary.
In 1995 First Baptist of Athens had a membership of 2,400.The body of believers continued to support the Cooperative Program of the Southern Baptist Convention as well as many mission causes.Dr. Lackey was elected president of the Alabama State Baptist Convention in 1995.
First Baptist Church of Athens celebrated its 175thanniversary on October 29, 1995.The celebration honored God and remembered the love, prayer, and sacrifice of times past.The Scripture from Psalm 103:3, “Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits,” provided the theme - 175 Years of Praise, 175 Years of Prayer, 175 Years of Stewardship, and 175 Years of Proclamation.
The celebratory worship service was both inspirational and motivational. The choir, the congregation, and the children sang hymns of praise.Bro. Fred and George Hardy, chairman of the Anniversary Celebration Committee, recognized and welcomed guests and members.Members participated in responsive readings celebrating the church’s heritage and expressing thanks to God for his goodness, love, and blessing during the past 175 years. Dr. Troy Morrison, Executive Secretary of the Alabama Baptist Convention, delivered the sermon, “Lift Up Your Eyes and Look.”This challenge pointed to the future and the work of the church yet to be done.
In a letter to the church on October 23, 1995, Bro. Fred reminded the church to “keep a visionary concept, prepared and committed, to allow the Holy Spirit to guide and direct our paths, as individual Christians, and as a collective body of believers, so we can continue to serve and glorify our Lord. If it is today, or one hundred, seventy-five years from now, or beyond, let us serve Him with a steadfast hope and a sure, active faith until Jesus comes again.”
First Baptist Church continued to follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance as the ministries of the church were expanded.WMU provided Hospitality Bags as a Christian witness at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia.WMU members tutored Hispanic students in the local schools, and, as in years past, the church contributed generously to the Lottie Moon mission offering and the Annie Armstrong mission offering.Gifts to the Cooperative Program placed the church in the top fifty out of 3,161 Alabama churches in 1996.
The pastor and staff who had led First Baptist through a time of challenge which included a major building project were being called to continue the Lord’s work in other places.Bro. Fred Lackey resigned as pastor December 8, 1996.Bro. Rickey Michael, Minister of Education and Associate Pastor, resigned in April 1997 to accept a position at First Baptist Church, Tuscaloosa, Alabama.Bro. Tom Warnock, Minister of Music, accepted a call from Dalraida Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama in October 1997. Greg Mayo resigned as Youth Minister in March of 1998.
Dr. Walter Nunn accepted the invitation to serve as Interim Pastor from June 22, 1997 until June 1, 1998, when the church called Dr. Aaron Johnson as pastor.
Rebuilding the staff was difficult but rewarding. Joseph David Zeigler was called as Minister of Music and began his ministry at First Baptist on January 18, 1999.Ricky Edward Camp became Minister of Youth on March 16, 1999, and Joe A. Teal accepted the call to be Minister of Education and Administration on June 13, 1999. Veronica Breakfield joined the staff as Children’s Director on June 14, 1999; and Connie Bates was hired as director of the Weekday Early Education program (WEE). Pam Morgan later succeeded Mrs. Bates as Director.
In the new millennium, God brought a new mission field to Athens First Baptist Church.The growing Hispanic population in Athens needed the support of fellow Christians, thus a joint effort with the Limestone Baptist Association and First Baptist was undertaken.The goals were to establish a church, purchase a building, find a pastor, and begin a ministry to Spanish-speaking people in Athens.Reverend Raul Tovar and his wife Juanita were called to lead the new church. In January 2001, the unoccupied First Pentecostal Church building was purchased as the home for the First Hispanic Baptist Church of Athens.Rev. Tovar was licensed to the ministry in June of 2004. In support of the Hispanic ministry, WMU furnished a room in the Tovar’s home.
Administrative actions in 2000 included revising the Constitution and By-laws concerning the deacon selection process. Kristy Knight was employed as the Children’s Director on September 7, 2000. The church began development of a children’s playground at the corner of Hobbs and Beaty Streets to be used by the Weekday Early Education program.Carol Reynolds was hired as Director of the WEE program in 2001.
