Mobile Association church marks anniversary, looks ahead to continued growthcomment (0)
March 30, 2006
By Sammie Jo Barstow
More than a century ago, Baptists in the Tanner Williams community near Wilmer had to travel to neighboring communities to attend church.
But in 1906, 10 people decided to change that. They met to form Trinity Baptist Church, Wilmer, in Mobile Baptist Association.
Some 325 people gathered March 5 to celebrate that beginning and mark the church’s 100th anniversary.
“I’ve never seen such excitement as we had for this anniversary celebration,” said Burl Patterson, who has served the church as pastor for four years and has been in the ministry for more than 50 years. “Everything about this day was outstanding. The church spared nothing in preparing for this day with beautiful decorations and delicious food.”
Gail Middleton, chairwoman of the celebration committee, agreed. And although Sunday attendance is usually around 60, she said the entire community was interested in the anniversary celebration.
“When you’re a community church, it’s for the community; it’s not just the Baptist people in the community,” Middleton said. “We’re in a unique community, and when one grieves, everybody grieves and when one rejoices, we all rejoice.”
Many people in the community helped with the celebration, setting up tables, serving food and cleaning up afterwards.
Several students from the University of South Alabama in Mobile even came to volunteer.
In addition to church and community members, those present at the celebration included representatives from the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, the Alabama Baptist Historical Commission, Mobile Association and the Alabama House of Representatives.
Mobile County Sheriff Jack Tillman and members of the Mobile County Commission were also in attendance.
“We thought it was a wonderful gesture on the part of the state and community leadership, whether from the political arena or the religious arena,” Patterson said. “Many of the officials brought resolutions, and this thrilled the people of the church.”
Two former pastors — James King and Jim Jordan — attended with their wives. Of the church’s 26 former pastors, King and Jordan are the only ones living.
The highlight of the anniversary celebration was opening the cornerstone laid in 1974, when the present sanctuary was built.
Although Middleton and a few current members were present when the sanctuary was dedicated, no one clearly remembered what was included in the cornerstone, so the entire community was anxious to see the contents.
Removing the cornerstone, however, was no easy task. According to Patterson, it took 45 minutes to chisel the cement and bricks around the cornerstone and cut open the box.
He said everyone got a good laugh when they discovered the contents were stored in a cigar box sealed with masking tape.
Patterson said the box contained a few pictures as well as a document containing the signatures of everyone present on the day the box was sealed.
There was also a cassette recording of the message brought that day by then-pastor Septra James, who is now deceased. James’ son Mark represented the family at the celebration.
Viewing the contents of the cornerstone was a nostalgic experience for many people attending the celebration as they recounted memories passed on to them from older family members.
Although much of Trinity Baptist’s history is undocumented, Middleton said they know that M.E. Hulbert served as the church’s first pastor for several years, traveling each weekend from Mississippi to preach.
Hulbert would arrive each Saturday, spend the night with church members and preach on Sunday morning.
After lunch, he would visit in the community, bring the evening sermon and return to his home.
Services were held in homes for the first few years, but in 1915, one of the families donated an acre of land and the church erected its first building.
Tragedy struck only a year later, however, when a hurricane completely destroyed the building. The church quickly rebounded and rebuilt on the same spot.
Mobile Association records indicate the church applied for membership to the association in 1912.
The church has enjoyed continued growth, eventually building a sanctuary, educational space and a gymnasium on its property.
Patterson said he believes the church has a great future. Many new homes are being built in the community, but many people still travel to Mobile to attend larger churches.
He said Trinity Baptist intends to “concentrate on building up the Sunday School and serving the community as an evangelistic church.”
Although they know that growth may be slow, Patterson said their goal is to enlist some of the newer residents who will be interested in helping build the church and he believes those families will influence others to attend.
According to him, the congregation is preparing to replace the cornerstone with new contents to be opened at a future date, perhaps on the 125th anniversary.
Patterson said the church is still trying to decide what should be included in the new cornerstone.
He said he anticipates they will include pictures, information about the 100th anniversary celebration and a video of church members recording their messages to the next generation of Trinity members.