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Coatopa church to move historic sanctuarycomment (0)

November 3, 2005

By Kimberly Wright

Located on Alabama Highway 28 in Coatopa between Livingston and Demopolis, Christian Valley Baptist Church in Bigbee Baptist Association sits on a moving truck awaiting a date for relocation. 
A historic site for almost 150 years, the church was deemed unstable for use following years of poundings from tornadoes and hurricanes. While several storms have left their mark on the sanctuary’s foundation, it was Hurricane Ivan in 2004 that left the church with a visible lean.
The education building has no problems, so church members decided to preserve the historic sanctuary by moving it, leave the education building where it is and build a new sanctuary. 
Joe Reed, deacon and lifelong member of Christian Valley Baptist, said the Alabama Preservation Alliance and the Sumter County Historical Society helped the church secure land a half mile from the current location.
But just as plans to move the church were underway, hurricanes Katrina and Rita, as well as a tornado in the area, changed everything.
Still the church was moved 100 feet, and preliminary work has begun on the new building, according to Tina Jones of the Sumter County Historical Society. The official move of the church was expected to be completed in early November, but a specific date was not set at press time.
Bob Gamble, senior architectural historian for the Alabama Historical Commission, noted that of the hundreds of pre-Civil War Baptist churches in Alabama, Christian Valley is one of 25 still standing. 
And while looking forward to a new sanctuary, the congregation recognizes the importance of preserving this vital part of Coatopa’s and Alabama’s history. 
“It’s been bittersweet,” Reed said. “I definitely have sentimental ties … but we’re a congregation of progression and move according to what the Lord would have us to do.” 
Plus, he said, he still gets to enjoy the sanctuary he has worshiped in for almost 50 years because it will be “right down the road.”
Matthew Kelley, pastor of Christian Valley, said he couldn’t be more proud of the congregation, “who were obedient in moving forward with what they felt was God’s plan.” 
Upon preservation of Christian Valley and another antebellum church in Coatopa, both will become the Coatopa Historical Center, which will be used for homecomings, weddings and special meetings. 
“We simply hope that the entire community will continue to use these facilities and them remain a vital part of the community and its identity,” Jones said.
The Christian Valley congregation is part of a “bidenominational community,” Reed said, worshiping together with the Brewersville United Methodist Church located one-quarter of a mile from the old site. 
This worship community has been in place for some time, with the churches opening their sanctuaries to one another on alternating Sundays, but since the September 2004 damage from Ivan, all services have taken place at the Brewersville United Methodist. 
The respective pastors share the pulpit, and each preaches twice a month, Kelley said.

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