Huntsville’s Hillsboro Heights celebrates 50th anniversarycomment (0)
January 5, 2006
By Sarah E. Pavlik
As the members of Hillsboro Heights Baptist Church, Huntsville, in Madison Baptist Association celebrated the church’s 50th anniversary Dec. 4, they were able to look back at five decades of change, growth and outreach.
Founded in 1955, the church — then Unity Baptist Church — underwent a name change when it relocated to the Hillsboro Heights community in northwest Huntsville. The church has since seen eight pastors come and go, three additions to the facility it built in Hillsboro Heights and a membership that waxed to more than 1,000 in the early 1990s but has since waned to 425.
But numbers and building projects aren’t how John Davis, longtime member and interim church administrator, said Hillsboro Heights Baptist measures success.
“We are an evangelical and missions-minded church,” said Davis, who also served as the church’s music minister for 20 years. “We have always tried to make that our main goal.”
Since the first cornerstone was laid on the new site in 1957, members of Hillsboro Heights have been mindful of the community around them. In its first three decades, the church’s neighborhood bustled with young families. So the church began holding Vacation Bible School and Sunday School classes. Later a day care and kindergarten program were added.
As the years passed and needs changed, the church adopted a bus ministry that picked up unchurched children for Sunday School and delivered teachers to a local seniors center.
Church members started keeping an active food pantry and now serve as members of the Huntsville Assistant Program, a communitywide, interdenominational organization that collects and distributes food to the poor.
“When needs come up in the community, we try to be there,” Davis said.
Today Hillsboro Heights is a community in transition. The church, once part of a predominantly white working-class neighborhood, is now faced with the challenge of effectively ministering to a culturally diverse community.
“We are commanded to go and reach people for Christ whoever they are,” Davis said. “We want to minister in ways that will make a difference right here in Hillsboro Heights.”
In the mid-1980s, Huntsville experienced a large influx of refugees from Thailand. The church sponsored one of those families. That sponsorship has since grown into a full-fledged Lao-Thai mission church that supports a full-time pastor and draws 60 Laotian families from across Madison County every Sunday.
As more Hispanics settled in the Hillsboro Heights area, the church sought to reach them by starting an ESL (English as a Second Language) program. After only a couple of months, the classes are nearly full.
Because of the church’s location, the Huntsville chapter of the Christian Women’s Job Corps (CWJC) chose Hillsboro Heights as a site for classes.
The CWJC, which helps women earn their high school diploma or GED and then places them in internships with local companies, has graduated two classes. The church provides the space, snacks and supplies.
“We hope that these new programs will strengthen the church and make the people around us feel welcome,” said Patsy Smith, a charter member of Hillsboro Heights.
Things like the ESL classes have given the church the opportunity to show Jesus’ love to those in the area, Davis added. “And that’s what our church is all about.”
Nancy Dishroon, director of the anniversary planning committee, worked alongside 30 other church members since February to make Hillsboro Heights’ celebration something special.
Former pastor Thomas Walker drove up from Birmingham to deliver the sermon. City Councilman Bill Kling also presented the church with a resolution and commended it “for being able to grow with the community.”
Charter members traveled from as far away as Iowa to attend the celebration. Madison Association Director of Missions John Long was also on hand to bless the fellowship lunch.
“A church needs to be aware of its history because it helps us see where we’ve been and it gives us something to look forward to,” Dishroon said.
Church members say they hope to hire a full-time pastor soon. Mark Ebersold has served as interim pastor for the last two and a half years.