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‘Divine’ merger solves churches’ land issuescomment (0)

January 13, 2005

By Frances Pace Putman

Several years ago, members of North Highlands Baptist Church in Hueytown had some important decisions to make. The 50-year-old church was landlocked on its two-acre lot, with no room to expand. “We were growing pretty fast, and we didn’t have enough property,” said Gwin Coffey, associate pastor of senior adults.  
Other than the lucky few who landed spaces in the small parking lot, most were forced to park at a nearby grocery store and cross a busy street to come for services. 
Church leaders pondered the prospect of relocating the church, but wondered how they could afford such a move.
Down the road in Bessemer, Delonah Baptist Church, established in 1960, had some decisions to make as well. The state highway department had decided to build a road from I-59 to Highway 11 in Bessemer, easing access to the Visionland amusement park and Watermark Place outlet center. The road would come through Delonah’s property, which the state planned to purchase.
“We really prayed about what to do,” said Bill Donaldson, then pastor of Delonah Baptist Church. “We wanted the ministry of Delonah not to die, but to somehow expand.”
That didn’t seem likely, since the $300,000 or so the church received for the property was not enough to buy or build a new church in a growing community.
But, as often happens, God had a plan. 
In 2000, Delonah Baptist Church merged with North Highlands Baptist Church. Donaldson became the associate pastor/minister of education at North Highlands, and on July 9 of that year, at a special worship service, the 114 members of Delonah were accepted into membership at North Highlands. 
Today, under the leadership of senior pastor Doug O’Brien, who has been with the church for 26 years, the membership is more than  1,500. “There is a pretty good mix in the church, with seniors, families, children and youth,” said Michael Wallace, student minister.
The church was able to take the money from the sale of Delonah’s property and purchase 20 acres on 15th Street Road in Hueytown, an area quickly developing, with several new home communities.
“There have been a lot of things divinely brought together,” said Reggie Hallman, project manager of the 15th Street development.  
At first, it seemed that though the church would be purchasing the 20 acres, it wouldn’t have road frontage. That meant a wooded area would block the church from sight, and there could be no signs directing people to the right location. But, one night, the church had a prayer service, asking for guidance.
“That night, the people who owned the (road-front) property contacted us and offered to sell,” Hallman recalled. “A lot of things just came together.”   
That included a surprise OK from a local bank to finance the multimillion-dollar project. “We weren’t going to have the borrowing power to get the loan,”  Hallman said. “But, the bank said it needed more business in this part of Jefferson County, so it loaned us the money.”
Development of the property began in early 2004, and the church plans to move into the new facility in March 2005. Phase I of the plan includes a multipurpose facility that will house the educational building and a temporary worship center. Phase II, expected to begin soon after the sale of the current property, will include a new educational building. At that time, part of the first building will become a Family Life Center. In Phase III, a permanent worship center will be built.
In March, the church plans to hold a closing memorial service at the present location, just before moving into the new facility.
“It will be an emotional time for us,” Coffey said. “You can’t help but remember what God has done for us here.” But, it is exciting, he added, to see what God has planned for the church’s future.
To see the new building’s progression, visit the Web site at www.nhbccares.org.

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