The history of First Baptist Church WoodLawn reflects a unity of spirit and a solidarity of purpose. Its faith is rooted and grounded in Christ who is the head of our lives. It will forever move forward, trusting and believing in God’s tomorrow.
“And so were the Churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily,” Acts: 16:5
Faith of the forefathers will forever be an indelible print upon the memories of future generations of the First Baptist Church. This humble endeavor had beginning 75 years ago in the midst of the great depression, when a small group of loyal Christians met, organized and chose a spot on which to continue their never ending mission. The small congregation has a history of trials and triumphs of struggle and conquest of labor and love. Our goal was accomplished by hard work and perseverance. One by one, those pioneers have gone to be with the lord! We will forever live in the memories of those early days through these charter members with retrospect and love.
On May 29, 1931, seventy-nine men and women met in the Pythian Hall of St. Stephens Lodge on 62nd Street and 3rd Avenue South and entered into covenant for worship. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Church was organized. The late Sister Mary Huff named the new organization, “First Baptist.” Among the staunch supporters were such spirited citizens of the community as Reverend W. P. Andrews, Deacons, C. P. Huff, J. D. Kidd, and Robert Alford. Trustees, Jerry Moore, Douglas Trotter, William Potts, and many others. Included were many Women of the community such as Sisters Amanda Clark, Julia Moore, Martha Lewis, Louella Dallas, Anna Caldwell and others.
During the early months of the Church’s existence, the following auxiliaries were organized: The Sunday School with Brother William M. Payne as the first Superintendent, later succeeded by Brother Grover Price; the Senior Choir, organized at the home of Sister Amanda Clark, with Sister Kate Hall as President and Sister Elmyra Hall as organist; the Usher Board, with Deacon C. C. Caldwell as the first President; the Junior Choir, with Brother Haywood Fagan as President; the Pastor’s Aid Society, with Sister Betty Wallace as Chairman; the BYPU with Sister Jennie Fagan as President; the Missionary Society with Sister Martha Lewis as President; the Deacon Board, with Brother C. P. Huff as Chairman. Later succeeded by Brother William Jennings; and the Trustee Board, with Mr. Jerry Moore as Chairman.
The Reverend Doctor J.A. Martin was called as the first pastor of the new Church and was untiring in his efforts to lead the Church to Spiritual and material success. During his
pastorate, the membership increased fro 79 to 350. More than 100 of these members were candidates for baptism. The Church raised $7,500.00 in cash from all sources, during these years. Reverend Martin resigned as pastor in 1935 and moved back to Selma.
The later part of 1935 found the Church without a Shepard. The acting pastor Reverend W. P. Andrews a Christian gentleman, kind, patient, and trusting, took the helm and led the Church successfully through a barrage of discord and discontentment for five months. Through his diligent efforts, prayer prevailed and peace came out of confusion.
In February 1936, the Reverend J. H. Martin was called as Pastor. Although his tenure was brief in duration, the total debt of $700.00 was cleared and the abstract deeds were turned over to the Trustee Board under his administration. Through wise counsel and guidance, attempts were made to reunite the First Baptist Church and Jackson Street Baptist Church, but to the regret of many, these attempts proved unsuccessful.
Upon the resignation of Reverend Martin in 1937, the ever faithful Reverend W. P. Andrews, again took the helm and steered the “Old Ship” until October 1937, when Reverend J. F. Brooks was called as pastor. During his administration of two years, the Church continued to progress steadily. Reverend Brooks resigned in November 1939 to enter a larger field of work. The beloved and ever loyal Reverend Andrews was called upon once more to steer the vessel.
In April 1940, Reverend C. E. Mardis assumed the pastorate, at which time we were worshiping in a small frame building on the corner of 62nd Street and 3rd Avenue, South. Reverend Mardis introduced the “Pay As You Go” plan and others to finance the church. He assisted and supervised the building program. The influence of his leadership was felt far and near, the evidence of which was seen in the growth of the Church both spiritually and numerically. One hundred and twenty-five were added to the Church through baptism, one hundred seventy-five by restoration, letter and Christian experience, during the first seven years of his administration. The edifice, built at a cost of $25,000.00 stood as a monument to his ability as a great spiritual leader and the diligence with which he served the church for thirteen years.
The Church was experiencing a “Moral Ebbtide” when Reverend F. P. Huggins assumed the leadership on March 15, 1953. A patient, kind and trusting man of God, he did much toward building his tenure of more than thirteen years. Improvements made in the church and during his administration included the installation of the exterior neon sign on the church.
Upon his resignation and subsequent demise of Reverend Huggins in March, 1966 the torch was passed to Reverend Willis E. Jones. He was installed as Pastor of First Baptist Church,July 1966. Under his astute leadership, the church continued to progress spiritually and financially. During his pastorate, central air conditioning was installed in the Church a fifteen-passenger van was purchased and a two-story frame building was acquired. Just prior to his passing in March 1980, an extensive expansion project had been planned. A Building Fund of thirty thousand dollars earmarked for the financing of this project had been raised.
