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FBC Tuscaloosa honors 50-year memberscomment (0)

June 26, 2008

By Sammie Jo Barstow

The Longer I Serve Him, the Sweeter He Grows" was not only the solo sung by Kaye Sutton at First Baptist Church, Tuscaloosa, April 6, but it was also the living testimony of many church members.

Sixty-two men and women were honored at the Legacy of Love celebration for maintaining church membership for 50 years or more.

Fifty years ago, the present sanctuary was under construction, weddings were held in the educational building, and a nearby funeral home was renovated as the youth activities building.

Many members walked to church each Sunday from downtown apartments and homes.

These were some of the memories shared by the honorees, a group that included 11 couples, several siblings, one mother and daughter, and numerous lifelong friends who recalled stories about youth choir trips and favorite Sunday School teachers.

"In an age where long-term commitment is rare, these 62 people have demonstrated strong commitment and faithfulness, and that’s why we honor them today," said Gil McKee, senior pastor of First, Tuscaloosa. "I wonder, as we look into the future, what legacy we are preparing to leave."

A slide presentation before the worship service included scenes from Girls’ Auxiliary (GA) coronations, weddings and youth activities, as well as pictures of former pastors and buildings no longer in existence.

"Not a single building on this First Baptist campus was standing when I joined in 1939," said Stanley Park, whose wife, Sue, and sister, Mary Angelyn Fisher, were among those honored.

Margaret Copeland recalled that in the former sanctuary, ceiling fans and oscillating fans mounted on the walls provided the only "air conditioning" in the building. "Perhaps that’s where I formed the habit of sitting near the wall," she said jokingly.

Pranks played on staff and youth leaders are what Bill Miller laughingly remembered. "I’m not sure what the statute of limitations is on this, so I better not tell too much," he said.

Many honorees cited former Sunday School teachers and youth leaders as being important in their formative years as they became believers and began their spiritual journeys. They also agreed that church activities were the center of their social and spiritual development as children and teenagers.

During the luncheon following the worship service, Rick Lance, executive director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions and the only living former pastor, encouraged the honorees to continue being "no-matter-what" Christians, remaining faithful regardless of circumstances.

The celebration coincided with the church’s 190th anniversary. R.L. Guffin, a professor at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, authored the history of the church, "A Lasting Legacy," a copy of which was given to each family during the celebration.

"It has become an awesome realization for me to grasp the fact that I am part of something much larger than me which started as a dream in the minds of a few believers in a frontier community and, despite the struggles, has developed into one of the great churches in the state of Alabama," said Guffin.

A display of historical artifacts included documents and other items of interest. A 19th-century, four-piece silver communion service from a Philadelphia silversmith and a number of items used by various pastors during their tenures at the church were on display, as well as period pictures of the congregation through the years.

McKee told the congregation that each generation is in a relay race and that its job is to take the baton, run the race faithfully, and then be ready to pass it off to the next generation. He challenged present church members to learn from the example of those being honored and to take that same commitment into the next 50 years.

"For a church family to successfully move forward to the future," he said, "they must understand and appreciate the past. Legacy of Love helped us do just that."

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