The church purchased the Carr property on Clinton Street at a cost of $100,000.Another $120,000 was spent on renovation of the existing building which would be used for the youth of the church.
In June 2001 Charles Smith created and donated models of First Baptist Church which would be displayed in glass cases donated by the Keenagers, Jane Burgreen Lusk, and Mike and Freda Burgreen Hays in memory of Mary Catherine Burgreen.
With an increasing number of senior adults, the church saw a need for a Senior Adult Minister.On September 18, 2002, the church voted unanimously to call Bro. Larry Hicks to fill that position.The church licensed Bro. Larry to the ministry on November 6, 2002.Bro. Larry engaged the seniors in mission trips, evangelistic conferences, visitation, and monthly fellowships.
The church and the WMU sponsored a food pantry to serve the needy in the community in 2002.The ministry would later become affiliated with Limestone County Churches Involved. WMU supplemented the ministry to the needy by establishing a clothing closet the next year.
The Girls’ Auxiliary continued to support missions by preparing fruit baskets for shut-ins, sending supplies to hospitals in Iraq and school supplies to local children, filling Easter baskets for children in Head Start, and sending Christmas stockings to soldiers in Iraq.
Women on Mission (WMU), with the help of the Ena Kennedy Memorial Fund, participated in the Pure Water, Pure Love water filter project for missionaries; the Edwin Hodges project to send Christian literature around the world; Project Hope; Christmas in August; Kathleen Mallory Day of Prayer and offering; the Alabama Prison Ministry; Week of Prayer for International Missions; Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child; World Hunger; We Bear Love ministry; Annie Armstrong and Lottie Moon missionary offerings.
First Baptist of Athens also supported missions in Romania and in Bennington, Vermont. Bobby and Stella Austin, members of FBC, were called to help renovate and revitalize a church in Bennington, Vermont.Bobby and Stella spent many months in Vermont, and Athens First Baptist provided prayer support, financial assistance, library books, and hymnals for the Bennington church.
In January 2003 Maple Grove Baptist Church on County Line Road requested leadership and financial assistance from Athens First Baptist as they undertook efforts to grow their church.First Baptist voted to commit $15,000 each year for two years to assist in the work at Maple Grove.By 2004, Maple Grove had grown to 120 members.
The need for additional parking space prompted the purchase of real estate adjoining church property in 2003 and 2004.The Newby property, the Campbell property, and the Mayberry property required an initial outlay of $500,000 with projected expenses of $245,287 to prepare the sites and complete the parking lots.
Bro. Rick Camp, Youth Minister, resigned February 29, 2003.Jay George served as interim youth minister while the search process was underway.Bro. Kevin Ward was called to fill the position on October 6, 2003.Bro. Joe Zeigler, Minister of Music resigned in March 2004 to continue his ministry at Red Bank Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee. On August 25, 2004, the church called Ryan Leffel to serve as Minister of Music.
The Music Ministry under the direction of Bro. Ryan continued to bless the church and the community through the Celebration Choir and orchestra, the Jubilation Singers (directed by Terry Owen), Exaltation Student Choir, Cornerstone Ensemble, and Celebration Kids’ Choirs.The birth of Christ is celebrated each year through the presentation of “An Athens Christmas” which involves both children and adults from within the church and throughout the community.Athens Academy of Fine Arts was established in 2007 with the goal of developing God-given talents and abilities and serving as an outreach ministry to the community.
Throughout the history of the church, and certainly in this decade, deacons continued to promote the spiritual welfare of the church and to promote unity in the body of believers.Deacons served in many capacities and worked together in harmony and unity to accomplish the work of the church.In February 2004, the Brotherhood heard James Henderson, pro-life spokesman, emphasize the importance of supporting efforts to preserve the lives of all unborn babies each of which is created in the image of God.
A Deaf Ministry became active in the church and provided “Silent Friends” Sunday School, Bible study, Vacation Bible School, and signing classes. Every sermon is translated into sign language for the benefit of the deaf. At First Baptist, Christ’s love and the love of the church family are communicated in many ways other than speech. The Sunday School’s in-depth study of Rick Warren’s40 Days of Purposestrengthened the church’s resolve to glorify God in the life of the church and individual members.