On August 3, 1980 God sent to First Baptist a young, energetic, progressive minister-leader in the person of Reverend Odie M. Hoover, III.. Full of zeal, hope and inspiration powered by his unquenchable faith in God, it was not long before his dreams became visions, and his visions became realities.
Much was accomplished through the cooperative efforts of Pastor and Church. We continued to grow under his guidance. He brought to the fellowship visions of widened horizons and broadened outreach. During the first four years of his administration, God blessed First Baptist with the following: a parsonage, valued at $75,000.00; a new Pastor’s Study/Office; and Secretary’s Office; Radio Ministry was instituted; the purchase of a second van; the construction of a parking lot; the padding of the sanctuary pews; a bowling league was formed; public address system was purchased–including a tape recorder for use in the Tape Ministry.
The Church joined the City-Wide Christian Athletic Association, organizing winning teams in bowling, softball, and basketball. Outreach ministries were established to meet the needs of our members. They included Ministries of Education and related sub-departments, Special Lectures, Workshops, New Members’s Classes, Public Relations and Communications, Counseling, and Special Concern Ministries and the W. E. Jones Scholarship Fund.
Even fire could not squelch his zeal nor his confidence in the Holy provider. Only after fire destroyed the corner we called “home” for so many years, we moved to our present edifice.
Reverend Hoover was a spiritual, counselor and advisor to the youth in our Church, and worked with the special needs of students in the community as well as directly through the Birmingham City School System as a counselor at Woodlawn High School. A new program was implemented here at the church, “Rap Sessions” for the youth of our Church and community.
In June of 2000, God sent a young energetic, spirit-filled helmsman to continue to steer this “Old Ship of Zion” in the person of Reverend Perry Macon. In less than two years, First Baptist accepted approximately 50 new members into the fellowship under his leadership. Two Deacons-in-Training and two previously ordained Deacons joined with us. We opened our doors and hearts and received new members by Baptism, Christian Experience and Watch Care. Sunday School classes are growing. The youth have several new activities associated with the Lock in Birmingham Program. Each Auxiliary is focused on an outreach program serving the community. Couples uniting in Holy Matrimony. The birth of several babies and homegoing celebrations for some of our family members. A lot of time, effort, and money has been spent on the maintenance of the “Old Ship of Zion.” Reverend Macon’s visions for first Baptist Church Woodlawn are plentiful.
The year is 2004, and we are celebrating 73 years of praising the Lord. Oh! What a mighty God we serve. First Baptist Woodlawn has been blessed to receive nine computers with printers and internet access for our new Community Computer Lab. As we prayfully start another year serving our God, let us remember that through Christ who strengthens us we can do all things.
The foundation of First Baptist Woodlawn was built on God’s Word and this is what makes this “Old Ship of Zion” solid. 74 years and still going strong. We were blessed to have a Ministry Training Conference for each ministry in the church, which was an enlightening experience. The Young Adult Usher Ministry was organized, a basketball team and cheer leading squad were formed also. We continue to send up praises to Our God and He continues to shower us with His blessings.
“And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not, for it was founded upon a rock” Matthew 7:25. As we celebrate 75 years of praising God, and thanking Him for giving us First Baptist we appreciate the solid foundation that First Baptist was built on. The foundation of God’s Word has taught us how to love, give, share, show compassion, and extend a helping hand to our brothers and sisters. First Baptist provides food for those who are in need. Gave aid to the people who were re-located due to hurricane Katrina through monetary and material donations. Our Father gave us an opportunity to show our fellow brothers and sisters of Mt. Lebanon how much we love and care about them when their church was burned. We opened our hearts and doors and welcomed them to worship in the gym. We must help to make sure that God’s Word goes forward. We have learned that the pursuit of holiness can be found in the foundation of God’s Word.
As we celebrate our seventy sixth year as a church family we can reflect on where we have been and where we are now. We are here today still standing on God’s Word. Our faith is stronger, we are growing, rejoicing and praising our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. This past year we received many blessings for which were are thankful, we paid the last payment on this Old Ship of Zion. God has truly blessed us spiritually, physically, and financially. First Baptist Woodlawn was one of the churches named in the Birmingham News on May 30th 2006 concerning their involvement in the civil rights movement. The civil rights movement was aChristian movement, born in the churches and led by ministers committed to a peaceful change. An Old Fashion Mass Meeting was held celebrating the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights and Commemorating the Movement Churches. National Register Certificates and Historical Markers were presented to each church for their participation.
Remember this is our church, from first and last, appreciating pastors of now and past, who lead our Church toward our Lord, and keep us all on one accord.
First Baptist Church of Woodlawn