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Cokerís Bethany Baptist celebrates 175 years, plans for future growthcomment (0)

November 8, 2007

By Sammie Jo Barstow

In 1832, Andrew Jackson was president and the United States was 56 years old.

The University of Alabama had just opened the year before in Tuscaloosa — the state capital at the time — and the population of Tuscaloosa County was only slightly more than 3,000.

And in the county’s Coker community that year, Bethany Baptist Church was constituted.

A lot has changed since then.

As Pastor Gary Bonner preached during the Tuscaloosa Baptist Association church’s recent 175th anniversary celebration, he remarked that he had asked someone to adjust the air conditioner.

“Now that’s something they didn’t do in 1832. They had to just open the windows when they were too hot or throw another log in the wood stove when they got cold.”

During the Great Depression, the congregation still relied on a stove for heat, recalled Nancy Hughes, the member who’s been at Bethany Baptist the longest.

She also remembers that in good weather, Sunday School classes met outside but in bad weather, they formed groups in each corner of the old frame-plank building. “We made do with what we had,” said Hughes, who came to Bethany Baptist as a young bride 73 years ago.

The church membership has a few fifth- and sixth-generation families — even one eighth-generation family.

Fran Brazeal, who chaired the 175th anniversary celebration committee, is a member of one of those families as her great-great-grandfather James Monroe Sartain joined the church in 1834, beginning a family tradition of service to the church that extends to Brazeal, the current church clerk.

“Working on this committee was a chance to learn more about the rich history of our church and to appreciate those who went before us to make sure the church survived during good times and bad,” Brazeal said.

Jim Roberts, pastor from 1997 until he retired in 2005, said he believes that the future of Bethany Baptist is limitless.

“This is a sweet fellowship of people, and they have a vision for what God wants them to do,” he said. “There are a lot of people moving out of the city and into this area, and this church is going to be ready.”

Preparing for that new population has prompted the church to begin a building program for a million-dollar family life center that will be finished in 2008. The new building will provide seven new Sunday School rooms, a senior adult room, youth facilities and a kitchen.

The congregation is also looking to build the body of Christ through its current outreach program to contact more than 5,000 families living within driving distance of the church.

“We want to personally visit, tell them about Jesus and invite them to worship with us at Bethany,” he said

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