First Baptist Church, Huntsville, AL
Tuesday, July 22, 2014

History

A Historic Church Looks Forward

 When the First Baptist Church of Huntsville was formed more than 200 years ago, there wasn't a Huntsville and there wasn't an Alabama. 
 
Ebook made specially for the 200 Year Anniversary Celebration: A Digest of Alabama's Oldest Missionary Baptist Body"
First Meeting House 1813-1825
The handful of white settlers who clustered around the Big Spring called their community Twickenham until they shucked off that name during the War of 1812 because it sounded too British and chose to identify with John Hunt, prominent first settler. As for the state designation, the area was simply a part of the Mississippi Territory-"Alabama" was separated and named a decade later. 
 
White families streamed into the fertile Tennessee River valley in the first decade of the 19th century as native Americans receded following treaties of 1805 and 1806 with Cherokee and Chickasaw tribes.
 
On June 3, 1809, several families established the West Fork of Flint Baptist Church in open farm country about six miles north the present downtown Huntsville. A month later, at their second meeting, they decided the name was too cumbersome and renamed themselves "Enon."
 
The Brick Church 1825 - 1861
In 1861 Enon, having had two successive meeting houses in the farming countryside, moved into the growing town of Huntsville, becoming the only Baptist church of "missionary" persuasion in the town. The church minutes noted the "sparseness" of rural population and concluded that "we think it best to meet hereafter as a church at Huntsville, where most of our members reside and where a wider field of usefulness is open…
 
Enon officially became Huntsville First Baptist Church in 1893. It is the oldest Southern Baptist church in Alabama. (There is an older Baptist church on the outskirts of Huntsville - the Flint River Primitive Baptist Church was established in 1808,
eight months prior to Enon's beginning. The two were sister bodies until the 1830s when a controversy over missions arose; the Flint River church choose the antimissionary stance and later became identified as a "primitive" Baptist body, whereas Enon/First Baptist joined the missions movement, established a "Sabbath School" and took on other modern aspects. 
 
Gothic Church 1895-1963
The town and the church had grown to the point that, in 1895, a new impressive "gothic-style" building was erected on the corner of Clinton and Gallatin Streets. That handsome structure, built at a cost of $7,890 in cash, served the fellowship for nearly seven decades, the latter years in which membership had grown to more than 2,000 although the meeting house was designed to accommodate 450 originally. Spacious new facilities on Governors Drive were occupied in the 1960s. 
 
The Governors Drive property, is therefore the fifth location of the church, two in the open country and three in Huntsville.  Through it all, First Baptist has been in the forefront of Baptist progress in Alabama. It has led in the growth of what is now the Madison Baptist Association and, as the first church, has mothered many of the 94 bodies that now make up that association. It has hosted many meetings of the Alabama Baptist State Convention and supplied two of its presidents, as well as state and national leadership of the Woman's Missionary Union. Further, in recent decades as some of its sister churches assumed more conservative positions, First Baptist has been a leader in the cause of moderation, maintaining traditional Baptist values, embracing new missions roles and selecting leaders without regard to gender, contrary to prevailing practice. 
 
JJ MilfordOf the two-score pastors who have served the church, the two of longest service both led in the latter period in which the growth and influence of the church have been the most dramatic: J. J. Milford was pastor for 23 years ending in 1949, during which time the church was positioned for explosive growth as rocketry/space development commenced locally in the 1950s; and Alvin Hopson, who served 26 years and led the church in planning and constructing the structures on the outlying Governors Drive.
 
First Baptist celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2009, feeling blessed of the Lord for its past and facing the future with enthusiasm for continued service. 
 
In 2009, the church celebrated its 200th anniversary; it is the  oldest missionary Baptist church in Alabama. The celebration was four years  in the  planning and actually covered a span of 18 months.
  
