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Twelfth Street Church to move out of downtown Gadsden to Rainbow Citycomment (0)

October 15, 2009

By Carrie Brown McWhorter

Change is never easy but Gadsden’s Twelfth Street Baptist Church believes its upcoming move to a former Kmart will revitalize both an abandoned storefront and the congregation who will call it home.

The move might come as a surprise to those familiar with Twelfth Street Baptist’s presence in downtown Gadsden.
Sometimes it still surprises those who voted for it.

But Pastor Craig Carlisle said the whole process has highlighted how God works.

“One thing we have been trying to learn is that our church is more than this building,” Carlisle said. “Wherever God’s people are, that’s where the church is.”

The Etowah Baptist Association church has a long history in its present location, but the changing community and an aging congregation have made it increasingly difficult to maintain its community church feel.

Carlisle said the 104-year-old church is imbedded in a neighborhood that has transitioned within the past 20 years. Currently only four active members still live in the neighborhood.

While the community has been receptive to the ministry of the church, that interest has not translated into church attendance.

Bill Summerlin, a deacon at Twelfth Street who served as its minister of education more than 40 years ago, has seen the church decline from a high of 800 or 900 in Sunday School in the 1960s to the current attendance of 400.

He said the relocation plans stem primarily from the idea that the church will grow in the new location and he has already seen an increase in excitement since the decision to move was made.

“We looked at relocating about 15 years ago, but the time was just not right,” Summerlin said. “We believe this is what God wants us to do now.”

The new location, four and a half miles from the present location, is just off Highway 77 in Rainbow City.

In the coming months, crews will construct a facade on the Kmart building that will look very much like Twelfth Street’s current building.

Inside, the 73,000-square-foot building will be renovated to include worship and education space and a dedicated preschool area for the church’s kindergarten ministry.

A former garage will be redesigned with youth in mind, and the store’s former restaurant will become the church’s kitchen.

One of the best things about the new location will be having everything on one level, in sharp contrast to the many stairwells and buildings at the current location, Carlisle said.

Easy access to 520 parking spaces at the new location is a plus as well. In addition, the Kmart property includes 8 acres, and the church hopes to buy an adjacent 22-acre plot for future use. 

The church will keep its name, and once the transition to the new location is complete, the current property will be sold to another church.

Several congregations already have expressed interest in relocating to the property, and Carlisle believes there is huge potential for another church to move in and build a thriving ministry.

The interest in the current location is just one more sign to him that the move is God’s will for Twelfth Street. He said throughout the process, God’s hand has been on the church.

Though current members will always cherish their memories of the historic Twelfth Street location, Carlisle believes the future is bright for both locations.

“The thought that someday there might not be a Twelfth Street Baptist Church was more saddening than … relocating, and knowing that others can come here and have a profound impact on this community is exciting,” he said. “In God’s Kingdom, this is a win-win situation for everybody.”

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