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First Baptist Church, Huntsville, celebrates 200 years since foundingcomment (0)

June 25, 2009

By Martine G. Bates

A year of celebration reached its apex the weekend of June 14 as First Baptist Church, Huntsville, held Homecoming Sunday to mark 200 years since its founding.

On June 3, 1809, the Madison Baptist Association church (originally known as Enon Baptist Church) held its first meeting, probably in the home of a member, in a sparsely settled area about six miles from the current location near downtown Huntsville.

In his sermon on Homecoming Sunday, Pastor David Hull revealed the secret to the church’s longevity, preaching on the footprints theme that has been used for anniversary events.

“Footprints made upon the foundation endure, not because our footsteps are so steady or the path is so clear but because our foundation is so strong. Our foundation is Jesus,” Hull noted.

In addition to the homecoming worship service, the weekend’s events included a banquet Saturday night at Huntsville’s Von Braun Center, which drew more than 1,000 attendees, and a Sunday dinner on the grounds, which turned into an indoor picnic because of the weather. The Saturday night event featured a 10-foot-high bicentennial cake, former pastors Allen Walworth and Dennis Wiles and special music by Billy Orton, Elizabeth Hostetter, Emily Hull and the church’s orchestra.

Extra chairs had to be set up for the Sunday worship service, as it also had more than 1,000 attendees. It featured several guests, including former Pastor J.T. Ford, who served from 1949 to 1952.

Ford recalled the dawning of the Space Age and its role in “putting Huntsville on the map” while creating new challenges and a need for a new vision for the church and community.

Pastor Emeritus Ralph Langley, who served as pastor from 1979 to 1990, recalled a time of dissent and division in the church following a visit from a protester and a negative article about the church’s appearance in a local paper.

“People drew together and became the First United Baptist Church of Huntsville,” Langley quipped.

Also during the service, the Sanctuary Choir joined with a reunion choir composed of about 170 former youth choir members from as far back as the 1960s. The combined choir sang a bicentennial anthem commissioned for the celebration year. Written by composer and seminary professor Michael Cox, the anthem is titled “Run the Race With Perseverance” and features Hebrews 12:1–2 and Ephesians 3:14–21, the Scriptures used during the celebration.

Planning for the celebration began almost three years ago with the appointment of the bicentennial celebration committee, headed by Bill Lucas and Dana Lee Jennings.

“We had lots of folks involved,” Hull said, pointing out that this steering committee had several subcommittees working under it.

The anniversary celebration kicked off Jan. 18 with an event that included the unveiling of two large quilted banners. The roughly 12-foot-by-18-foot banners, made by volunteers from the church, feature a log cabin-patterned background, a path lined with footprints to emphasize the theme “The Footprints Continue” and the theme verses, Hebrews 12:1–2.

They now hang in the front of the sanctuary and will continue to be displayed somewhere in the church building after the bicentennial celebration is over, Hull said.

The program for the January event featured drama, crafts and foods that were likely served during the early 1800s. Some members came dressed in period clothing, and children were introduced to games from that era. In May, the combined choirs and orchestras from local churches performed Brahms’ Requiem at First, Huntsville, in memory of members who have died. On June 4–6, the Baptist History & Heritage Society held its annual meeting at the church, featuring the history of First, Huntsville, in its program.

Still in the works are an Oct. 18 hymn festival featuring music from the 200 years since the founding of the church, a fall luncheon and fashion show with clothing from the 200-year period and the 25th annual Living Christmas Tree Dec. 17–20.

The anthem and banners were not the only works of art to be created in conjunction with the celebration.
Well-known local artist Ed Starnes was commissioned by First, Huntsville, to produce a series of five paintings depicting the buildings occupied by the church. Those are now displayed in the lobby.

Bruce Gourley was commissioned to write a history of First, Huntsville. Titled “Leading the Way for 200 Years,” the book was released June 3 — the actual anniversary of the founding. The book is available through the church office by calling 256-428-9400.

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