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Church pushes through storm, remains ‘vital’ for 175 yearscomment (0)

October 2, 2008

By Jenifer Martin Siemens

In the dark of night May 5, 1933, Nell Davidson Mullins lost her 10-year-old son, her church and most of her community to a tornado that swept through Helena.

Seventy-five years later, the late Sunday School teacher’s determination and faith were depicted in a monologue presented by her granddaughter, Laurita Mullins Miller, during the 175th anniversary of First Baptist Church, Helena, in Shelby Baptist Association.

Miller said, despite great hardship, members of First, Helena, rebuilt their church in three years and continued with an impassioned commitment to missions.

“You will be touched by the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit through the life of the Church of Jesus Christ (at First, Helena),” Pastor James D. Davis writes in the church’s history book for the celebration. “Each generation has had men and women who have risen to the task before them. The present generation is no exception.”

A church with an average Sunday morning attendance of 225, saw more than 400 people attend the anniversary celebration, which included recognition of current and retired missions workers commissioned by the church.

Among those recognized were Charles and Sarah Mullins, who served in Hong Kong with the International Mission Board (IMB) and in Hawaii with the North American Mission Board. Charles Mullins is the son of Nell Davidson Mullins and father of Laurita Mullins Miller.

Also recognized were Chris and Frances Courson, IMB representatives in Russia; and college student Danielle Holton, who traveled to China recently as part of the Alabama Woman’s Missionary Union 2008 emerging leaders tour.

Currently on stateside assignment from a ministry to the deaf in Moscow, Frances Courson used sign language to interpret the worship music for the service.

“As far back as I can remember, (First, Helena) has always supported missions and usually set goals more powerful than a church that size could get,” Courson said of her home church. “But we always met or surpassed the goals.”

Davis, who has served eight years at First, Helena, feels the commitment to missions has been an essential element in the life of the church.

“I believe (First, Helena) has remained vital for 175 years because of the church’s historical stance to not let missions escape from our priorities,” he said. “Our goal is not only to take the gospel to the neighborhood but to the nations.”

In 1833, the church was started as Union Baptist near Maylene by Hosea Holcombe, legendary preacher and Alabama Baptists’ original historian.

Members later relocated the church to its present site in downtown Helena and changed the name to First Baptist Church.

For the anniversary, Jon Paepcke, Birmingham’s NBC 13 TV news reporter and member of First, Helena, researched Holcombe’s life and portrayed him during a monologue in which he pulled excerpts from Holcombe’s 19th century sermons. 

“I want people to feel the Word of God as a fire burning in their bones,” Paepcke quoted Holcombe. “It is a pleasure to get converts in to church but it is grievous, and in some instances laborious to get hypocrites out.” 

Davis said he was deeply moved by Holcombe’s faith and passion in founding the church.

In honor of the church’s anniversary, Alabama Historical Commission Executive Director Lonette Berg and Shelby Association Director of Missions Hugh Richardson Jr., presented commemorations.

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