Milestones Along the Journey 
 
1809
First Baptist Church organized on West Fork of Flint River a few miles Northeast of Huntsville on June 3. First name of church, Enon; first pastor, John Canterbury, 1809-1815.
1814 Church affiliated with Flint River Association formed in September; reported 69 members.
1825 New brick church built.
1837 Baptist State Convention met with Enon Baptist Church. William H. Holcombe, pastor.
1838 Church voted unanimously protesting non-fellowshipping resolution of Flint River Association. Organized missionary churches into new Liberty Association.
1858 Church voted to request Home Mission Board for financial aid with work in Huntsville, an Enon area.
1861 Enon voted to move into Huntsville, corner of West Clinton and Gallatin Streets. Eugene Strode, pastor.
1870 Huntsville Baptist Female Society organized. Name changed to Mite Society in 1876; to Ladies Aid Society in 1883; and to Woman's Missionary Society in 1895.
1895 Dedicated new FBC, corner of Clinton and Gallatin Streets. Oscar Haywood, pastor; church membership, 200.
1899 New pipe organ installed in church. 1901, Mrs. Frank (Beulah) Ware (then Beulah Neece), became church organist and served continuously for 60 years.
1925 Pastor R. M. Jennings led church into program to build new FBC on Chapman lot, East Holmes Street. Architect employed, but project abandoned due to failure of members to agree and collapse of fundraising.
1925 Dr. John J. Milford became pastor. Second longest tenure among pastors, 1925-49.
1949 Dr. J. T. Ford became pastor. Sanctuary renovated and new educational building constructed during pastorate, 1949-1952.
1953 Dr. Alvin H. Hopson called as pastor on July 22; assumed pastorate, September 1. Longest pastorate in the history of the church, 1953-1979.
1954 Long Range Planning Committee formed October 6th.
1956 Present property on Governors Drive purchased May 9th.
1957 Church voted in January to develop entire program on new site. Elected Building Committee in April.
1958 In July, church accepted preliminary plans and design for a new church.
1959 Church observed Sesquicentennial May 31-June 7; theme "A Historic Church Accenting the Future."
1963 Church moved into new educational building on Governors Drive, January 13.
1966 Church occupied new sanctuary on February 20. Entire month of May observed dedication of facilities.
1968 FBC hosted Alabama Baptist Convention annual meeting first time in present facilities.
1978 Dr. Alvin H. Hopson announced his retirement effective February 1980.
1979 October 14, church called Dr. Ralph H. Langley as 37th Pastor; began duties on November 11.
1980 Dr. Alvin H. Hopson named Pastor Emeritus, February 3.
1980 Dr. Langley led church to adopt Faith Venture Program: refurbishment of facilities and construction of Christian Life Center and Bell Tower with carillon.
1984 Church celebrated 175th Anniversary on June 3.
1984 First performance of Living Christmas Tree in sanctuary.
1988 Dr. Langley became Senior Minister and Dr. Allen Walworth called as 38th Pastor.
1990 Dr. Langley retired as Senior Minister in March; called as Pastor Emeritus.
1992 Church launched Dreams of Faith campaign to set priorities for ministry and facilities.
1993-1998 As a "conservative resurgence" movement gained strength in the Southern Baptist Convention, effectively ending the influence of moderate churches in convention affairs, FBC became increasingly aligned with the new Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Soon, by individual members' designation, two thirds of the congregation's beyond-Alabama mission funds were given through that new organization.
1994 In October, church elected Sanctuary Renovation Committee.
1994 Dr. Walworth resigned to assume Pastorate of Park Cities Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas.
1995 Dr. Dennis R. Wiles called as 39th Pastor, September 24.
1996 Church voted to affirm Master Plan outlined in Pilgrims On a Journey campaign, including renovation of Sanctuary, Fellowship Hall and installation of new elevator.
1997 Construction began in Fellowship Hall in the summer and was completed in the fall.
1997 Renovation work began on Sanctuary in November, with renovation completed in time for Palm Sunday, 1998.
1997-2003 Local missions initiatives were increased, including Sarah Tate Reading Room for area children, sponsorship of a Christian music stage at the annual Big Springs Jam, which attracts 200,000 persons to the Huntsville area, and the initiation of several hands-on mission projects in Africa, Canada, the Caribbean, and Alabama (Perry County).
2001 Dr. Wiles resigned pastorate, returning to Dallas, Texas area from whence he came. He became pastor of FBC, Arlington, Texas.
2001-2002 Two distinguished educators from Samford University, Dr. Fisher Humphreys and Dr. Brad Creed, served jointly as interim pastors.
2002 Dr. David Hull became the pastor after having served nine years as pastor of First Baptist Church, Knoxville, Tennessee.
2003 The second phase of a major facilities renovation/upgrade was completed. This included extensive renovations in the sanctuary area: enlarged entrances, wider halls, renovated and enlarged parlor, library and restrooms.
2004
Sue McElyea celebrates her 10th anniversary as an FBC staff member.Since 1994, she has worked in a variety of roles, as well as having the responsibility for producing The Messenger.
Mike Pearce, our former Minister of Recreation, has a new title, Minister of Missions and Outreach.
Thanks received from Homer Wilson to the many kind and generous FBC people who prepared a shoe box for needy orphan children in Guatemala.
2005 A Contemporary Sunday morning service called “First Fellowship” began in Fellowship Hall.
Dr. Ed Culpepper resigns his position as Associate Pastor for Faith Development after eight years of excellent service to our church.
2006 Jud Reasons joins our church as Associate Pastor.
2007 Jamey Mackey becomes new Student Minister.
Bicentennial Committee formed with Dana Lee Jennings and William R. Lucas as co-chairs. Other members were: Patty Atherton, Scott Boothe, Glenn Brown, Charlotte Davis, Nancy Harrison, Carolyn Miller, and Dottie Richardson.
2008 Dr. Elizabeth Hostetter becomes the Associate Minister of Music and Organist
“The First 200 Years” by Joe Jones, a digest of the 200-year history of our church is published
While Pastor David Hull was on sabbatical 10 notable Baptist pastors and educators spoke on successive Sundays during the summer.
2009
 
2010 Time capsule buried at southeast corner of sanctuary to be dug-up on 3 June 2059.
A half-million dollar renovation/improvement of church grounds was completed, including repaving of parking lots, apparently the first such extensive outside activity since the church was built in the early 1960s.
2011 Following vicious April 27 storms that swept the region, killing nine Madison County persons and leaving widespread devastation, FBC was host to local and national relief agencies which in two weeks brought more than 37,000 local residents through our doors in search of storm recovery and assistance.
2011
In August the church entered upon an extensive building/renovation project, costing $9,356,500, which will provide, mainly, greatly improved and expanded facilities for the contemporary worship services as well as for youth programs, and will concurrently join the two main structures into one. 
2013  The $10 million building program was completed in 2013. More information can be found in  this 12 page article entitled "Jubilation" written by our Church Historian, Joe Jones.
 
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