Having served the church faithfully for seven years, Bro. Aaron Johnson resigned effective July 31, 2005 to assume the pastorate of Summit Baptist Church in Acworth, Georgia.The church prayerfully began the search for the next pastor.
The church hosted the Children’s Mission Explosion for North Alabama on February 18, 2006.Other mission studies were taught by Dr. Robert and Ann Fullerton, Limestone County Associational Missionaries.The Fullertons also led Vacation Bible School training sessions, Hispanic Vacation Bible School, and several mission trips.
Dr. Edwin Jenkins was called as pastor on April 2, 2006.Pastor Edwin and his wife Joan began their ministry in Athens with commitment and enthusiasm.Implementation of the pastor’sLifelift: Every Member Ministryreminded the church of God’s call on every believer to use his or her spiritual gifts in service to Him.Under the leadership of Pastor Edwin, the Church Council adopted the following Mission Statement:
In the name of Jesus Christ, First Baptist Church of Athens surrenders
to God’s desire,God’s design, and God’s direction as revealed by the
Holy Spirit and God’s Word.
This Mission Statement embodied the church’s past commitment to Divine guidance and reminded the body that Christ is the Head of His church through which Hehasaccomplished andwillaccomplish His purposes.
Staff changes during this decade include the calling of Bro. David Carter as Minister to Children and Young Families in October 2006 and the resignation of Kevin Ward as Minister of Youth in October 2007.Jason Teal served as interim Minister of Youth until October 2008 when Stan Young accepted the call to lead this ministry.
The church library, having been renovated and expanded in 1996, became a vital part of the growing church.Under the leadership of librarian Grace Holland, books were purchased to honor babies born to church members.Other books were placed in remembrance of deceased members and in honor of loved ones.A section of large-print books was established as well as a section of books for youth.By the year 2007 when the library celebrated its 50thbirthday, it housed approximately 7,400 items including books, videos, DVDs, books on audio and large-print books.The library participated in many mission projects during this decade including collecting 550 books to establish a church library for the North Bennington, Vermont Mission.
Prayer continued to be appreciated as a blessing, a responsibility, and a privilege for believers at FBC. Members joined fellow Christians to observe the National Day of Prayer on May 7, 2009 at the Limestone County Courthouse. Women on Mission (WMU/WOM) encouraged the church to join with them in a Day of Prayer for Evangelism on May 31, 2009.Further emphasis on prayer was seen in the Women’s Conference, “Change My Heart,” which was held on April 17-18, 2009 at Athens First Baptist.
In 2008 Bessie Marie Woodfin stepped down as Director of WMU to Assistant Director having served as Director since 1987.Dianne Landtroop became the new Director; Joyce Shown continued to serve as WOM Coordinator.
The Weekday Early Education Program directed by Carol Reynolds worked closely with Bro. David as this ministry met the needs of young families and children of the church and the community. Another Christian program for youth, Upward basketball and cheerleading, continues to bless numerous players, coaches, and parents as Christ is honored and church members pray daily for participants.
In 2009 WMU and FBC Sunday School classes purchased and assembled seventeen In-Home Care Kits which were sent to Africa for AIDS victims who are homebound and terminally ill. The October 2009 Ministry Fair allowed the church to celebrate where we are and to plan where we are going in the future in regard to missions and evangelism.The church also celebrated exceeding the $50,000 goal for the Lottie Moon offering for foreign missions.
Operation White Christmas led by Bro. Joe Teal provided gifts and support for 25 families and 80 children.Sunday School classes, individual families and individual church members contributed to this ministry which made Christmas a little brighter for so many.
The year 2009 ended with gratitude for God’s faithfulness and joyful anticipation of 2010 in which the church will celebrate her 190thanniversary.The Celebration Ministry Team led by Jan Morris and George Stewart has been planning events and activities throughout the past year.The theme is “Honoring God – Past, Present and Future.” Our collective prayer is that this historic church will always bring honor and glory to the God of our fathers and to his Son, Jesus Christ.
“One generation shall praise Your works to another,
and shall declare Your mighty acts.”